Dear Mr President
PSETA: MINISTER NZIMANDE’S ALLEGED MANIPULATION AND POLITICAL INTERFERENCE IN THE APPOINTMENTS OF THE BOARD, CHAIRPERSON AND CEO
1. I refer to my letter to you, dated 24 August 2020, regarding the alleged direct interference of the political head of the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology, Dr Blade Nzimande, in that department’s administration. Although I have not received a formal acknowledgement of receipt, the Presidency’s automated stock-email response, indicates that you are in receipt thereof.
2. I would like to bring to your attention further information I received pertaining to the Minister’s conduct, in what appears to be interference and manipulation of the administrative process leading to the appointment of the board and chairperson of the Public Service Sector Education and Training Authority (PSETA) as well as the chief executive officer (CEO).
3. Appointment of PSETA board
3.1. The fact that Minister Nzimande twice advertised, at the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020, the call for appointments to the Sector Education and Training Authority (SETA) boards is a fact. His unexplained reasoning for doing so is, however, open to criticism for several reasons.
3.2. Regarding the 2019-round, I am told that the PSETA employed a selection process that considered merit, continuity, and the requirements of stakeholder representation. Its recommendations were forwarded to the DHET for approval. Yet, it is alleged that the Minister did not make appointments for reasons known only to him, but rather directed for the process to be re-opened. This came as a surprise to PSETA, as I suspect other SETAs, since they had already gone through their long-used process with which they are familiar.
3.3. It must be noted that PSETA apparently did not receive any new nominations during the second round of a request for nominations. This meant that recommendations made to the Minister in 2019 were relevant for appointment. It must be noted that a nomination of a certain Mr Thulani Tshefuta was apparently received during the initial nominations for board appointment but was rejected as he did not meet the requirements. The relevance of this specific allegation will become apparent later in this letter and the Minister must explain this phenomenon.
3.4. PSETA recommended a full roster of six names allocated to organised labour representatives, yet the Minister for some odd reason, appointed five, one of whom did not receive an appointment letter, thus leaving the two existing vacancies. The Minister, again without explaining himself, only made two of PSETA’s recommended reappointments.
3.5. There are two persons, namely Mr Lewis Nzimande (community organisations’ representative) and Ms Linda Dube (organised employers’ representative), who the Minister has seemingly unilaterally appointed. PSETA apparently has no records, such as curriculum vitae and the background check, ordinarily undertaken by Managed Integrity Evaluation (MIE), on file. These documents are crucial for audit purposes.
3.6. The directive by the Minister for re-advertisement without providing reasons and the subsequent appointment of board members who were not recommended nor nominated through PSETA processes is indicative of an abuse of power and manipulation of a regulated process by Minister Nzimande.
3.7. The critical question here is, was this entire exercise merely an attempt to satisfy compliance, whilst the Minister had his own agenda?
3.8. Furthermore, the Minister’s “double advertising” imposed time pressures, which resulted in the newly appointed board being unprepared and they allegedly fell prey to the CEO, Ms Bontle Lerumo, causing them to make decisions before they received a hand-over report and induction, and before they could familiarise themselves with the organisation and previous board resolutions. This is a dangerous set of circumstances, but when one considers the allegation that Ms Lerumo is a confederate of the Minister and Mr Mabuza Ngubane (the Director SETA Performance Management whom I referred to in my previous letter), matters take a shadier turn.
4. Appointment of PSETA chairperson
4.1. Regulation 14(2) of the “Standard Constitution of SETA regulations associated with the Skills Development Act 26 of 2011” was amended in 2017, ironically by Minister Nzimande himself, to allow for SETA board chairpersons to serve two terms of office.
4.2. The motivation had been to ensure continuity and organisational stability. I therefore suspect that all the SETAs were stunned when the Minister directed the advertising of the chairpersonships in late 2019. For reasons known only to the Minister this call was reopened in early 2020.
4.3. The Minister, in essence, unilaterally limited the former PSETA chairperson’s service to one term, this despite the spirit of the aforementioned amendment. I however found it extremely disturbing that the Minister, also for reasons known only to him, decided to appoint Mr Thulani Tshefuta (to whom I referred in Paragraph 3.3) as PSETA board chairperson. It is surprising that he emerged as the chairperson of the board when he did not meet the requirements for the board.
5. Appointment of PSETA CEO
5.1. As I understand it, the appointment of CEOs is in line with the SETAs’ five-year licencing period and that the SETAs’ executive committees and boards (assisted by corporate services) take responsibility for this process. Ms Lerumo’s contract ended on 31 March 2020 but, to ensure smooth transition, she must serve until 30 September.
5.2. This NQF Level 9 post was advertised in two Sunday newspapers and on PSETA’s website, but shortly thereafter the advert was recalled and re-placed (this time only on the website) with an erratum specifically lowering the level of academic qualifications. Why on earth was this done, if not to accommodate a certain applicant?
5.3. Shortlisting evidently took place and, Ms Lerumo, whom I hear does not possess an NQF Level 9 qualification, was amongst the top three performers recommended to the Minister possibly due to the new board’s inexperience and some irregular influence.
5.4. There is already an indication that the Minister refused the top candidate, because he did not know him/her. The initial list of recommended candidates is available, and should the appointment not be done according to this recommended list and Ms Lerumo is appointed, the Minister must be held accountable for flaunting the process in favour of his alleged collaborator.
5.5. It would also mean that the top candidate was discriminated against, because of the Minister’s personal preferences, and that the entire process is legally contestable in terms of our labour legislation. As a matter of fact, given the Minister’s reputation, there could be a wholesale legal action where these SETA CEO appointments are concerned. If the new PSETA board is confident that the process was fair and transparent, they should confidently supply you with all the relevant documentation.
6. Mr President, Minister Nzimande seems to be running DHET and the SETAs from his briefcase and in light of all the nauseating allegations against him that have risen of late, it is incumbent upon you and cabinet to intervene in the appointments of the SETA boards, chairpersons and CEO until the veracity of these allegations are established by your office.
7. This entire set of circumstances demonstrates Minister Nzimande’s seeming lack of duty of care as an executive authority in managing public resources and ensuring efficient public service. He appears to have demonstrated a high level of disregard for public service regulations, not acting in the interest of the public good and is not fit to be a minister and it is your responsibility to sort this out.
Mr Bantu Holomisa, MP
President of the United Democratic Movement