Labour Court upholds dismissal of lying municipal chief financial officer

Misrepresenting qualifications is a “menacing evil”, says judge

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The Labour Court has ruled against a municipal officer who overstated his qualifications. Illustration: Lisa Nelson

  • Lesedi Municipality Chief Financial Officer Paul Mpele was “grossly dishonest” when he overstated his qualifications, the Labour Court has ruled.
  • The CCMA previously found Mpele’s dismissal unfair and ordered his reinstatement and back pay of more than R2-million.
  • But the Johannesburg Labour Court has overturned that ruling, saying that the misrepresentation of qualifications is a “rot” that must be exposed.

The Johannesburg Labour Court has ruled that the axing of a Lesedi Municipality Chief Financial Officer for misrepresenting his qualifications was fair.

Acting Judge Bart Ford set aside a previous ruling by the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) that Paul Mpele had been unfairly dismissed, ordering his reinstatement with back pay of more than R2-million.

Judge Ford said the decision by the commissioner to reinstate Mpele in circumstances where he had misrepresented his qualifications and professional status was “unreasonable”.

The judge said the misrepresentation of qualifications was “pervasive and a menacing evil that greedily devours and indelibly taints our employment landscape”.

He said it was “morally offensive”, cheapened legitimate and hard-earned achievements and could never be condoned.

“This rot must be resisted and exposed at all costs,” he said.

Read the judgment here

Mpele was hired in 2015 and fired in April 2019, following an internal disciplinary hearing prompted by a forensic investigation into his qualifications.

Aggrieved, he turned to the CCMA, which found in his favour, ordering his retrospective reinstatement with back pay.

The municipality, which has its seat in Heidelberg, Gauteng, sought to review the CCMA ruling in the Labour Court.

Judge Ford said the forensic report indicated that Mpele claimed to have a B.Com accounting degree from the (then) University of Durban-Westville (now the University of KwaZulu-Natal) but he had only obtained a B.Com degree.

He claimed to have an honours degree in Generally Recognised Accounting Practice (GRAP) from the University of Stellenbosch, when he had only obtained a NQF Level 8 qualification after attending a short course.

He had also cancelled his membership with the Institute of Administration and Commerce (IAC) “and accordingly could not claim in 2015 to have been a registered accounting officer”.

Evidence before the commissioner was that while Mpele had met the general requirements for the CFO position, he had been considered favourably, to the exclusion of other candidates, because he claimed to be a B.Com Accounting graduate.

Judge Ford, referring to the transcript of the evidence before the CCMA, said Mpele had been unnecessarily evasive but had eventually conceded that he did not have the accounting degree.

“When unable to adequately set out his reasoning for overstating his qualifications, he attributed this to an error on his part, but denied that it was dishonest,” Judge Ford said.

Mpele claimed he never represented that he held an “honours degree” but that his interpretation of the NQF Level 8 was that it had the same standing as an honours degree.

The judge said the commissioner had been presented with “overwhelming evidence” yet had come to an unreasonable decision in favour of Mpele.

“The issue was not whether Mpele met the requirements for the CFO position as advertised, it had to do with the fact that in his application he presented himself as the holder of certain degrees and professional memberships which he did not have. This evidence remained largely uncontested. Mpele was, as the applicant [the municipality] correctly contended, grossly dishonest.”

If Mpele had “made an error”, as he claimed, he would have admitted this at the first and earliest opportunity and been extremely penitent.

He had failed to do so and had only made the concession when he was “cornered” during cross-examination, and had nevertheless maintained that he had done nothing wrong, the judge said.

He ruled that Mpele’s dismissal was both procedurally and substantively fair, setting aside the CCMA award.

TOPICS:  Labour Local government

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