News / South Africa

Gosebo Mathope
5 minute read
3 Apr 2018
4:21 pm

More former colleagues come out to criticise finance ombud

Gosebo Mathope

The public protector is understood to still be examining a raft of complaints against the FAIS Ombudsman, Noluntu Bam.

Outgoing FAIS Ombud Noluntu Bam. Picture: FAIS

More former employees at the financial and intermediary services (FAIS) ombud office headed by Noluntu Bam have told The Citizen they are furious with some of the responses she previously offered the newspaper and are calling for her superiors to look into her fitness to hold office.

The publishing of this particular article today has been delayed due to Bam having lodged a complaint on the 9th of February with the Press Ombudsman about a previous article that was run last month. While that adjudication process was taking place, The Citizen withheld the publishing of further articles until a ruling was made.

That ruling was published last month, with the ombudsman, Johan Retief, dismissing Bam’s complaint, subject to her right to appeal. You can read the full ruling here.

Last month, more former employees told The Citizen that since the time Bam was appointed to the office, nearly 20 LLB graduates who had worked as trainee case managers had left the organisation, allegedly under duress, some barely two months into employment.

A number of these former employees, the majority of whom had worked in the case management department, came forward to say they would like the Financial Services Board (FSB) and parliament’s finance committee to probe Bam’s conduct.

The former employees, who do not form part of an official complaint understood to have been submitted by another group of employees to the Public Protector (which nevertheless echoes similar concerns), have told The Citizen that Bam allegedly treats trainee case managers with contempt, intimidates them into resigning without conducting performance appraisals or training where necessary and promotes friends and family members to positions within the organisation where they are not sufficiently experienced or trained to do.

Other sources previously also told The Citizen there has allegedly been a toxic office culture since Bam took the reins as ombudsman in 2010 – there has never been a human resources manager in the office and the “office manager” Bam has claimed was responsible for human resources and labour relations was allegedly performing general administrative duties for the ombud and was recently suspended for reasons that remain unclear.

The source said: “Let me explain it in simple terms. As soon as Noluntu [Bam] decides she doesn’t want you in the company for reasons known to her, an email instruction is sent to the IT department to discontinue your network access. You are called into a meeting and told to resign with no need to serve your notice period. If you challenge her, she is quick to tell you that she will ruin your career as a lawyer. After resigning, your pension fund is not processed.”

The source further alleged: “Two colleagues were fired in April 2017 because Noluntu did not like the contents of the sick notes they had obtained from the GP. One lady recently had a miscarriage – hence she couldn’t disclose the cause of her illness in the sick note, but she lost her job. The morale shot down among our ‘group’ from that day onwards,” said the former employee, speaking on condition of anonymity.

READ MORE: Financial services ombud runs office like her household, staff complain to PP

The ombud’s website only bears the names and faces of Bam and three assistant ombuds, to the exclusion of the deputy ombud. The Citizen was able to independently establish from two well-placed sources that Bridgette Sehlapelo was sidelined by Bam for allegedly refusing to breach certain prescripts of what Sehlapelo considered good corporate governance. In retaliation, Bam allegedly excluded her from the annual report.

Assistant ombuds report to Bam directly.

The Citizen received information that Bam recommended to the Financial Services Board, which has oversight over the work of the office, that Sehlapelo be dismissed from her role as deputy ombud based on the recommendations of a disciplinary panel. It is understood that Sehlapelo was unable to attend the disciplinary hearing as she had been hospitalised at the time.

Bam refused to discuss the deputy ombud’s status within the organisation.

Sehlapelo, in turn, refused to discuss any of the allegations against Bam and referred all queries to the ombud.

Bridgette Sehlapelo, Deputy FAIS Ombud. LinkedIn.

Bridgette Sehlapelo, Deputy FAIS Ombud. LinkedIn.

After Bam’s office received supplementary questions on these further allegations, it is understood that she convened a special staff meeting on 16 February. Employees who attended this meeting, who specifically asked The Citizen to keep their identities confidential, said she sounded upset as she pleaded with employees not to “believe everything written in the media” and had assured them she was beyond reproach and all the allegations were fabricated.

Bam is yet to respond to The Citizen directly, however. All the allegations contained in this article have been put to her.

Tembisa Marele, the head of communications at the FSB, said the FSB was aware of the complaint before the Public Protector against Bam and added that it “will respond to the PP when it is addressed in this regard”.

“The PP has to our knowledge not yet made any findings and/or recommendations regarding this complaint. It would therefore be premature for the FSB Board to pre-empt the outcome of the PP’s investigation into the matter. The Board will only be able to give comment once these outcomes have been received,” said Marele.

Sithabile Sabela, an assistant FAIS ombud, wrote only the following in response: “In light of the fact that all of your questions impact on matters that are regulated by the FAIS Ombud’s policies, we see no need to traverse same through the media. The vituperative insinuation that there may be anything other than a professional relationship between the person of the Ombud and the chairperson of the board is not something we are prepared to dignify with a response.”

Suspended Joburg ombudsman slapped with extra charges as the office faces closure