Defence committee traps Popo Molefe over sexual claims against Armscor chief

Anna Majavu and Joel Avni

Anna Majavu and Joel Avni

Armscor's chairman Popo Molefe has refused to hand a report to the parliamentary defence portfolio committee detailing allegations of sexual abuse, victimisation and favouritism against the company's chief executive, Sipho Thomo.

Molefe told the committee the matter was "seriously sub judice" because it was still being investigated. But committee members disputed his claim and Molefe admitted that the investigation was complete, that the board had approved a final report and that the report was not sub judice.

The committee ordered the former premier of North West to submit the report by mid-July.

Armscor's general manager of corporate affairs, Nthati Borotho, lodged the grievance against Thomo in September 2006.

She has been on paid leave of absence from the state arms procurement company for more than a year at a cost to taxpayers of almost R1,5million while the matter was ostensibly being investigated.

The board hired the law firm Bowman Gilfillan to probe the allegations, but then appointed a committee to launch another investigation after being dissatisfied with the lawyers' report.

Bowman Gilfillan completed its investigation almost a year ago.

Sowetan broke the story last month and reported that the second report by the Armscor board's human resources committee rejected the lawyers' report after a more thorough investigation.

The committee also interviewed witnesses that the lawyers had ignored.

It recommended that Thomo be suspended and be subjected to a disciplinary hearing. And it called for Borotho to be reinstated.

Members of the defence committee hit out at what they said were "two parallel processes" of investigating one incident. They also asked how the human resources committee had been able to come up with new witnesses so long after the incidents had taken place.

Molefe said that the first report had "presented difficulties" for Armscor. He would not be drawn on the contents of the final report, but said that only one report had been leaked to the media.

Sowetan quoted both reports in our investigation of the matter, and has seen further reports on the matter.

Thomo said that he had not seen the final report and would be able to comment after he was given it next week.

Sources in the troubled company were sceptical about this claim.

The committee's chairman, Somangamane Ntuli, ordered Molefe to disclose all costs associated with Borotho's paid leave and the costs of hiring the legal experts when he appeared at the next committee meeting.

"The essence of Borotho's complaint was that she was not happy with the management style [of Thomo] and said she was being victimised," Molefe said after the meeting. "Other major areas then arose that were not germane to the complaint."

Molefe said that Armscor needed to revise its internal grievance policies, which currently stipulate that the chief executive has the final word on all personnel problems.

l Sowetan also reported in May that more than 50 of Armscor's senior managers had signed a confidential document protesting against Thomo's autocratic management style and had claimed he had alienated most of the defence establishment.

The managers claimed there was "a general atmosphere of intimidation and victimisation throughout the organisation".

They spoke about the ineptitude of management and said they believed they had put the future of the organisation at stake.