The Public Servants’ Association (PSA), the majority union in the office of the Public Protector, has accused the office of “purging their union’s shop stewards”, who have been key in exposing maladministration.
According to the PSA, the office of the Public Protector is subjecting it to unwarranted disciplinary proceedings in an attempt to silence it.
Acting PSA general manager Reuben Maleka says the trade union is “perturbed by the apparent purging of the union’s shop stewards in the office of the Public Protector”, after one such shop steward, Tebogo Kekana, was charged with violating the Public Protector’s code of conduct and information security policy by allegedly disclosing confidential information.
“Kekana appeared before a disciplinary hearing on August 11. He was found guilty by the chairperson [Advocate Christoffel Fourie] on three charges relating to the disclosure of confidential information that occurred on three occasions – December 2017, June 2018 and November 2018,” said Maleka.
According to the 52-page disciplinary report compiled by Fourie, and seen by City Press, Kekana was, among other things, charged with contravening “the code of conduct and paragraph 188.8.131.52 of the information security policy, in that on November 20 2018, he came into contact with confidential travel information of the then chief executive officer [CEO Vussy Mahlangu] which had erroneously been sent to him by email, and disclosed it to Isaac Matlawe.”
Matlawe left the office of the public protector before a disciplinary process was instituted.
Maleka says that, last year, the PSA exposed irregularities that had led to Mahlangu’s departure from the office of the Public Protector in December. City Press understands that the irregularities related to the travel information Kekana allegedly shared, which revealed that Mahlangu had received financial advances for trips.
Mahlangu had been appointed by Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane and resigned abruptly in January, citing the desire to “pursue other opportunities” as his reason for leaving.
Mkhwebane mentioned no wrongdoing on his part when she announced his departure.
Notwithstanding his resignation, the PSA continued with an application it had made in December asking for the Promotion of Access to Information Act to facilitate enquiries about the circumstances of Mahlangu’s appointment, citing – among other things – his dismissal as a deputy director-general from the department of rural development and land reform.
In a letter sent via Sefanyetso Attorneys, the union asked whether Mahlangu had disclosed his dismissal from his previous post in his CV and during interviews at the Public Protector’s office.
Although Kekana was found guilty on all charges during his disciplinary process, Mkhwebane’s office has yet to announce whether he will be fired.
Mkhwebane’s spokesperson, Oupa Segalwe, declined to comment on the matter.
Besides Kekana, the PSA has pointed to the forcing out of Matlawe last year and the ongoing disciplinary processes of three other PSA-affiliated members as being indicative of an onslaught targeting its members.
“The PSA is, however, not surprised by the decision of the disciplinary process [regarding Kekana], as other members of the union have been hauled before kangaroo courts concocted by the office of the Public Protector in an attempt prevent the PSA from continuing to expose maladministration in an institution, which is mandated to protect the public against such abuse,” said Maleka.
The PSA points out that, despite Kekana being found guilty, none of the information that he shared was as classified in the email correspondence. It therefore assumes that the office of the Public Protector is seeking to silence PSA members who have exposed irregularities in the office.
Maleka adds that the PSA will not succumb to any form of attack or the purging of its members, and says it will take the latest dismissal to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration.
“The union will intensify its efforts to expose maladministration at the embattled entity to restore trust in the integrity of this vital institution,” he said.
These latest accusations add pressure to the already beleaguered Mkhwebane, who spent this week fighting tooth and nail to interdict parliamentary removal proceedings against her.
This article was updated on August 26 to correct an inaccuracy that had been carried in the earlier version in which City Press had incorrectly said advocate Isaac Matlawe was “fired” from the Public Protector's office. Matlawe left the office on his own accord before disciplinary proceedings were instituted. We apologise to Matlawe for the inaccurate reporting.