Search for new USAASA administrator under way

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Department of Communications and Digital Technologies minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams. (Photo source: GCIS)
Department of Communications and Digital Technologies minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams. (Photo source: GCIS)

Communications and digital technologies minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams is in the process of appointing a replacement administrator for the Universal Service and Access Agency of South Africa (USAASA).

So says ministry spokesperson Nthabeleng Mokitimi-Dlamini, noting the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies is undertaking the requisite processes for such an appointment.

The search for a new USAASA administrator comes after Ndabeni-Abrahams was forced to rescind the decision to appoint Newyear Ntuli.

Ntuli was appointed as USAASA administrator at the end of last year, with Ndabeni-Abrahams saying he would serve in the position for a period of 24 months. An administrator for the State IT Agency (SITA) was also appointed.

However, shortly afterwards, Eyewitness News (EWN) reported that current and former South African Post Office employees were shocked that Ntuli, who left the state-owned entity following allegations of sexual misconduct, had been appointed by the minister.

According to the EWN report, the minister revealed she was unaware of the allegations against Ntuli when she appointed him, and therefore decided to withdraw the appointment given the seriousness of the claims.

Mokitimi-Dlamini remained mum on how long the process to get USAASA’s new administrator on board will take, only saying: “To ensure operational stability at USAASA, the department continues to work closely with the acting CEO [Lavhelesani Netshidzivhani] on strategic matters.”

Unexpected moves

The appointment of administrators for both USAASA and SITA took many by surprise, including the organisations concerned.

Ndabeni-Abrahams, however, clarified the move does not mean the agencies are being placed under administration; rather her ministry has resolved that entities that are being repurposed or where board terms are ending, that new boards should not be appointed.

In such instances, an administrator is appointed and will be supported by a project management office.

USAASA’s board troubles are well documented. In 2018, the agency’s board of directors was labelled “delinquent” and faced multiple complaints related to governance and malpractice. It was also criticised for how it handled the suspension of former CEO Lumko Mtimde.

The board at the time quietly suspended Mtimde in March 2018, saying the suspension was related to allegations of various acts of misconduct.

Following his suspension, Mtimde took USAASA to the labour court. The former CEO also asked public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane to investigate alleged abuse of power by the board.

Mkhwebane issued a damning report against the board of directors at USAASA following a complaint related to governance, abuse of power and malpractice.

Based on her findings, the public protector asked former telecoms and postal services minister Siyabonga Cwele to take decisive and appropriate action against the USAASA board of directors under the chairperson Mawethu Cawe for violations that included failure to heed advice from treasury and the auditor-general in relation to the "unnecessary, reckless and unconscionable" use of public funds.

Based on the findings, Cwele dismissed the USAASA board of directors, appointing an interim board in August 2018. He also exercised the report’s other recommendations that Mtimde be reinstated as CEO.

After the board was dissolved, an interim board was appointed, with the department saying it would serve for three months or until a new board had been appointed.

Mokitimi-Dlamini told ITWeb that USAASA has not had a permanent board since the term of the previous board expired.

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