RAF chairman accused of pushing for ‘consolation prize’ candidate to fill CEO post

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Chairman Ntuthuko Bhengu is also accused in court papers of making unilateral decisions without input from board members‚ in the latest controversy to rock the beleaguered fund.

The claims are made in an affidavit filed in the High Court in Pretoria by board member Terrence Kommal.

Kommal claimed Bhengu was trying to oust him by using a false claim that his appointment constituted a conflict of interest because of previous ties he had to a company that did work for the RAF.

He asked the court to halt attempts by the board to fire or suspend him pending the outcome of an investigation by the Department of Transport into whether his appointment to the board by Minister Dipuo Peters last year was a conflict of interest.

The court granted Kommal’s application on Friday last week.

However the court documents show a deeper divide at the RAF.

In his affidavit‚ Kommal claims Bhengu showed preference for chief operating officer Lindelwa Jabavu to take over from CEO Eugene Watson‚ despite her poor performance in the interview process. Watson’s contract has expired and he leaves at the end of this month.

Kommal says Bhengu proposed that the board remove one of the highest-scoring candidates from the list as he and others had thought she was too strong.

According to board meeting minutes where the candidates were discussed‚ which were submitted to court‚ several members voiced concern about Jabavu‚ saying the taxpayer should not be given a consolation prize “and [we] say well we will give you a third prize but at least you got something”.

Another board member said that based on Jabavu’s performance‚ “I’m just cautioning you that the board is going to have to work twice as hard…the chairman is probably going to have an executive chairman because he is going to have to be involved every other day”.

Board members also complained that Jabavu didn’t do well even though she had prior experience of the organisation which should have given her an edge but didn’t. “We expected leaps and bounds in the three years of running 90% of this company … it’s nice to have her for continuity‚ is nice that we know her‚ but she lacked the technical skill and edge to be able to answer as you’d expect a CEO to do.”

Despite this‚ Jabavu’s name was among only two listed by Bhengu for consideration by Transport Minister Joe Maswanganyi‚ who has yet to make a decision.

Maswanganyi’s spokesman Ishmael Mnisi said the minister was studying the contents of the letter and has asked the board for a full briefing on the allegations.

Kommal also says in his affidavit that Bhengu on numerous occasions acted without discussion with or resolutions from the board.

“In my mind he feels that he is the board and no one can question his decisions.”

Approached by the Sunday Times this week‚ Bhengu would not confirm or deny his favourite candidate. “Board members expressed their well-motivated preferences based on their assessment of the candidates’ strengths and weaknesses. The final resolution was based on consensus like most board decisions‚” he said.

One of the candidates‚ Nomonde Mabuya – who allegedly scored the highest during the interviews – sent a grievance letter to Maswanganyi on May 24.

In the letter‚ which the Sunday Times has seen‚ Mabuya says: “I would like access to the transcripts of minutes of the first round of interviews where I was placed as candidate 1‚ to exclude any form of prejudice or board manipulation‚ as I get the impression the preferred candidate was chosen long before the interviews were concluded.”

Mabuya told the Sunday Times she had written the letter after receiving a whistleblower’s dossier.

“It showed I was the preferred candidate for the CEO position. I have not received any response yet from the ministry. If after two weeks there is no response‚ I will engage my legal team.”

RAF spokesperson Linda Rulashe said: “The RAF Board is satisfied that all due process was followed in the selection process. All steps taken thus far are based on authorised decisions of the Board.”

The court action comes amid concern over fat salaries and big bonuses for executives at RAF‚ which has a deficit of R180-billion.

Although the fund’s assets have been attached‚ bonuses of up to 40% have been paid.

According to annual reports‚ Watson moved from a salary of R3.8 million five years ago to R4.9-million in the 2015/16 financial year.

Last year R132-million was paid to staff in bonuses‚ with R1.9-million going to Watson.

On Friday‚ the DA said it would ask Maswanganyi to investigate documents revealing that the RAF had proposed a 30% bonus for its executives this year‚ and that all staff would receive bonuses far above inflation.

“While thousands of road accident victims are being denied their claim monies‚ executives are about to receive astronomical bonuses‚” DA shadow minister of transport Manny de Freitas said.

But Bhengu told the Sunday Times the performance bonuses were in line with their budget.

“All of the relevant stakeholders are acutely aware of the fact that the deficit is caused by insufficient funding‚ a law which entitles claimants to claim payments which cannot be funded by existing revenue.

“Performance bonuses are administered in accordance with the RAF Performance Management and Remuneration and Reward Policies. They are budgeted for and are only for exceptional employee performance‚” said Bhengu.

TMG Digital/Sunday Times

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