Nzimande accused of exceeding his powers

Transport Minister Blade Nzimande. Picture: Lisa Hnatowicz
Transport Minister Blade Nzimande. Picture: Lisa Hnatowicz

North West Premier Job Mokgoro has issued a blunt warning to Transport Minister Blade Nzimande that while national government had placed the provincial community safety and transport department under administration, the minister’s intention to suspend head of department Botlhale Mofokeng is overreaching.

City Press has seen a letter that Mokgoro wrote to Nzimande on April 25, in which he told the minister that he had no powers to suspend Mofokeng and that authority still rested with MEC Mpho Motlhabane despite the Constitution’s section 100(1)(b) intervention that Cabinet approved last year.

The section clause, which currently affects five departments in the North West, including Mokgoro’s office, is deemed the most invasive form of intervention as national government could use the clause to take over the province’s obligations.

Mokgoro stated that a similar issue had previously been canvassed during the suspension of the head of the provincial health department “and was settled with the understanding that the power still rests with the executive authorities of departments in the province”.

In his inaugural interview last June, Mokgoro told City Press that national government’s patronising “father-son relationship” with North West should stop, adding that he did not understand “what the rationale is for national government to want to have the right and sole privilege to talk down to us”.

“Even in modern times, the father and son engage. You do not just talk down to your child. That is not to say that we deny the challenges that we have.”

Nzimande’s spokesperson, Ishmael Mnisi, told City Press last week that the minister’s understanding of the national government intervention had been that he assumed all of Motlhabane’s powers, while administrator Nqaba Nqandela assumed all of Mofokeng’s powers.

Mnisi’s comments came amid a standoff between North West senior department managers and Nqandela, a close ally of Nzimande and his former chief of staff, threatening total insubordination if both Mokgoro and Motlhabane did not step in to resolve the conflict.

The group of managers wrote a memorandum citing a broken relationship with Nqandela, whom they accused of, among other things, refusing to consult on departmental activities, humiliating the staff, making threats, stalling progress and failing to assist management to improve their performance in line with the Cabinet intervention.

The Mail & Guardian reported last October that then Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene had reservations over Nzimande’s decision to withdraw Mathabatha Mokonyama as administrator and replace him with Nqandela, but Nzimande said he was confident that Nqandela was the right man for the job.

In a notice of precautionary suspension dated April 24, which prompted Mokgoro’s response, Nzimande told Mofokeng that she had “committed serious acts of misconduct, including, inter alia, [challenging] my authority, which is exercised through the administrator”.

Nzimande also accused Mofokeng of “insubordination and failure to comply with provisions of the Public Finance Management Amendment Act, relating to payments of service providers contracted by Caswell Mthombeni Consultants”.

According to the letter, Caswell Mthombeni Consultants had a R35 million tender with government, involving driving schools through a road safety improvement programme.

Seventeen driving schools had since complained of non-payment.

“Despite the above background, you approved the payment of R847 915.20 directly to the service providers who had no contract with the department, which was against the financial prescripts,” said Nzimande.

The minister said Mofokeng was also “running parallel structures,” and that she “facilitated the signing of a clandestine petition/letter by managers”.

He said the department intended to take disciplinary steps against her, which required her to make representations before the final decision was taken.

In response, Mokgoro said Nzimande’s move opened up government to possible litigation, “which I am advised may succeed if brought before a court of law”. He said he was also “worried about the impact this matter will and has already had on service delivery”.

“We have already been informed that decision-making in the department is already compromised, as in the case of a matter in Taung regarding scholar transport pupils who have been left stranded without transport because the administrator cannot make a decision.”

City Press had seen a pamphlet circulated on social media in which scholar transport service providers in North West called for a stayaway last Monday owing to non-payment, adding that any buses operating “will be burned”.

It was expected that Minister in Presidency Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who headed Cabinet’s North West interministerial task team, would soon intervene.

Is Nzimande justified in his actions, or is national government hindering effective local governance?

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