OPINION | Nonceba Mhlauli: At an unfair disadvantage for NYDA candidacy?

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 Nonceba Mhlauli (supplied)
Nonceba Mhlauli (supplied)

There is little information of the shortlisting of candidates for the board of directors of the NYDA, which does a disservice to the candidates themselves, argues Sabelo Chalufu.

Whether rightly or wrongly, much has been made of Nonceba Mhlauli's candidacy for the Board of Directors of the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA) as she is the current spokesperson of the Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu. To her credit she has come out guns blazing about criticism directed at her person, as expected. She questions, inter alia, the criticism that she is conflicted, saying:

"There is also a third claim which suggests that, by virtue of the current responsibilities which I have been entrusted, it may have been improper for me to accept the nomination. It is not clear how the conflict arises. Moreover, the claim casts aspersion on the parliamentary process."

While that is certainly a crafty retort, it is extremely shallow as I will show how and why there is conflict:

- Until the 2017-18 financial year, the NYDA reported to the Department of Planning Monitoring and Evaluation (DPME) - the department in the Presidency of which Mhlauli's principal, Minister Jackson Mthembu, is responsible for. Since the 2018-19 period, the agency now reports to the Department of Women, Youth & People with Disabilities (DWYPD), the other department in the Presidency.

- The agency's Board of Directors is appointed by the President and her being a senior staff member in the presidency puts Mhlauli in a position where she can display her talents - such as they might exist - to the appointing authority, the President;     

- She sits on the ANC's Provincial Task Team in the Western Cape - the party's de facto executive committee in the province. So she has some level of authority, however minor, over at least the ANC's delegates on the committee who are in the majority and could quite conceivably argue in her favour;

- Taken together these factors show that she stands to benefit by virtue of her proximity to the appointing authority (the President) and the leverage she has on some of the persons who must consider her candidature. She can lobby the decision makers much more effectively than most other candidates and thus is, at best, at an unfair advantage and, at worst, significantly conflicted.

Mhlauli also argues:

"Furthermore, the NYDA board is not an employment agency, hence members who serve on the board, like any other board, receive a stipend for work conducted and costs incurred related to the work of the board."

On this point Mhlauli again misdirects our attention. She intentionally ignores the fact that, in terms of section 9(5)(a) of the NYDA Act 54 of 2008, the President of the Republic appoints the Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson of the board as executive directors and they serve at the entity on a full-time basis, working at the agency daily alongside the CEO and broader executive management.

For this they are remunerated at a scale significantly higher than the non-executive directors. The aspect of the Chairperson and their Deputy are only relevant insofar as some of her friends, comrades and colleagues have publicly lobbied for her to be appointed as such.

Furthermore, in terms of the Ministerial Handbook, her current role should be remunerated at Salary Level 13 which is "Director" Level in the National and Provincial Level government and so, depending on her negotiation at the time of her appointment, would earn her anywhere from R1 057 326 up to no more than R1 245 495 per annum - at the 2019-2020 Public Service rates.

For context, the last Chairperson of the agency, Sifiso Mtsweni, earned a cool R1 171 000 in the 2018-2019 financial year. At face value she stands a reasonable chance of securing herself a better paying job.

Some of her supporters have indicated that the NYDA Act states at section 11: "Members who are employed by an organ of state are not entitled to remuneration, or any allowance, but must be reimbursed for out of pocket expenses by the Board." While this may be so, it completely ignores a possible scenario where Mhlauli is appointed as Chairperson or Deputy Chairperson of the Board - a situation which could conceivably arise. In this scenario, it is likely she would have to resign from her current position and take up office full time.

Given the financial and career benefits that would accrue to her as a result of such an appointment, there is no reason to think she would pass that up. Even if she were only appointed as a non-executive director, and thus would not earn board fees in terms of the Act, she still stands to benefit professionally in experience as a director of a national public entity. Why is all this possible again? Because Mhlauhi serves in the Presidency at close range to the President, the singular person who appoints not only the board in general, but in terms for section 5(a) of the Act, must also designate its Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson.

Casts aspersions on the process

It is interesting to note that Mhlauli also suggests that criticism to her candidacy by Democratic Alliance Member of Parliament Phumzile Van Damme casts aspersions on the parliamentary process as it has already been revealed by fellow DA MP and party Youth Leader Luyolo Mphithi that some other sitting MP, who is not a member of the committee, had texted a committee member nominating a particular candidate - thus calling into question the integrity of the nomination process. At the end, the identity of the two other MPs was not disclosed, but the Chairperson said this MP needed to be reported to the Speaker of Parliament - presumably for disciplinary purposes.

Mhlauli is one of seventeen (of 30) shortlisted candidates who are connected directly to the ANC/Tripartite Alliance or the Progressive Youth Alliance (PYA) who are current or former support staff or leaders in their own right.

Interestingly not all such candidates were shortlisted. There are some notable rejectees.

Shaeera Kalla of #FeesMustFall was not shortlisted. Tebogo Thothela was also not shortlisted. He is the Parliamentary and Governance Liaison Deputy Director in the office of embattled Gauteng Health MEC Dr Bandile Masuku. Both these candidates possess significant qualifications and experience dealing with youth issues and/or government, and so it is wholly unclear why they were not shortlisted.

I am not saying that Mhlauli is not qualified for appointment. She may, in fact, be more qualified than some of her competitors (from their publicly available CVs) which include among them someone whose only experience is being the Secretary General of SASCO (Lwando Majiza), someone with less than one year's work experience as a receptionist in the Office of the Deputy Minister for Public Service & Administration (Paballo Ponoane) and, worse, someone with no discernible experience (Cyril Mkhize).

Rather, I am saying that the dearth of information on the shortlisting criterion, on account of the fact that the parliamentary committee meeting at which this was decided was closed to the public and media, makes it immensely difficult to judge this as the public and thus we are left to decipher it from collateral information - which, prima facie, seems to value candidates who are tied to and/or beholden to ANC-bosses, above all else.

The problem with the non-disclosure of the shortlisting criteria does a grave disservice to all the candidates, shortlisted and interviewed or otherwise.

- Sabelo Chalufu writes in his personal capacity.

* Editor's note: This article has been updated to remove the reference to Malaika Mahlatsi, the speechwriter to Ekurhuleni Mayor Mzwandile Masina, not making the cut. Mahlatsi withdrew her application before the short-listed candidates were announced. 

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