News / South Africa

Gosebo Mathope
4 minute read
24 Aug 2017
5:06 pm

JRA chair accused of irregular conduct by company secretary

Gosebo Mathope

In a protected disclosure to General Shadrack Sibiya, the suspended Karen Mills alleges maladministration at the Joburg Roads Agency.

JRA projects underway in Joburg CBD.

When Johannesburg Roads Agency (JRA) managing director Dr Sean Phillips resigned two weeks ago and company secretary Karen Mills was placed on suspension, board chairperson Sipho Tshabalala gave the media the assurance that all was well.

Business Day reported that Phillips had indicated a willingness to see out his three-month notice period, but Tshabala said the board had decided to let him leave immediately, as it would have made the road construction company unstable.

Phillips had assumed the managing director position on 1 May last year.

In a statement, the JRA executive management and board expressed their “appreciation for Phillips’ leadership and contribution” and said he was “an exceptional civil engineering professional with strong performance monitoring and evaluation experience at both national and municipal levels coupled with operational management expertise within local roads authorities”.

However, none of this appeared good enough to keep him in charge and JRA chief financial officer Goodwill Mbatha was appointed as the acting managing director.

Mills – who was apparently frogmarched out of the JRA’s headquarters in the Joburg CBD together with Phillips after her suspension following a board meeting – had made a series of disclosures to General Shadrack Sibiya regarding what she considered irregular decisions adopted by the board.

The Citizen is in possession of a batch of electronic communication that provides information that the chairperson was allegedly the primary reason for the recent management shake-up at the municipal-owned entity responsible for road construction.

In a protected disclosure made to General Shadrack Sibiya, the head of group forensic and investigative services (GFIS), as well as officials at the city’s group governance unit, Mills warned that Tshabalala’s conduct could have amounted to alleged malfeasance.

The source of conflict between executive managers and Tshabalala – also an owner of a restaurant in the famed Vilakazi Street in Soweto – was the chairperson’s insistence on the establishment of a project management unit (PMU), allegedly irregularly.

Citing her “lack of confidence” in available recourse mechanisms, Mills whistle-blew the information in a series of emails, and said she believed the PMU “by all accounts will be involved in the award of tenders”.

She also disclosed that Phillips and Mpho Kau, the former head of infrastructure development, both opposed the establishment of the PMU.

READ MORE: Staff exodus at Johannesburg Roads Agency – report

The disclosure included excerpts from an email the former MD wrote to the mayor in which he expressed his disappointment that, instead of considering the report Mills had made to the independent member of the audit committee raising governance issues similar to those he discussed with the mayor, the board chose to suspend Mills.

Exerting pressure on authorities, Mills flagged the board’s alleged negligence of its fiduciary responsibilities by pushing through a unit foreign to the JRA structure without a proper business plan, baseline data and a clear scope of work.

“The directive was that the MD should prepare the scope. When I sent the board papers and advised that the scope had not been forthcoming, the chairman sent an email to and copied the CFO and MD advising that both of them must do the scope. This email was sent at 2.40 [pm] on the 26th of July.

“[The] CFO habitually takes a very long time to prepare his reports. However, in this instance, the scope was prepared by him and sent in PDF format on the 27th of July at 2:43. The report was never sent to the MD prior to being submitted for circulation to the board,” Mills wrote.

Mills hinted that an outsider, probably a prospective bidder earmarked to be awarded tenders by the PMU, allegedly prepared the scope on behalf of the CFO, saying “the language and style of the scope report is not in line with that usually used by the CFO”.

She concluded by saying she believed “the establishment of the PMU is an attempt to gain control of [the] Capex [capital projects expenditure] budget and to ensure that contractors selected by the chairman and the CFO are appointed, and that HoD: ID [infrastructure development, Mpho Kau]”, are sidelined from the process.

On Tuesday The Citizen contacted Tshabalala on his mobile phone and he requested emailed questions. This was done on Wednesday. His mobile phone rang unanswered when we tried to establish if he had received the questions. Bertha Scheepers, operations manager for marketing communications at the JRA, assured The Citizen she was liaising with Tshabalala on the matter and would respond to The Citizen by close of business.

However, they had not responded by the agreed time.

Both the GFIS and the executive mayor’s office deferred all queries to the JRA. The Citizen will update this article if and when a response is received from Scheepers.


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