Roy Cokayne
4 minute read
4 Feb 2020
8:52 am

Nzimande’s move to put construction training body into administration heads to court

Roy Cokayne

Former Ceta CEO’s allegations ‘baseless and malicious’ says board member who also heads up engineering contractors forum.

Higher education, science and technology minister Blade Nzimande. FILE PHOTO: ANA

The Labour Court in Johannesburg will on Thursday hear an urgent application to review and set aside a decision by Higher Education, Science and Technology Minister Blade Nzimande to place the Construction Education and Training Authority (Ceta) under administration.

An official in the office of the registrar of the court confirmed on Monday that the urgent application to review and set aside Nzimande’s decision was on Thursday’s roll.

Webster Mfebe, CEO of the SA Forum of Civil Engineering Contractors (Safcec), who is also a member of the Ceta board, declined to comment, claiming the matter was sub judice.

Irregular payments and salary increases

The court application follows Nzimande stating at the weekend that he had taken the decision after receiving serious allegations of governance failure and gross financial mismanagement, including but not limited to irregular payments of employees’ pension funds and salary increases by Ceta.

Nzimande said in a statement that some of these alleged misdemeanours were aired in a hearing in parliament and the portfolio committee on higher education, science and technology expressed its serious concerns about the state of affairs of the Ceta and its lack of confidence in the Ceta board, and urged the minister to take action as a matter of urgency.

“Given the challenges facing the Ceta, and after careful consideration, I have decided to place the Ceta under administration so as to address all the concerns and governance issues which impact negatively on its critical mandate,” said Nzimande.

“I had also mandated the administrator to investigate all these matters, including allegations of corruption and improper use of Ceta funds.

“I have also instructed the administrator to immediately stabilise the Ceta and ensure that its daily operations are normalised.”

Conflicts

Nzimande also highlighted the fact that the decision to place Ceta under administration is also informed “by the allegations being made against some members of the board”, with “some potentially having a conflict of interests in relation to the disbursements and utilisation of Ceta funds”.

“Therefore, in order for these matters to be impartially and thoroughly investigated, it is imperative that we dissolve the board,” he said.

Nzimande issued Ceta with a Section 15(4) notice on December 14 last year listing a number of serious allegations made against the authority and asking the Ceta board why it should not be placed under administration.

This led to Mfebe last week escalating the matter to Deputy President David Mabuza, the leader of government business in parliament.

Mfebe said a letter to Mabuza that “baseless and malicious allegations” were levelled against him and Safcec by former Ceta CEO Sonja Pilusa and that Nzimande was embarking on an irregular process to place Ceta under administration when the (relevant) portfolio committee’s processes and recommendations arising from them are still not complete because parliament is in recess.

He added that Ceta has a consistently high performing board, whose performance is validated by four consecutive clean audit outcomes, including in its 2018/2019 financial year.

Mfebe stressed that Safcec is the biggest levy payer in the sector and that if Nzimande goes ahead with his ill-advised intention of placing Ceta under administration, it will not hesitate to interdict him in a competent court of law.

Impact on learners, contractors, the industry

Master Builders South Africa (MBSA), which represents more than 3 500 contractors and employers in the construction industry, has called for an urgent meeting with Nzimande so that he can provide clarity on the standing of thousands of learners who are in training programmes supported by Ceta.

Read: Engineers leave SA due to ‘construction mafia’

MBSA president John Matthews said they have thousands of learners placed with building contractors on learnerships, apprenticeships and candidacy programmes and the immediate concern is to ensure that the placing of Ceta under administration does not result in unintended consequences for these programmes and for skills development in the construction sector.

Matthews said the construction industry remains one of the largest employers in the country at just below 10% of the total labour force, while the lack of qualified and experienced workers has been cited as one of the biggest threats facing the industry.

“As an industry body, maintaining a steady supply of the required building skills for the country is at the core of what we do for our members, and we remain committed to working with the minister to ensure that Ceta is more effective and delivers the skills needs of the industry,” he said.

“We also support any action aimed at entrenching good corporate governance and better performance, but we are concerned that this development may jeopardise current skills programmes and those that are planned for the near future.”

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