Jooste tackles 'suspension culture'

11 October 2019 | Government

Public enterprises minister Leon Jooste says some state-owned enterprises continue to defy a standing order that CEO and senior management suspensions should only take place with his and the particular line minister's consent.

His ministry also wants to limit suspensions to a maximum of three months, while doing away with the embedded culture of prolonging them until the affected official's contract expires.

“When we learned of the suspension culture, we issued a directive and the directive in short said that before a CEO or member of senior management is suspended, the minister of public enterprises and the line minister must be consulted to have some sort of insight on why people want to suspend,” he said in an interview with Namibian Sun.

“That has happened, but there are a few examples where that directive was ignored.

“There were some suspensions where we were not informed and that we did not approve.”

Jooste expressed concern over willy-nilly suspensions of SOE officials, the majority of whom retain their perks while away for extended periods.

Some SOEs appoint new persons to act in the vacated positions, which results in SOE coffers being emptied die extra salaries.

“Under the previous legislation there was little legal provision to do anything about it. Going forward, if a board was to do that, there will be different consequences.

“When we are approached by any of the SOEs and they are looking to suspend, we always look at it; they are all unique, and we always look at it on a case-to-case basis.

“If there is strong evidence of corruption then we are more inclined to agree to that suspension, because if the person is not removed from office, even though he or she is being investigated, the person may continue with that corrupt activity,” Jooste said

He said they had also instructed that suspension periods should be limited.

“For us a maximum of three months, but again on a case-by-case basis. If we see that they already have strong evidence, we may agree to the suspension and say for one month because we feel they don't need an extensive investigation, as they have enough evidence. Suspend the person and charge the person and let the disciplinary process kick in.”

Jooste said there have been cases where suspensions were not warranted.

“I hate suspensions. Under normal circumstances it should not be happening.

“All the SOEs have their own policies, and from a corporate governance point of view, we would not want to override or interfere with internal disciplinary processes which all of them have.

“We have turned down more suspensions than agreeing to them, far more, and when we turn them down, that does not mean then that there should not be an investigation. We are just not convinced that the quality of the investigation will be compromised,” the minister added.

Delaying tactics

Jooste believes there is a new culture of allowing suspensions to drag on so that the employment contracts of suspended officials expire naturally.

“The one scenario that I will not allow to happen is that there have been cases where a person is suspended and there are delaying tactics to delay the period of suspension until the employment contract of that person expires. Then the case is dropped and the person is out of the employment of the company,” he said.

Jooste said he has also observed a trend where some lawyers of suspended officials deliberately delay proceedings so that their clients get off scot-free.

“When I see a lawyer doing that, then I usually know that they do not have a strong case for their client, who will be charged.

“There are all kinds of delaying tactics. The person being charged happens to be sick, the lawyer may not be available; you see these things go on for months and months. In the meantime, the lawyer gets paid and the suspended person gets paid. According to the Labour Act, they must receive their entire remuneration, so it's in the best interest of the lawyer and the person being charged. And legally, as far as the Labour Act is concerned, and the provisions available, there is very little we can do about it,” Jooste added.