PS slammed for partisan appointment

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Mohalenyane Phakela

EDUCATION and Training Ministry Principal Secretary (PS), John Oliphant, stands accused of unprocedurally appointing an “unqualified” member of his Democratic Congress (DC) party to the post of acting procurement manager in the same ministry.

The ministry’s Senior Procurement Officer, Relebohile Nkalai, accuses Dr Oliphant of appointing Matanki Kopeli despite the objections of the Public Service Commission (PSC).

Mr Nkalai makes the claims in his High Court application filed last week to stop Dr Oliphant from suspending him for refusing to take orders from Ms Kopeli.

Justice ‘Maseforo Mahase has granted Mr Nkalai an interim interdict ordering Dr Oliphant not to proceed with the planned suspension until the finalisation of Mr Nkalai’s application for a final order against the suspension.

Justice Mahase also ordered Dr Oliphant to dispatch the record of proceedings which led to his decision to issue Mr Nkalai with a 20 August 2021 letter asking him to “show cause” why he should not be suspended. Dr Oliphant was further ordered to address Mr Nkalai’s grievances against Ms Kopeli.

Dr Oliphant, the Ministry of Education and Training, the Public Service Commission (PSC), Ms Kopeli and Attorney General Rapelang Motsieloa are the first to fifth respondents respectively in the lawsuit.

The matter was supposed to have been heard on Monday but it had to be postponed after the Law Office filed an intention to oppose Mr Nkalai’s application.

In his court papers, Mr Nkalai alleges that Ms Kopeli had been rejected by the PSC on the grounds that she was not qualified for the post. He argues that despite being rejected by the PSC, Dr Oliphant went ahead and appointed her. Therefore, her appointment is illegal and he cannot take orders from her, Mr Nkalai argues.

“I wish to take this court into my confidence and disclose that the position of the procurement manager is not vacant,” Mr Nkalai states in his court papers.

“The substantive holder of the position is Rorisang Malefane who has gone to the Ministry of Communications on secondment.

“After the Commission (PSC) declined the first respondent (Oliphant)’s proposal to appoint the fourth respondent (Kopeli) as the acting procurement manager, the first respondent proceeded and purportedly appointed the fourth respondent as the acting procurement manager and this made her my immediate supervisor.

“I must confess that the working relationship with the fourth respondent is not cordial as she is incompetent to be in the said position. At times, I would be directed by the fourth respondent to sign and implement certain decisions contrary to the Procurement Regulations.

“The Procurement Unit is a specialised unit that deals with the tendering processes in the ministry which involves millions of tax payers’ money and it is a criminal offence to execute unlawful instructions especially when I am aware that the fourth respondent has not been appointed in terms of the law by the third respondent (PSC). I had several meetings with the first respondent (Oliphant) and the fourth respondent (Kopeli) concerning her appointment and the instructions given to me by the fourth respondent.

“I requested the first respondent to furnish me with the fourth respondent’s appointment letter so that I could allay my fears as I cannot afford to be criminally charged for executing unlawful instructions. The first respondent told me in no uncertain terms that I will execute the fourth respondent’s instructions as he had appointed her as the acting procurement manager. He went further and indicated that the ministry belongs to their political party, the DC. Unfortunately, I do not know the full names of the DC party as I am not a politician,” Mr Nkalai adds.

The Democratic Congress is usually referred to by the DC acronym.

Mr Nkalai said he had written to Dr Oliphant requesting a copy of Ms Kopeli’s letter of appointment.

He said Dr Oliphant subsequently called him to a meeting on 19 August 2021 where the latter asked whether he did not want to take orders from Ms Kopeli. He said he replied that Ms Kopeli had been unprocedurally appointed and therefore her instructions were illegal.

The following day, Dr Oliphant slapped him with a letter asking him to “show cause” why he should not be suspended for refusing to take orders from Ms Kopeli.

Mr Nkalai then approached the High Court to stop his looming suspension.

He wants the court to order Dr Oliphant’s “show cause” letter to be “reviewed, corrected and set aside”.

He also wants Dr Oliphant’s decision to appoint Ms Kopeli as the acting procurement manager “to be declared as null and void”.

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