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HOD implicated in Protector’s report back in office

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It is alleged that Ruth Palm is using the Covid-19 crisis as a smokescreen to ‘worm her way back into’ her office.

THE NATIONAL Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) and the DA in the Northern Cape have accused the head of the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture, Ruth Palm, of using the Covid-19 crisis as a smokescreen to “worm her way back into” her office.

The union and the party said they found it strange that Palm had suddenly returned to office after she had taken special leave to study a report by Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane, who found her guilty of maladministration. 

Mkhwebane had called on the MEC for Sport, Arts and Culture, Bernice Sinxeve, to take appropriate remedial action against Palm after she was implicated in improper conduct and maladministration relating to public funds of the department and the Northern Cape Arts and Culture Council (NCACC).

According to the report, R1 million was paid to Traffic and Events Management Company (Traffic Events) for the Umsobomvu Youth Tourism and Cultural event that never took place. This payment was made after Palm apparently requested an amount of R1.6 million from the NCACC for the festival.

Nehawu marched to the Office of Premier in February this year and called for the immediate dismissal of Palm following Mkhwebane’s findings.

The branch chairperson of Nehawu, Victor Modise, said that Premier Zamani Saul had admitted that the public protector’s findings were worrisome.

“The premier responded positively to the demands of the branch on the day of the march. He mentioned that the public protector’s report did not require a specialist to realise that something was indeed wrong. The premier proceeded to announce openly that the HOD had taken special leave. It is with concern that the branch notes that Palm is back in office conducting official duties. The branch suspects foul play as the timing is suspicious and crucial evidence might be tempered with. Palm reported for duty on April 1, 2020 while the country was under lockdown. She, in the process, also violated national lockdown regulations. The union is calling on the premier to place Palm on special leave until the investigation into the public protector’s report is finalised,” said Modise.

The DA’s provincial spokesperson for Sport, Arts and Culture, Ofentse Mokae, said this was not the first allegation against Palm.

“This was the second maladministration claim made against Palm in her capacity as a senior departmental official. In February, the DA called on MEC Sinxeve to immediately suspend Palm pending an internal investigation into the serious maladministration claims against her. The current state of government, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, must not be used as a smokescreen to shirk good governance and responsibility on matters that require transparency. The DA wants to know why, despite the serious findings made by the public protector, no criminal charges have been opened against her. We cannot simply condone her return to work in the absence of answers. Palm serves in a high-profile position and she is in charge of millions of rand of government funds. We need assurances that she is not being protected but rather that the departmental funds that she controls are being protected from corruption and mismanagement,” said Mokae.

The spokesperson for the Office of the Premier, Bronwyn Thomas-Abrahams, said the matter was in the hands of the MEC for Sport, Arts and Culture and not the premier.

“It should be noted that the HODs sign their performance agreements with the respective MECs and the management of leave is included therein. The public protector did not direct the premier, Dr Zamani Saul, to take any remedial action and any action based on the merits would have to be subject to the outcome of the review. The premier remains committed to eradicating corruption but he also has a responsibility to observe the principles of fairness enshrined in the Constitution. The premier is still committed to meeting with the union,” said Thomas-Abrahams.