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After years of parliamentary inquiries, irregular financial expenditure, appalling auditor general reports and wide-spread mis-management at Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, the embattled organisation’s CEO’s days may be numbered.
Details from a damning special task-team report and a cabinet decision calls for the board’s immediate suspension of top guns, CEO Dr Bandile Mkhize, and CFO Darius Chitate.
This emerged yesterday when Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs MEC Mike Mabuyakhulu presented its findings to union leaders, management, board members and staff members of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife.
Calling for their heads to roll, and with the backing and full support of the KZN provincial cabinet, the report is the culmination of a task-team probe that begun in August, soon after a striking work-force rallied for Mkhize to leave the wildlife and tourism entity for good.
Approximately 300 Ezemvelo employees, union leaders, executive managers and the Ezemvelo board members attended yesterday’s meeting held in the auditorium at the conservation agency’s headquarters in Pietermaritzburg.
According to Mabuyakhulu’s spokesman, Bheko Mdlala, the move came as a result of an investigation that probed into matters surrounding the highly contentious migration process (restructuring of staff) that has left hundreds of workers bitter and left out in the cold, while others were integrated into the new system.
Earlier this year it was also reported certain members of EKZNW’s top level executive structure had received more than R20 million in excessive disbursements, which they have since been ordered to repay.
Asked whether any of the moneys had been re-paid, Madlala said:
“When we appointed the task-team in August, we instructed them to re-pay the money.
“We have now re-issued that call. What we have said this time around, is that if such instructions are not followed, heads will obviously have to roll”, Mdlala said.
Since his appointment in late 2008, Mkhize’s reign at the helm of the organization has been a rocky one, dogged by allegations of mismanagement, financial irregularities, operating without a properly constituted board, and failing qualified audits.
“In July, after the election, when EKZNW was incorporated under the Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs, (it was previously under the Department of Agriculture) there was an industrial action.
“Some staff members were not happy with the restructuring process. Some of the employees had been migrated to the new structure with benefits, while others were left outside the new dispensation.
“In August the MEC instituted a probe into the matter and appointed a task team to look at the issues. And the task team was given terms of reference.
“As part of the findings of the task team, the cabinet recommended that the government should consider suspending the CEO, as well as ensuring the board is reconstituted. The MEC took the findings to cabinet with specific recommendations.
“According to the findings, the process of re-structuring was done in an arbitrary and irrational manner” he said.
“The outcome was that the CEO should have been able to exercise due diligence in this matter and the findings on the board were also quite damning, in that it failed to exercise its responsibility fiducially’.
Madlala also confirmed cabinet’s recommendation to suspend CFO Darius Chitate.
By early evening yesterday, the department has not yet received a response from the board or its chairman, Comfort Ngidi.
“As we are speaking, the chairman of the board is engaged in a meeting with board members, as directed by the MEC.
“In terms of following the legal prescripts, we have to ensure that as government, we consult with the board and let the board take the appropriate action. Once the board arrives at the appropriate decision, they will then inform us of their decision.”
Asked whether an acting CEO would be appointed immediately, Mdlala said it would be left to the board to deliberate and arrive at a consensus, in consultation with the MEC.
“What we hope for is the result of this action will put Ezemvelo back on track and normalcy will be returned to the organization”.
Commenting on suggestions that there was little public confidence in the board itself, Madlala said “that is why we have said the board must go undergo re-training. This is a new board and they have not interacted with the organization. They have only had meetings.
“Based on the recommendations of the MEC, the appropriate actions they need to take are they need to be re-trained on the King code, as well as oversight and governance issues.