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Bitter clash expected as minister and DG fight over suspended official

Senzeni Zokwana
Image: VELI NHLAPO/Sowetan

Agriculture‚ Fisheries and Forestry Minister Senzeni Zokwana has accused his director-general Michael Mlengana of an “abuse of power” after the latter ignored instructions not to suspend a high ranking official in the department.

Mlengana has slapped Sipokhazi Ndudane‚ who is deputy director-general responsible for fisheries‚ with a suspension letter alleging misconduct on her part.

The Sunday Times previously reported that the director-general had written to the senior official asking her to furnish reasons why she should not be suspended for a number of transgressions. These include a missing R55-million payment from the US government‚ which crayfish poacher Arnold Bengis was ordered by a US court to pay to the South Africa as restitution. Ndudane has denied that the money has gone missing.

However‚ Zokwana has opposed this suspension and informed the director-general that he has no authority to suspend a deputy director-general because officials at that level report directly to the minister.

Mlengana has defied the minister and the two are now headed for an inevitable showdown. Zokwana’s spokesperson Khaye Nkwanyana told TimesLIVE that the Minister viewed the suspension as abuse of power. The minister has ordered that the suspension be reversed as he had not been consulted by the director-general before taking such action.

“He has proceeded to suspend her and even announced it to all staff members through central email without any concurrency of the minister. The minister sees this as an extreme form of undermining‚” said Nkwanyana.

In the letter of suspension issued on Thursday‚ Mlengana writes that he considered the representations the deputy director-general sent to him to argue why she should not be suspended‚ weighing them against the allegations levelled at her. Nonetheless‚ he decided to suspend her pending an investigation.

“I have therefore decided to place Ms Ndudane on precautionary suspension…this will ensure that the investigation is conducted in an environment where all possible witnesses are free to cooperate‚” Mlengana wrote

It’s not the first time that the minister and the director-general are at loggerheads.

Last year‚ Zokwana suspended Mlengana‚ but the director-general took the matter to court and‚ in April this year‚ the North Gauteng High Court ruled that the minister had no authority to suspend the director-general‚ ordering that he be reinstated immediately.

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