Business

Financial commission staff claim they work in fear

2019-02-07 17:19

Staff at the Financial and Fiscal Commission (FFC), an independent fiscal research institution, claim to be working in a climate of fear because of chairperson Daniel Plaatjies.

The FFC, a chapter 13 institution, is mandated to make recommendations and provide advice to organs of state in the national, provincial and local spheres of government.

Multiple former and existing FFC staff members have levelled a number of accusations against the organisation’s leadership, including allegations of sexual harassment; victimisation of staff; threats made; thousands of rands wasted on advertised posts, without appointments having been made; paying duplicated salaries for the same senior positions; and giving the green light to executive salary hikes, despite a moratorium.

Plaatjies was appointed as chairperson in July 2017. He was apparently brought in to implement recommendations, following a scathing forensic investigative report into allegations of irregularities and corruption under the commission’s former CEO, Bongani Khumalo, who left in August 2016.

According to multiple sources, Plaatjies is now ruling with an iron fist. He is allegedly using the forensic report to threaten implicated staff members, claiming that they are at his mercy.

“He always says that he protected them from the forensic report’s recommendations, and as such, they must do as they are told without question,” said a source.

“So, the forensic report has become his form of ammunition to silence staff.

“In addition, people’s salaries have been tampered with and frozen without consultation. During staff meetings, we are threatened and insulted. We are called evil people and told that we are nothing special. We are always told that the door is open if we want to leave.”

The FFC is forking out for two chief financial officers (CFOs) and two CEOs.

Velile Mbethe was initially seconded to the FFC by National Treasury as its acting CEO in September 2016.

“Khumalo’s contract ended on August 31 2016 and he was released from his duties,” said Treasury in response to the matter.

“Mbethe was seconded to the FFC in order to facilitate the achievement of objectives and to ensure stability at the FFC.”

However, when a new chief executive, Kay Brown, was appointed and joined the commission on April 1 last year, she requested that Mbethe’s term be extended in order to do a handover, according to National Treasury.

Mbethe is still being paid his CEO salary.

The current acting CFO is Sihle Mkhize; the suspended CFO is Mavuso Vokwana.

Plaatjies said the suspension of Vokwana followed a number of whistle-blower reports.

The organisation was recently forced to pay out an employee, Donald Sibanda, after he apparently disagreed with Plaatjies during a staff meeting and was eventually fired. After taking his case to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration, the commission had to pay Sibanda a settlement.

Sibanda declined to comment on the matter when contacted by City Press.

Another long-serving employee, Hammed Amusa, resigned because of alleged ongoing victimisation, which he hints at in his scathing resignation letter, written in November. City Press has seen the letter.

Amusa also would not comment to City Press.

Under Plaatjies, the organisation has apparently spent thousands of rands in advertising for jobs, often without appointing or even interviewing applicants, claim a number of sources.

The FFC advertised a post for an office manager, earning R697 000 per annum, in August. However, the position does not appear on the commission’s organogram, the sources say.

Staff were also made to sign an “oath of secrecy”, which they say gags them from disclosing anything related to the organisation.

This oath of secrecy was allegedly circulated shortly before Plaatjies and his team appeared before Parliament’s finance committee in September.

Speaking to City Press this week, Plaatjies said that almost the entire staff of the FFC had benefited from irregularities at the organisation before his arrival. “Many staff, past and present, have benefited from irregular human resource remuneration practices pertaining to performance bonuses, as well as from salary increases based on non-existent notches and from out-of-the-ordinary and extremely generous remuneration rewards.”

Plaatjies said some people had tendered their resignation to avoid having to face disciplinary action.

“A number of people have decided to exercise their constitutional right [to resign] as a result of the multiple interventions made – including where disciplinary action is required or potential criminal charges are required to be laid – under my leadership,” said Plaatjies.

“Others have resigned because they do not want to be part of the new organisational leadership and management changes required to restore the professional integrity of the FFC.

“We at the commission will not steer away from our public and constitutional responsibility to ... expunge the institution of any irregular, fraudulent and unprofessional behaviour which diminishes the critical importance of the FFC and compromises the public’s trust in the commission.”

Executive salary hikes

In response to DA MP Alf Lees during his appearance in Parliament in September, Plaatjies said the executive salary hikes effected from April last year for some senior staff were approved by Brown. This, despite then finance minister Malusi Gigaba having placed a moratorium on executive salaries in November 2017, according to a letter which City Press has seen.

However, in contrast to the executive remuneration, ordinary staff members had their salaries frozen and no bonuses were paid.

National Treasury has said Finance Minister Tito Mboweni is reviewing the FFC’s remuneration report for the last financial year.

Plaatjies said disciplinary action was already being taken against some of the employees implicated in the forensic investigation report conducted by National Treasury. But so far, only one person, Vokwana, is known to have faced disciplinary action. To date, no other staff implicated in the report is facing disciplinary action.

Sexual harassment

An FCC staff member, who City Press cannot name because of the sensitivity of the matter, claims she was sexually harassed by a senior management official.

This, after the official allegedly made an offensive remark to her in isiXhosa in November. He is alleged to have said: “Waze wabentsa kamnandi’ – loosely translated, it means: “You have opened your legs nicely.”

The staffer is not isiXhosa-speaking, but she later reported the matter when she understood what it meant. Sources claim that she was sent from pillar to post and nothing was done.

According to a source close to the matter, the suspect is one of the untouchables because he is seen as being very close to Plaatjies.

“The lady does not speak isiXhosa, but after she learnt what he said to her, she was traumatised and went to human resources to report him,” the source said.

Nothing came of it until she went to the doctor and was booked off sick for five days.

“Until today, no hearing has been scheduled and [the official] is roaming up and down the passages. We fear for our safety,” said the source.

According to a copy of the grievance letter, the staff member said the incident had left her feeling terrified.

The official, whose name is currently being withheld on legal advice, declined to comment and referred City Press to Plaatjies.

“The FFC cannot risk litigation by divulging the private information of past or present employees in the public domain,” said Plaatjies in response to various questions put to him on the matter.

“The FFC is not at liberty to comment on the internal processes being undertaken against any specific individuals, until such processes are completed and dealt with in terms of the appropriate legislation and procedural rules. These matters are confidential and between said parties.”

The forensic report

The R1.3 million forensic investigation report, which is allegedly being used by Plaatjies to blackmail staff, largely implicated Vokwana, who is still on the FFC payroll.

The report, which City Press has seen, implicates Vokwana in abusing the commission’s phone and data facilities for his personal use. He apparently racked up a bill of more than R50 000 over two years.

While the report recommends various actions to be taken against Vokwana, it also implicates several other employees.

The FFC’s former CEO, Khumalo, told City Press that he had never been approached or even told about findings against him.

Vokwana did not respond to questions sent by City Press, despite giving an undertaking to do so.

Some of the people implicated are still employed at the FFC and have had no action taken against them.

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July 14 2019