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Ezemvelo in a state of chaos
Jonathan Erasmus, The Witness
Pietermaritzburg - KwaZulu-Natal’s provincial wildlife body, which has been beset with scandal and leadership instability, apologised “profusely” after it revealed its lacklustre unaudited financial results to the legislature on Friday.
With its under-expenditure, gross lack of maintenance and question marks over why the former CEO Dr Bandile Mkhize received a secret golden handshake, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife’s general manager Sudhir Ghoorah and CFO Darius Chitate came under immense pressure for 90 minutes by the KZN Legislature Finance Portfolio Committee.
The committee has been holding hearings on the unaudited reports for the 2014/15 year of all provincial government departments and their respective agencies. Ezemvelo is part of the KZN Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs.
Noticeably absent from the hearing was Ezemvelo’s acting CEO Comfort Ngidi, with his staff appearing unaware of his whereabouts.
The MPLs, usually divided along political lines, found commonality scolding the entity’s chaotic results as a “disaster” and an “embarrassment”.
“Let me start by apologising. I am sorry. We are sorry for letting you, the department and the public down,” said Ghoorah.
He said they acknowledge that they need to do “much more”.
“We need to change things and for that we need to apologise profusely. I am not going to put excuses in front of you. Some people need to be disciplined, counselled or charged for not doing their work.”
But he said there is hope, putting on record that the organisation has received unqualified audits from the Auditor-General for two consecutive years after receiving qualified audits for 17 years.
Chitate said they had underspent their budget by R213 million, of which the majority was to be spent on repairing and replacing infrastructure and assets.
Blaming supply chain management and a lack of staff capacity, Chitate dropped a further bombshell by admitting that last year, without giving any reason to the committee, the organisation’s management suspended the entire management of their technical services department, bringing all infrastructure and maintenance programmes to a grinding halt for three months.
Committee chairperson Sipho Nkosi said the legislature tried to have Ezemvelo placed under the control of the KZN Treasury in 2013 as they believed then the organisation was in trouble.
“Our own friendly view on the matter was ignored. I am surprised the Doc [Mkhize] is not there anymore. I never thought [this would happen]. I thought that man would work beyond his retirement as he appeared to have lot of power.”
He said Ezemvelo’s board will need to be questioned on why they gave Mkhize an undisclosed “golden handshake” instead of “charging him for poor performance”.
Nkosi said Ngidi’s non-attendence at the hearing was likely linked to the acting CEO’s dislike of being “embarrassed”.
“He doesn’t like being embarrassed and I can say that because I know him.”
Chitate said there is a turnaround strategy created by Ngidi which would be made available to the committee.
Dr Mkhize resigned on September 4. Mkhize was suspended in December 2014 pending an investigation into his role in the implementation of a new organisational structure, commonly known as the migration strategy, that has subsequently been reversed.
The wildlife body was expected to begin with hearings into Mkhize’s conduct in August. Neither Ezemvelo or Mkhize would disclose the terms of the settlement.
ANC MPL Nomagugu Simelane-Zulu said the state should “underpay the officials” at Ezemvelo who had failed to spend funds.
DA MPL Francois Rodgers called on Ezemvelo to be placed under immediate administration