Public Protector investigating “irregular” recruitments at Prasa

UniteBehind calls for urgent release of the findings

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Photo of a train
A Metrorail train passing Muizenberg train station in Cape Town. Photo: Ashraf Hendricks

The recruitment processes for several senior employees at the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) in the Western Cape were “irregular” and in breach of company policy. This is according to a 2015 progress report, seen by GroundUp, on an ongoing investigation by the Public Protector’s Western Cape office.

The investigation, started in 2013, centres around Mthuthuzeli Swartz, who was appointed acting CEO of PRASA Rail earlier this year. Swartz was previously provincial Regional Manager. He is also under investigation for corruption and sexual harassment when he was executive manager for mainline passenger services.

Cleopatra Mosana, a spokesperson for the Public Protector, told GroundUp the office had received an anonymous complaint for “alleged maladministration in relation to mismanagement and abuse of resources, irregular recruitment and labour processes” by “officials at Metrorail Western Cape” in 2013.

The investigation has not yet been finalised. Mosana said it was not clear when the investigation would be completed.

According to the progress report, dated November 2015, there were several irregularities in the recruitment of senior staff. A “number of employees” at PRASA’s Western Cape office were attending the same church as Swartz.

Swartz made a submission to the Public Protector denying the allegations against him.

A formal complaint by another senior employee (whose name is known to GroundUp) was also lodged against Swartz and then Human Resources Manager Themba Jack about their alleged roles in “unethical instructions that were not policy compliant”.

The employee claimed that the Recruitment and Selection unit “were instructed” to ensure that certain individuals were recruited.

One of the “irregular” recruitments was that of Bulelani Ngxukumeshe. The report states that Ngxukumeshe was employed as a Process Worker for nine years. In 2013, he “was appointed Senior Protection Officer”.

“Affidavits obtained from and interviews conducted with Metrorail employees … state that Mr Ngxukumeshe was irregularly appointed on the instructions of Mr Swartz,” the report said.

The minimum requirement for Ngxukumeshe’s position, which was advertised internally in January 2013, was matric; at least three years’ experience at Section Commander level; Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority (PSIRA) Grade B for a minimum of two years; a certificate of Firearm Competency and a certificate in Security Risk Management.

The report stated that Ngxukumeshe wrote matric in 2003 but failed, and that he did not have the relevant PSIRA or security management certificates.

“[This] raised questions about the integrity of the selection and recruitment process and the integrity and competence of the officials who participated in the process,” the report stated.

Last week, Eulenda Mokhonoana of PSIRA confirmed to GroundUp that the authority had “no record” of Ngxukumeshe ever being registered.

Zanele Sabela, spokesperson for the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU), said last week that Ngxukumeshe was a full time shop steward at PRASA. SATAWU has about 5,700 members at Metrorail while the United National Transport Union has the majority.

Asked if SATAWU was aware of the Public Protector’s investigation and the allegations against Ngxukumeshe, Sabela said, “[He] went through the requisite assessments including tests and interviews before being offered employment at PRASA. Moreover, these allegations were tested in a disciplinary hearing, where Ngxukumeshe was found not guilty,” she said.

“Following the disciplinary hearing, PRASA Regional Management in the Western Cape lodged a complaint with the Public Protector. Given that five years have elapsed since the investigation was launched, it is safe to assume it did not uncover the ‘alleged maladministration…and irregular recruitment and labour processes by officials’ that it purported,” she said.

However, GroundUp has also seen a document in which Ngxukumeshe was instructed to attend an internal disciplinary hearing in October 2017 for “gross dishonesty” for lying about his qualifications. But, a medical report sent to PRASA in September 2017 and another note in November 2017 stated that Ngxukumeshe was unfit “for distressing situations like hearings” for health reasons. GroundUp was unable to confirm whether the disciplinary hearing had since taken place.

In response to this, Sabela said, “It would be regrettable if confidential records were leaked and the employee’s right to privacy and confidentiality violated. SATAWU would therefore expect PRASA to conduct an investigation with a view to ensure that those responsible are accordingly disciplined.”

Another employee named in the report is Luyanda Matomane. The report states that the complainant also alleged that Matomane was “not subjected to fair recruitment processes … and she has been acting in various positions and receiving unfair allowances”, all requested and approved by Swartz.

The report also stated that the appointment of Lumkile Mzukwa as Area Manager and acting Customer Service Manager “was irregular”. It said that a senior employee had told investigators that Mzukwa “was never a candidate” for the post; he never worked in Customer Service as the job advert required; and his salary had been unduly increased.

PRASA spokesperson Nana Zenani last week told GroundUp that PRASA had fully cooperated with the Public Protector’s ongoing investigations. “The investigations are still ongoing and therefore we cannot respond on the ongoing investigations by the Public Protector but will rather await the outcomes of the investigations,” she said.

The UniteBehind Coalition has requested the urgent release of the Public Protector’s findings. In a letter sent on 30 January, UniteBehind gave the Public Protector ten days to respond to questions around the finalisation of its investigation and the release of its report.

“[The whistle-blowers] have reached a stage of complete despondency due to the lack of action … The release of your report has now become critical because the main subject of the investigation is Mr Swartz,” the letter read.

TOPICS:  Prasa / Metrorail Transport

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