Gordhan set to sue Tlhakudi over SAA wrongdoing claims

Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan looks set to sue suspended director-general Kgathatso Tlhakudi over allegations he made against him in court amid their ongoing battle.

Tlhakudi is fighting for his career after he was suspended four months ago following accusations of having improperly interfered in the appointment of a senior manager in the department.

His problems began in May when Gobodo Forensic and Investigative Accounting issued a report on a case of alleged corruption against Tlhakudi, finding he had interfered in the appointment of a senior manager in the security and facilities department.

The report recommended that disciplinary action be instituted against him. President Cyril Ramaphosa then delegated Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola to handle the matter.

Lamola later suspended Tlhakudi pending a disciplinary hearing.

Tlhakudi this week lost an urgent application to allow him to resume his duties. He argued that the 60 days by which the matter should have been concluded had lapsed. But the Labour Court in Joburg disagreed with him. “The applicant has clearly not sought to protect his interests with the degree of urgency that he might have displayed,” reads the judgment.

“It was only on 22 September 2022 that the applicant’s attorneys raised with the state attorney the issue of the lapsing of his suspension and enquired about his return to work. The applicant has not satisfactorily explained why he took no steps between 22 August 2022 and 22 September 2022, when he addressed the letter to the state attorney enquiring about his return to work.”

Tlhakudi has indicated his intention to appeal the decision. However, his legal troubles are set to mount after Gordhan indicated in his answering affidavit he is considering suing Tlhakudi for accusing him of wrongdoing.

Gordhan seems to particularly take exception to the allegation made by Tlhakudi that he was wilfully excluded in the process of disposing of 51% of the government’s shareholding in SAA to a strategic equity partner, Takatso Consortium, in 2021. Tlhakudi also alleged that he was also excluded from the SAA business rescue process (SAABR).

Gordhan in his court papers says he views the allegations in a serious light and he “reserves his rights”. “I wish to state upfront that the applicant (Tlhakudi) was not sidelined concerning the SAABR and the process for the introduction of a strategic equity partner in SAA. I refer to the confirmatory affidavits of the acting director-general and the chief of staff, which are attached below. They were personally involved in this process throughout.

“They can attest to the fact that the applicant was the lead on this project throughout and while additional resources were added to the project team, this did not marginalise his role whatsoever. In fact, it is the applicant who regularly updated me on this matter,” the document reads in part.

Tlhakudi’s camp were unfazed by Gordhan’s lawsuit and said they will meet in court.

One of the companies that bid for SAA is suing Gordhan for not providing documents detailing his decision to sell 51% of the airline.

Toto Investments went to court to force Gordhan to hand over the full record of his decision. The Western Cape High Court early this month ordered Gordhan and the department provide Toto with all confidential documents pertaining to their decision to sell a 51% stake of SAA. However, the court turned down Toto’s application to halt the sale of shares of SAA.

Gordhan in the papers, poured cold water on Tlhakudi’s assertion that his continued absence from work affects the smooth running of the department. “The department of public enterprises is functioning optimally in the applicant’s absence. As overseen by Ms (Jacqueline) Molisane… serious allegations have been brought against the applicant and he must account for those allegations at a duly constituted disciplinary hearing.”

Lamola also supported Gordhan’s contention that Tlhakudi’s absence is not detrimental to the department fulfilling its mandate. “…he (Tlhakudi) cannot articulate what he would do that an acting director-general is incapable of.”

A source with knowledge of the going-ons in the government said it is looking increasingly unlikely Gordhan and Tlhakudi will work together again, regardless of the outcome the disciplinary hearing.

“Do directors-general serve at the pleasure of ministers or that of the head of state? If these two individuals do not trust or like each other, why should it be an issue? The political and administrative heads respectively implement commitments of the governing party.

The former has the responsibility to ensure that the latter develops and implements a performance plan consistent with the political mandate.

“If these roles are performed with integrity, the occupant of either position should not matter. Even in instances where the governing party changes.”


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