Nuclear plant hires during lockdown deemed ‘reckless’ and ‘irregular’

Picture for illustration purposes. EDF's Cruas Nuclear Power Plant along the Rhone river in southern France. AFP/File/PHILIPPE DESMAZES

Trade union says two of three new hires were re-employed after previously being subject to disciplinary hearings.

The Nuclear Energy Company of SA (Necsa) seems to be getting back on its feet after the appointment of Dave Nicholls as chair earlier this year, following nearly two years of turmoil and repeated changes in directors and management.

But Necsa subsidiary NTP – which operates the Safari nuclear reactor and is the group’s main cash generator – is back in the spotlight, and for all the wrong reasons. It has come under fire for hiring three new executives, two of them previously subject to disciplinary hearings, during lockdown.

Trade union Nehawu (National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union), the majority trade union at Necsa, says it is angered by the “reckless decisions of NTP management to continue hiring new external people despite the financial difficulties imposed by the coronavirus situation and the consequences of the lockdown”.

“These external recruitments are also happening at a time when government is rationalising and repurposing state-owned enterprises.

“The Necsa Group has been given instruction to rationalise and repurpose itself. These appointments therefore are undermining that process.”

One of the new hires is Arno van Haght, who was cited in a December 2019 Public Protector’s report over a claim of tender irregularities relating to the hiring of two external contractors, Future of Fusion and Vuma Media. When whistleblower Lionel Adendorf brought the alleged irregularities to the company’s attention, he was charged with “gross insubordination and blatant refusal to obey direct lawful and reasonable instructions”.

Whistleblower not protected

This did not go down well with the Public Protector, who told NTP that Adendorf was a whistleblower and therefore entitled to the protections of the law – which include the right not to suffer occupational detriment for raising allegations of misconduct.

“The NTP did not properly address [Adendorf’s] protected disclosure of alleged maladministration and tender irregularities in that during the disciplinary hearing of Mr van Haght, he was not asked anything about the maladministration and tender irregularities relating to the procurement of Future of Fusion which he had disclosed to the NTP,” reads the Public Protector’s report.

Despite being informed that the whistleblower may not be subjected to occupational detriment under the Protected Disclosures Act, NTP went ahead with disciplinary charges against Adendorf, who eventually resigned from the company.

The Public Protector’s report shows Adendorf’s charges of misconduct against Van Haght were upheld in disciplinary hearings in 2017, and then appealed, resulting in a written warning against Van Haght.

The protector found that NTP had acted improperly by failing to treat Adendorf’s complaint as a protected disclosure.

Six-figure salaries

According to a well-placed source in the company, the three new hires are coming in at salaries of between R1.3 million and R1.7 million a year.

The Nehawu statement also claims another new appointee, Dillen Ramjee, previously resigned after being charged with serious counts of misconduct at Necsa. He worked as a licensing and safety manager and was charged in 2018 with unauthorised sign-off of documents to the National Nuclear Regulator.

“NTP brought him as a consultant in 2019. He was also absorbed permanently on 1 April 2020,” reads the Nehawu statement.

The trade union says none of the new appointments followed proper employment processes. “We are shocked by the extent to which NTP management is undermining the current Necsa and NTP boards,” says Zolani Masoleng, Nehawu branch chairperson at Necsa.

Board oversight?

“Necsa has taken over the NTP board yet it continues to accept this kind of behaviour from NTP management,” says Masoleng. “Where is the board oversight?

“How can they allow these extravagant hirings at a time of crisis in the company?

“It is time for Tina Eboka [head of NTP] to go.”

Moneyweb asked Necsa for comment on the hirings. Company spokesperson Nikelwa Tengimfene responded: “Necsa has no comment on this matter. There are proper channels and procedures in place for Nehawu to raise their concerns with management. Nehawu has not done so in this case.”

Nehawu pins the crisis at Necsa squarely on former energy minister Jeff Radebe, who sacked the CEO and several directors in late 2018 for “defiance and ineptitude”. Nicholls was brought in earlier this year to steady the ship.

In August last year, the Pretoria High Court overturned the minister’s suspension of board members Pam Bosman and Kelvin Kemm, though it was moot victory as their terms of office had since expired. Former CEO Phumzile Tshelane is still battling to clear his name through a disciplinary process.

Necsa head of legal Vusi Malebana was suspended last year after raising serious governance issues – including plans to lay off 400 workers. The Labour Court found his suspension unlawful and ordered his immediate reinstatement. Malebana has yet to return to work, as his case is now the subject of arbitration proceedings.

The state purse seems to have no limit when it comes to paying lawyers to fight these personnel issues.

Nehawu has expressed its outrage over the fact that that those who have been victorious in court remain sidelined, while others subject to serious disciplinary charges are welcomed back.

This article first appeared on Moneyweb and was republished with permission.

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