Limpopo municipality ordered to pay former employee R1.5m

Fetakgomo Tubatse Local Municipality
Fetakgomo Tubatse Local Municipality

A Limpopo municipality notorious for maladministration, bad contracts and financial mismanagement will have to cough up nearly R1.5 million to pay a former employee who was unfairly dismissed.

The Fetakgomo Greater Tubatse municipality, the platinum and chrome mining capital of Limpopo, unfairly dismissed human resources manager Charity Rabada in September 2016 for gross insubordination when she protested against being suspended by an ex-employee after the Greater Tubatse and Fetakgomo municipalities were amalgamated.

The corporate services director who suspended her, Nkgolo Shai, was seconded by the Limpopo department of cooperative governance, human settlements and traditional affairs as well as the Sekhukhune District Municipality for a period of three months ending in July 2016 when the two municipalities were being merged.

Rabada was suspended when she wrote an email to staff members of the new municipality denying that she had issued letters of promotion to certain employees after the new municipality was formed. Those letters of promotion came from Shai.

Rabada was suspended for issuing the email clarifying that she, as human resources manager, did not promote those employees. She also received her suspension letter from Shai, whose contract had expired.

According to the South African Local Bargaining Council award by Commissioner Richard Sithi, Shai also demanded that Rabada hand back municipal assets to him after her suspension and had even said to her: “Stupid woman, you do not belong here.”

Sithi said that the municipality didn’t prove that Rabada’s dismissal was substantively fair.

“It appears to me that the dismissal was for ulterior motives,” Sithi said.

Sithi ruled that Rabada be reinstated in her position and that she must be paid back an amount of nearly R1.5 million by no later that August 31 this year and that she must return to work on September 1.

The commissioner dismissed the municipality’s argument that it would be prejudiced if Rabada was reinstated because a replacement had been appointed.

Read: Cash-strapped Limpopo municipality faces court action for failing to pay R10.9m  

“In my view, the fact that another employee has been appointed in place of the unfairly dismissed employee is not in itself a reason to deny reinstatement, as the reinstatement of an unfairly dismissed employee may constitute a ground for terminating employment of the newly appointed employee on the grounds of the employer’s operational requirements. If that were not so, an employer would dismiss an employee unfairly, appoint a replacement and thereby deny an unfairly dismissed employee the reinstatement relief,” Sithi said.

The municipality failed to reinstate and pay Rabada and she went to court. According to the warrant of execution dated October 2, Rabada attached the municipality’s five trucks and four graders valued at R1.5 million.

The Labour Court dismissed the municipality’s application to have the award reviewed with costs in an order dated July 19 2018, and described the application as being “defective”.

However, Fetakgomo Greater Tubatse spokesperson Thabiso Mokwena denied that the municipality’s assets were attached. He also said that the Rabada matter was being reviewed along with two other labour matters.

“The municipality has taken the three labour matters for review as the law allows any aggrieved party to do so. No assets were seized or attached from the municipality in any matter involving an employee,” Mokwena said.

Worst-run municipality

The Limpopo cabinet placed the municipality, which invested and lost R230 million in the controversial VBS Mutual Bank, under administration last year.

The municipality is also haunted by a number of contractual disputes.

One of these is its failure to pay Mphaphuli Consulting for work done on the R326-million Operation Mabone, the contract to electrify 13 500 homes in 24 villages.

Read: Bankrupt municipality appoints Eskom to electrify villages without following bidding processes 

It also appointed power utility Eskom to finish the project even though the special investigating unit is still trying to get an order in the Polokwane High Court to terminate the contract.

Mphaphuli Consulting chief executive officer, Lufuno Mphaphuli, has accused the SIU of being used as a hired gun by the municipality because he had previously attached its assets in order to be paid R41 million. The SIU, Mphaphuli argues, decided to investigate his company under a presidential proclamation that did not involve it.

This week Mphaphuli Consulting served the municipality with papers demanding payment of a 2017 R10.9 million invoice, which was not paid.

Some of the municipality’s blunders over the past three years have included:

• The appointment of two companies for a R14 million contract of designing and installing 40 high-mast lights. The municipality appointed Volt Consulting Engineers without following procurement procedures while another company Bawelile Consulting had already been appointed;

• Paying R8.5 million to Volt Consulting Engineering before any job was done;

• Awarding tenders worth R31.1 million for the construction of access bridges in Mafara, Lebocha, Leboeng and Bothashoek without following procedures; and

• Failing to pay a company hired to compile annual financial statements. Munsoft (Pty) Ltd went to court to claim R1.8 million. It was eventually paid R3 million including interest.

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