In March 2010, Noluntu Bam replaced Charles Pillai as the Financial Advisory and Intermediary Services (FAIS) ombud. Pillai was appointed by then finance minister Pravin Gordhan as the Pensions Funds Adjudicator.
Now aggrieved staff members, known to The Citizen, doubt if Bam will ever achieve FAIS’ strategic mission “to promote consumer protection and contribute to the integrity of the financial services industry by resolving complaints in a manner that is impartial, expeditious, economical, accessible and, at all times, equitable”.
Bam, who worked for three years as the deputy ombud, said she was “mindful of the fact that a lot more needs to be done”, and said in the short period between the establishment of the office and her appointment in 2010, “my belief is that we have only scratched the surface”, and reiterated many South Africans were unaware of the existence of the FAIS ombud as a dispute resolution institution.
The FAIS ombud is a schedule 3A entity in terms of the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA), and reports to the minister of finance through the Board of the Financial Services Board (FSB). The ombud routinely appears before the portfolio committee on finance as may be required, and reports to the Select Committee on Finance and Public Service.
But despite these checks and balances, staff members have approached Mkhwebane with information that alludes to Bam running the entity like her own fiefdom: hiring and firing staff members without following human resources policies; unlawfully extending loans to employees who do her bidding; woefully causing paralysis within the HR division by hiring inexperienced managers and carrying on as if the ministerial handbook applies to her.
The staff members submitted a complaint to Mkhwebane in July 2017 in which they ask her to investigate Bam for “unethical, unprofessional and abusive conduct towards staff members”.
They detailed a list of grievances under “nepotism, “general conduct of the Ombud” and section titled “unprofessionalism”, but the complain was primarily concerned with an employee who joined the office as a junior case manager, moved through the ranks to become head of HR, and was granted a R50 000 loan before leaving the organisation to serve articles in a law firm. It is understood she is back with the FAIS ombud as the human resources manager.
At the top of their frustration is Bam employing close to 10 staff members (names and positions furnished), who are either allegedly biologically related to her or are extended relatives through marriage bonds. One employee in particular, said to be the supervisor of cleaners, reportedly “runs all sorts of errands for Ms Bam, from transporting her children, sisters and relatives using the office car, to making deliveries to the Ombud’s house when she’s working from home”.
The employee said to have received the R50 000 loan was allegedly told “she can only get the loan on condition that she come back to the office after completing her articles so she can repay the loan”, and “a decision was then made that she will get a package of R420 000 on her return”, which is substantially higher than what junior case managers earn.
“In the office, the Ombud is very disrespectful and insulting. She enjoys humiliating people and wants to rule by fear. She calls people out in the passages about their hair and dress sense. On numerous occassions she has informed us that the Board has instructed her to ‘fire until she feels nothing’. In our last meeting, she indicated that she will fire us, and when we get legal assistance she will get all her resources, and we will lose,” they wrote.
The Citizen called Bam on Thursday on her cellphone, and she neither answered her phone nor returned the call. She and her colleagues were emailed questions on Thursday morning and reminded again this morning. A receptionist attempted directing the office to Bam’s PA, Hestie Teessen, who said Bam had instructed her to tell The Citizen all queries were done in writing. She said there would be no telephonic communication.