Six months after being suspended by the SA Tourism board, on unidentified allegations and on full pay, the national tourism agency’s CEO Sisa Ntshona is now facing an internal inquiry.
In the interim, four board members – Pam Yako (chair), Tanya Abrahamse (deputy chair), Mohamed Baba and David Frost – have resigned and two new members, Zola Tshefu and Siyabonga Dube, have been appointed.
Ntshona was suspended on April 1 after the board received an anonymous tip-off from a whistleblower. The details of the allegations have never been revealed.
At the time, the board stated that it was “obligated to thoroughly investigate the allegations” in the interest of all parties concerned.
“This would allow the CEO to focus on responding to the allegations as well as guarantee the integrity and transparency of the process to be followed,” it added.
The Department of Tourism, which saw a change in leadership from Derek Hanekom to Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane in May, confirmed to Parliament in July that the investigation into Ntshona had been finalised.
However, Kubayi-Ngubane and SA Tourism interim chair Ravi Nadasen confirmed to Moneyweb in separate statements on Wednesday that an internal inquiry into the allegations surrounding Ntshona is now underway.
“The forensic investigation has been completed by Bowmans,” the minister said. “A report was handed over to SA Tourism and shared with me, with recommendations that led to an internal process that started in September 2019.”
Kubayi-Ngubane said the details will only be revealed once the process has been concluded. She would not comment further and referred Moneyweb to the SA Tourism board.
Moneyweb had sent questions to SA Tourism, and received a brief statement attributed to interim chair Nadasen, who is COO of JSE-listed Tsogo Sun Hotels: “The investigation has been completed and an internal process is underway. The day-to-day operations have continued with the SA Tourism exco team led by acting CEO Sthembiso Dlamini leading the organisation while we conclude this matter.”
Responding to Moneyweb queries, Ntshona’s spokesperson Lauretta Ngakane lamented the long-drawn-out process, which she said is prejudicing Ntshona.
She added that while the SA Tourism board informed Parliament on July 4 that the forensic audit report had been finalised, Ntshona was only notified on July 24 that he must attend a disciplinary inquiry on August 13 and 14.
“The CEO acknowledged and confirmed his attendance, but on August 6 the board postponed the disciplinary inquiry due to ‘unforeseen circumstances’, with no new revised dates. On August 21, the CEO’s legal team then informed the SA Tourism board of its intention to approach the CCMA (Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration) [to open a case of] unfair labour practice due to lack of movement on their side.”
Following this, said Ngakane, the board informed Ntshona of a revised disciplinary inquiry dated for September 13 and 18.
“We can confirm that the inquiry process has taken place on [those dates], with a continuance scheduled for October 22.
“It is our firm belief that the charges are baseless and driven by nefarious motives of a nameless whistleblower,” she added.
Ngakane welcomed the opportunity for Ntshona to finally respond to the allegations, saying he has been “muted for six months”. She said the suspension was never based on any performance issues.
Asked if Ntshona had considered resigning, she added: “Mr Ntshona has no intention of resigning. He is relieved that the hearing process has finally started. Charges have been levelled by the SA Tourism board and an independent chair will hear both sides and make a binding ruling on this internal process.”
The inquiry and board changes come as the country faces declining international tourist arrival numbers. Moneyweb reported last week that the numbers were down 1.1% for the first six months of the year and that forward bookings are not looking good.
Asked if there was a leadership vacuum during Ntshona’s six-month suspension, Kubayi-Ngubane said: “My understanding and the report that I have received is that the executive has been functioning well. I maintain that everyone has a right to fair process. It is only appropriate to afford the parties [time] to properly conclude their process without prejudice.”
Asked if the tourism industry is at a crossroads, considering the recent decline in international tourist arrival numbers, she responded: “I disagree that the sector is at some crossroad as a result of the suspension of the CEO as insinuated by your question. SA Tourism is an organisation that has many men and women at various levels who are committed to the success of the sector.
“There are various reasons that can be attributed to [for] the decline … the CEO [suspension] is not one of them.”
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