Business 28.8.2017 09:52 am

JRA whistle-blower paints damning picture of agency’s chairman

JRA employees at work.

JRA employees at work.

Suspended company secretary gave a protected disclosure in contravention of a board resolution ordering her not to tell ‘any party’ anything.

A protected disclosure made by a now-suspended company secretary at the Johannesburg Roads Agency (JRA) paints a picture of a chairperson who was already embroiled in attempted irregular expenditure, alleged extortion of funds from service providers and a campaign to fire opponents barely six months into office.

When Karen Mills, also a delegated ethics officer for the municipal-owned entity, approached the board’s independent committee chairperson and the city’s group governance with concerns regarding the chairperson’s conduct, a four-hour board meeting on 2 August concluded that “the trust had been broken between the board and the company secretary”.

Mills was also “prohibited from communicating any issues directly to any party, including Group Governance and the independent audit committee members, and all issues must be channeled directly through the chairman of the Audit and Finance Committee”, the meeting resolved.

This meant she was not allowed to talk to external auditors and was expected to keep her concerns within the entity, something she obviously opted not to do.

The Citizen has seen the board resolution that states “it was the view of the meeting that the issues raised with Group Governance should have been escalated to the Board Chairman”.

“The Chairman was of the view that his reputation was being placed at risk and he was not able to work with the company secretary in this manner.”

READ MORE: JRA chair accused of irregular conduct by company secretary

This resolution created a conundrum for Mills. Abiding by it, she felt, would have entailed dereliction of her duties. She chose to disregard it and continued communicating her concerns a day later, writing: “Please note as I am now in contravention of the Board resolution passed yesterday I am formally exercising my rights in terms of the Protected Disclosures Act.”

In the email addressed primarily to General Shadrack Sibiya, the head of Group Forensic and Investigative Services (GFIS) for City of Joburg, Mills outlined how Tshabalala allegedly informed staff members he intended to “fire people” and mentioned the now former MD, Dr Sean Phillips, head of infrastructure development, Mpho Kau, and Mills as some of his targets.

The ethics officer also revealed she was “surprised to find that nobody, including Group Governance, was in possession of his [Sipho Tshabalala’s] CV or biography, to the extent that he wrote a few words on a piece of paper and gave it to [name withheld] from group governance for purposes of preparing the Mayor’s press release about the new chairmen of the various entities”. She confirmed that she did receive CVs “of all other board and audit committee members…”

Chairperson’s credentials questioned

A press release dated 23 March 2017, sanctioned by the mayor’s office, did give some indication of his experience.

“Tshabalala is an entrepreneur with a passion for youth development and tourism. He is recognised for his contribution to the development of youth through arts, sports and culture in Africa. He is locally known for his vibrant and thriving restaurant [in] Vilakazi in Soweto.

“Amongst other roles, Tshabalala serves as the chairperson of the Youth Charter for Sports (Africa), Deputy Chairperson of Johannesburg Chamber of Commerce and Industry and as a member of the Johannesburg Tourism Stakeholders Committee,” the statement read.

Allegations surround an ex-employee appointed to the board

Mills also flagged the matter of a board member who is “an ex-JRA employee who was the subject of an investigation by Nexus [forensic investigators] and against whom the laying of criminal charges was recommended” without independent checks done. She pointed out that “this is contradictory to the dictates of good governance” and requested clarification from group governance on the issue to avoid “a Prasa-like” situation at a later stage.

The establishment of the project management unit (PMU) The Citizen has previously reported on was contextualised as arising from the “issue of the failed contract in respect of the double-decker bridge”, a matter she added was also “currently a subject of investigation undertaken by Nexus and implicates the CFO in the fraudulent award of tender”.

According to her information, Kau and the consulting engineers recommended the contract be cancelled “no less than five times, [but] this was blocked by the CFO until the point was reached that, in the face of opposition from the board chairman and the CFO, the MD cancelled the contract”.

Mills then accuses Tshabalala of using “this as an excuse to say that the JRA project management was defective and a new unit needed to be formed”.

Mills alleges the former MD formally communicated his own concerns in a letter to the city manager “who in turn provided same to Group Governance.” She further claimed that “the MD’s email was apparently given to the MMC who gave it to the board chairman”, a situation which led to a “furious” Tshabalala accosting her with allegations that she was conducting an “investigation” against him.

‘Extortion’ of funds from service providers

The last sticky allegation in the disclosure is about a matter in which a UK-based publication received JRA strategy and emailed it back to the entity offering exposure for the board chairperson. Despite the JRA informing the publication the company had not authorised placing of the advertorial, one of their service providers allegedly received an instruction to deposit pound sterling into the bank account of the publisher based on a purported instruction from the JRA.

The service provider [name withheld] balked and demanded an explanation from the JRA in emails The Citizen is in possession of. Mills charged this appeared to have been an elaborate scheme to extort money from JRA services providers.

Tshabalala was sent questions on these issues last week and he has so far failed to respond to them.

The Citizen also approached the office of the executive mayor as well as General Sibiya’s spokesperson for comment. They deferred queries to the JRA.

Tshabalala’s failure to respond to the emailed questions he requested resulted in The Citizen going back to Bertha Scheepers, the JRA marketing manager for comment.

On Monday morning, she told us the JRA board was declining comment.

JRA managing director resigns

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