Bobani: I’m bringing suspended staff back
Officials to return by next week to end ‘wasteful spending’
All suspended officials at the Nelson Mandela Bay municipality whose disciplinary cases have been dragging on for longer than three months will be back at work by next week, mayor Mongameli Bobani has proclaimed.
Bobani said the council’s new leaders were unapologetic about their decision to bring back staff, announcing that charges against the likes of housing director Mvuleni Mapu, internal audit director Bonment nie Chan, chief forensic auditor Werner Wiehart, and public health managers Nkosinathi Dolo, Joram Mkosana, Thabo Williams and Andile Tolom would be dropped.
Some of the officials have been sitting at home for years.
The dropping of charges was to avoid any further “wasteful expenditure”, he said.
This came as new acting city boss Peter Neilson made the first move to withdraw some of the longstanding disciplinary and legal cases against municipal staff by reinstating legal services official Nobuntu Mgogoshe.
On Wednesday, he instructed the city’s lawyers to withdraw its Labour Court review application against Mgogoshe, who won her unfair dismissal case at the SA Local GovernBargaining Council.
Last night, Bobani told The Herald the decision to bring back suspended staff had been taken before the coalition government came to power on August 27.
“We took a decision as a coalition government that all those who were suspended for more than three months must come back and work.”
He said the decision followed extensive engagements with the unions.
“It’s fruitless expenditure for the municipality to pay people for sitting at home whilst another person is occupying that position.
“It’s totally unfair for these people to sit at home [while they are] paid by the municipality, lots of money for doing nothing.
“What is happening right now is the implementation of that particular decision.
“It’s not only Nobuntu [Mgogoshe] who is coming back,” Bobani said.
He said it would also include 28 truck drivers from the public health department who were suspended. It is unclear why they were suspended.
“We have paid a couple of millions just on disciplinary cases.
“What is surprising is that the lawyers who were in charge of these simple cases were senior counsel.
“I do not understand why the DA hired senior counsel for a simple labour matter.
“We are in the process of rectifying the damage and the corruption and wasteful expenditure that the DA incurred.
“We are ensuring that taxpayers’ money is no longer wasted. By the end of next week, this whole process is going to be finished.
“We want all these people who are wasting the taxpayers’ money to come back and work,” Bobani said. He said the plan was to have the disciplinary cases concluded while those being investigated were at work.
Asked if this would not jeopardise the investigations, Bobani said: “The taxpayers’ money is going to the lawyers so we are unapologetic for the decision we have taken.
“We can’t keep squeezing the taxpayer and paying people who are sitting at home – that is the decision of the collective government.”
He said their concern was that the process of bringing suspended officials back had taken too long.
“It is actually very painful that we are squeezing taxpayers to pay lawyers – this is money that is supposed to go towards service delivery, not enriching lawyers.”
Asked if the cases involving officials facing serious allegations would simply be dropped after millions had been spent on legal bills, Bobani said: “It can’t be that investigations drag on for many years.
“We are saying that the law must run its course while we also remember that people are innocent until they are proven guilty.”
However, he said the case of suspended city manager Johann Mettler was “separate and sensitive”.
Meanwhile, in a letter to acting corporate services executive director Nosipho Xhego and labour relations official Frank du Plessis, seen by The Herald, Neilson wrote: “Following the legal memorandum provided by Kuban Chetty Inc and Advocate Patel and subsequent to the withdrawal of the labour court review application, you are instructed to reinstate Ms Mgogoshe from the date of dismissal.”
Mgogoshe was fired in December for alleged misconduct after she gave what the municipality viewed as irregular legal advice regarding payment to a company doing work for the bus system.
After the bargaining council ruled she must be back at work and paid back pay, the metro went to the labour court to review the arbitration award.
The municipality has shelled out tens of millions of rands on the disciplinary cases, paying law firms to represent the city in some of the hearings in the hope of ensuring successful prosecutions. Neilson said in an interview on Wednesday that there was a lot of “unknown” in the disciplinary cases and some lawsuits against former staff.
“I’ve been asked to consider the disciplinary cases where there was an arbitration award in favour of the employees,” Neilson said.
Asked who had made the request, Neilson said he had been briefed by “third party” attorneys who were reviewing all the disciplinary and legal cases the municipality was involved in to ascertain its likelihood of success.
“The idea is that the cases that must be considered first are those where cases were won at arbitration and where we are taking them on review,” he said.
“The idea is to avoid fruitless and wasteful expenditure.
“The instruction from the political leadership is there’s a lack of understanding of where the cases are ...
“It’s to get a proper summary presented to the political executive.
“The intention is not simply to bring people back but to get a proper handle on what’s going on with the cases.”
The majority of the cases were initiated by Mettler.
However, weeks after he was suspended, City Hall moved to halt all the disciplinary cases started by him.
Gray Moodliar Attorneys – the law firm representing the city in a number of disciplinary cases involving senior staff – was instructed to halt all action until it was told otherwise and to give a report on the status of all the cases handled by the firm.
Bobani has long been advocating for staff to be brought back from long-standing suspensions, alleging that black staff were specifically targeted by Mettler.
Mapu was suspended in 2015 for gross dereliction of duty, while Wiehart was suspended for failing to loyally execute the lawful policies of the municipal council.
Chan was also suspended for gross dereliction of duty and a dysfunctional leadership style.
The four public health managers were all implicated in irregular payments made to eco-consulting company Milongani.