Cape Town – Parliament’s budget office staff have no recollection of being asked to do academic work for politicians, it emerged at a CCMA hearing on Monday. Nor was there political consultation in filling of posts at the office, they said.
The Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration was hearing arguments in the case between former analyst Dr Sean Muller and Parliament regarding a deputy director of economics post.
Muller alleged he had been overlooked for a promotion, while he was more qualified than the candidate who got the job.
He had a PhD, while the successful candidate, also a respondent in the matter, only had a master’s degree. He was the highest performing analyst, he said.
Muller told the commission that while no one had ever approached him to do academic work, others were asked.
Others in the office were favoured because they had helped do political work, including write speeches, which were not part of the office’s mandate.
He accused the unit’s director, Mohammed Jahed, of instructing staff to do such work and even boasting about it. If Jahed denied it, he would be lying under oath, Muller said.
“Like other people, I had MPs approaching me to do various things and my attitude was I don’t do political work. If you want me to explain this concept to you, I can write a paragraph. But I am not doing political work, I’m not writing speeches,” he said.
He had always discouraged this as it was inappropriate.
“I was doing my job. Nobody ever approached me to do an academic assignment, ever, including the director, even though he approached other people,” he said.
None of the witnesses he called on Monday were willing to back up his claims.
His first witness, Dr Mmapula Sekatane, an analyst at Parliament’s budget office, said she was insulted by some of Muller’s questions. She said it bordered on defamation.
Sekatane had applied for the same job and had not been successful.
Muller asked Sekatane if it was common practice in the office for staff to do political and academic work for MPs.
“Were you ever sent work by the director to do political work?” Muller asked.
The questions involved an email that Sekatane had shown Muller during a meeting. Jahed had sent her what looked like a dissertation proposal.
“You told me that you had established that the person was Mr Cedric Frolick, House chairperson. You showed me that email on your screen, and I read it, and I testified to it. You were uncomfortable with doing that work,” he told Sekatane. Sekatane said she had been getting calls about the email from the media and had not been able to find it.
All emails from 2015 had been deleted, she said. This would be because her mailbox was full, she said, as other colleagues could also not find old emails.
She did not know if they were deleted because of Muller’s case, she told CCMA commissioner Madeleine Loyson.
She said she had been a lecturer before coming to Parliament and was still working with universities.
“There was a proposal that I got, that I was interested in looking at because it was talking about PBOs. So as a person who is supervising, I was interested in looking through it, which I made comment on," she said.
At the time she made comments on the proposal, she had not known who it belonged to. She had merely been interested in the topic. It was not a request from Jahed, she said.
She would not reply to questions about whether staff members were constantly called to do political work. It was not her place to speak for them, she said.
‘Insult to integrity’
Loyson told Muller not to use the proceedings as a fishing expedition. She needed facts, not assumptions and suppositions that pointed to him being unfairly overlooked for the post.
She did not want to hear anything that did not relate to that.
Muller said he had heard that Sekatane had received the interview questions for the position the day before, from office manager Alfred Monnakgotla, who also testified on Monday.
Both Sekatane and Monnakgotla were livid at that line of question, saying it was an insult to their professional integrity.
At one point, Muller asked Loyson to declare Sekatane a hostile witness but was not successful.
The hearing continues.