As the staff exodus at the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services (DTPS) continues, Minister Siyabonga Cwele has agreed with the Public Service Commission to initiate an independent inquiry into the management affairs of the department, and may place the director-general on leave for the duration.

The Minister had previously indicated, during his May 2015 budget speech, that he was attending to the ongoing leadership challenges which are negatively impacting the department’s ability to execute its functions timeously.

“The Minister had received concerns from individuals and managers of the department about the paralysis within the department,” according to a statement from the department. “The Minister approached the Public Service Commission for assistance regarding the role played by senior management, including the director-general, in the dysfunction of the department.

“The Public Service Commissioned reviewed the concerns and determined that the seriousness thereof warrants an independent inquiry.”

The Minister has agreed to initiate an independent inquiry with the following terms of reference:

* Reasons for the inaccuracies on the delegations of authority submitted to the former and current Minister by the head of department.

* The lawfulness of the application of the delegations of authority by the former Minister of Communications to the head of department, dated 19 September 2013, in the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services.

* The circumstances and the role of the head of department in the disciplinary action taken against the three deputy directors-general, viz Dr S Vilakazi, T Phiri and G Buthelezi.

* The manner, reasons and procedures followed in the disciplinary action taken against the three deputy directors-general.

* Abuse of power and situations of conflict of interest in the relationship with the three deputy directors-general.

* The irregular appointment of two employees to the same post of media liaison officer in the office of the deputy minister.

* The regularity of the finalisation of the performance assessment process for members of the SMS for the 2013/14 financial year.

* The tension/ destabilisation at the senior echelons of the department, and the role of the director-general.

“Because of the seriousness of the issues under consideration the Minister is considering placing the director-general under precautionary leave of absence for the duration of the inquiry,” the statement continues. “This will merely be a precautionary step and is not a punishment and the director-general will be on full pay during the inquiry.

“The minister has, in the circumstances, requested the director-general to write and submit to him reasons why she should not be placed on precautionary leave of absence. The director-general has been granted 72 hours to submit her reasons to the minister.”

The inquiry has been welcomed by Marian Shinn, shadow minister of telecommunications and postal services, who points out that the DA last week reported on three deputy directors-general who had left the department within five months.

“In addition, last week 80% of the senior staff were issued warning letters by the director-general for their non-performance in the first quarter of the current fiscal year,” she states.

“I was informed during the past weekend that, apart from the departure of deputy director-general Sam Vilakazi last week, three other employees left the department: legal director Lerato Molete, assistant director of procurement Masotla Sebona, and deputy director of strategic management Judy Stevens. Both Sebona and Stevens have more than 10 years’ experience with the DTPS and its predecessor department.

“The DTPS has been in a state of upheaval for some years, but this has been exacerbated during the past year by ongoing internal disciplinary and Special Investigating Unit (SIU) inquiries,” Shinn points out.

“The DA commends Minister Cwele for at last taking action on what has for some time clearly been a dysfunctional department. He called branch meetings on July 10 and 13 at which staff voiced their concerns. Some staff submitted reports on the mismanagement of the department.

“Following these meetings, [Rosey] Sekese [Minister of Telecommuncations and Postal Services] issued warning notices about non-performance to most of those who raised their concerns with the minister.”

Shin adds that the two SIU investigations into the dubious mega-million Media Corner deal and the ICT Indaba – which involves many department staff from directors-general down – were due for completion on Friday (31 July) for imminent handover to the president.