‘I did nothing wrong’ – Mpumalanga education boss denies she was fired over tender irregularities

Mahlasedi Mhlabane
Mahlasedi Mhlabane

Former head of the Mpumalanga department of education, Mahlasedi Mhlabane, has refuted claims that she was fired from her job for misconduct and tender irregularities involving the shortage of textbooks and the school nutrition programme.

Mhlabane’s denial follows a Democratic Alliance (DA) statement on Wednesday which alleged that Mpumalanga Premier Refilwe Mtshweni-Tsipane had told the legislature her contract “will not be renewed as a result of the misconduct and the corruption levelled against her”.

According to documents City Press has seen, Mhlabane and Mtshweni-Tsipane reached a mutual agreement on May 31 to terminate the contract after the HOD had been suspended on unspecified charges in March.

Mhlabane’s contract was due to expire by the end of August, and according to the Mutual Separation and Termination of Employment Agreement, she was paid fully for three months.

“The employer undertakes to provide the employee with a service record letter, a testimonial and/or a reference letter. The reference letter and/or the testimonial letter shall not make any reference to the disciplinary hearing that the employer attempted to institute against the employee,” reads the agreement.

The testimonial – signed by Mpumalanga director-general Kgopana Mohlasedi on July 8 – portrays Mhlabane as a model public servant with a good track record since she was appointed HOD on September 1 2009 and serving nine years at the helm of the department.

“Under Ms Mhlabane’s management, Mpumalanga Department of Education increased the provincial matric pass rate from 47.9% in 2009 to 56.8% in 2010, with further continued improvement up to 79% for the 2018 academic year,” said Mohlasedi in the testimonial.

Mohlasedi added that Mhlabane’s strategic leadership experience and financial management skills were excellent.

“Ms Mhlabane can be recommended for any future career opportunity that may be offered to her, as she will undoubtedly be an asset to the organisation,” he added.

Mhlabane said she was surprised by the DA’s statement.

“There was no investigation report that proved I did anything wrong. In fact, the premier proposed that we settle,” Mhlabane said.

Mtshweni-Tsipane’s spokesperson, Sibongile Mkani-Mpolweni, was unavailable to comment.

During her tenure, Mhlabane had to deal with alleged tender irregularities relating to the school feeding scheme.

Last year, six companies threatened to sue the department for about R100 million when the the scheme was moved to the Mpumalanga Economic Growth Agency as part of a plan to empower locally-based cooperatives and small businesses.

The companies alleged at the time that Mhlabane replaced them allegedly without following proper tender processes.

The lawsuit was never instituted.

This legal threat came after Mhlabane lost a Supreme Court of Appeal application in March 2017 to try to reverse a North Gauteng High Court ruling to follow supply-chain processes for school nutrition programme tenders that were irregularly awarded in 2013.

Nine companies had taken Mhlabane and the department to court after she awarded tenders to 17 companies under alleged questionable circumstances.

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