University of Fort Hare council has issued vice-chancellor and principal Professor Sakhela Buhlungu with a letter of intention to suspend him.
This follows a story that City Press broke last month about a decision taken by Buhlungu to suspend the university’s chief audit executive, Martin Soqaga, in December last year.
City Press, especially this journalist, received criticism from Buhlungu’s office following two reports relating to allegations against him.
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The council, City Press has learnt, has also reinstated Soqaga to his position with “immediate effect” following a 12 April 2019 (Friday) council meeting.
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According to documents seen by City Press, interim council chairperson Sindile Toni wrote a letter informing Buhlungu of the council’s intentions to suspend him on Thursday.
In the letter, Toni said an ordinary council meeting was held on the Friday in accordance with section 14 (2) of the university statute.
In that meeting, he said the council was presented with a written report from the university’s audit and risk committee in which a number of allegations of serious misconduct were levelled against Buhlungu.
These allegations, Toni said, include but were “not limited” to the following:
*That Buhlungu suspended Soqaga irregularly without any authority;
*That Buhlungu’s actions to irregularly suspend Soqaga were deemed ethically questionable because he was a conflicted party in the two cases on which he was directing Soqaga to give him information;
*That Buhlungu’s actions of suspending Soqaga were deemed to be substantively irregular given the fact that the refusal of Soqaga to furnish him with the requested information was in full compliance with the resolution of the audit and risk committee to curtail irresponsible dissemination of information on forensic investigations;
*That Buhlungu’s actions have brought the name of the university into disrepute, have caused harm to the university’s reputation and thus constitute violation of trust bestowed up himself by the council as the university vice-chancellor;
*That Buhlungu’s actions of irregularly suspending Soqaga without following any proper procedure were deemed to be tantamount to granting himself unauthorised access to the whistle-blower’s identity and other information submitted by witnesses in investigations and decisions made that relate to his office even though he is a conflicted party;
*That, Buhlungu’s actions of irregularly suspending Soqaga without proper procedure amount to gross disregard of the university audit committee charter, the independence and integrity of the audit and risk committee and stature of the council of the university; and
*Buhlungu failed to provide the audit and risk committee and council the source authority that gives rise to him going ahead with the suspension of Soqaga even when the audit and risk committee had advised him to reverse such an irregular decision. The alleged misconduct requires a full and proper independent investigation in order to determine whether there is a basis for these allegations. Given the seriousness of this alleged misconduct and the necessity to ensure the integrity of the investigation, you [Buhlungu] are entitled to make oral representations on receipt of this letter as to why you should not be suspended,” Toni’s letter said.
Responding to City Press, Buhlungu's office said the university has received legal opinion and advice from two sources - the university's internal legal division and from an external legal counsel.
"The two opinions are unanimous in clearly stating that the meeting held on 12 April 2019 (Friday) by nine council members (out of a total of 27 members) was invalid and that the decisions taken at that meeting are, therefore, of no legal force or effect. Accordingly, the vice-chancellor has informed the nine council members about the illegality of their meeting and decisions taken at that particular meeting, and has reserved his rights," Buhlungu's office said.
With regard to Soqaga’s reinstatement, Toni wrote to Buhlungu on 18 April 2019 following the council meeting where a decision to issue a letter of intent to suspend the vice-chancellor was made.
Toni said in the letter that the council was presented with a written report from the audit and risk committee.
“The council after interacting with the report from the audit and risk committee, satisfying its self of the merits of the content of the report, took a decision to rescind and set aside your [Buhlungu] decision to put the chief audit executive [Soqaga] on pre-cautionary suspension. Such a decision has since also been communicated to [Soqaga] and the audit and risk committee.
"Furthermore, the council took a decision to subject your [Buhlungu] decision to irregularly suspend Soqaga amongst other allegations to an independent investigation whose correspondence shall be communicated to you [Buhlungu] in due course,” Toni said in the letter.
He said Buhlungu was advised to cooperate with the council decision and allow Soqaga to return to work with “immediate effect”.
“Furthermore, and for your [Buhlungu] information the council resolved to appraise the department of higher education and training of decision taken at the said council meeting with the objective of soliciting their support in stabilising the collapsing governance system with the university,” Toni said.
When asked about the council decision to suspend Buhlungu,Toni replied saying "With respect, the matters you have raised in your inquiry are internal university matters regulated by the university policies. At an appropriate time the university will make further pronouncements".