Why ICASA can't fire Rubben Mohlaloga
Despite a guilty conviction and 20-year sentence, there is no immediate way forward in relieving Rubben Mohlaloga, chairperson of the Independent Communications of SA (ICASA) council, of his duties.
Last week, Business Day reported that Mohlaloga was sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment for his role in defrauding the Land Bank of approximately R6 million in 2008.
The newspaper said Mohlaloga, who is currently out on bail, successfully applied for leave to appeal his sentence last week Thursday.
However, in regards to the ongoing employment status of the fraud-convicted chairperson, it appears both minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams and ICASA's hands are tied.
The Department of Communications (DOC), headed by Ndabeni-Abrahams, exercises oversight of ICASA.
Responding to ITWeb's request for comment, the authority says: "In terms of the provisions of the ICASA Act of 2000, all matters relating to the qualifications, appointment of ICASA councillors (including the chairperson) lie outside of the jurisdiction of the authority. In the interim and pending guidance from the responsible authorities, the status quo regarding the position of the chairperson of ICASA remains unchanged."
The South African telecoms regulator defines its council as its highest decision-making body. It consists of eight members and the chairperson.
Those appointed to serve on the council are selected on the principles of transparency, openness and accountability, commitment to fairness and freedom of expression.
Despite his chequered past, including fraud and money-laundering, hanging over his head, Mohlaloga was appointed as ICASA council chairperson on 1 December 2017.
In January 2018, he was found guilty of fraud and money-laundering in the Specialised Commercial Crimes Court in Pretoria.
According to a Hawks statement, Mohlaloga, together with former Land Bank CEO Philemon Mohlahlane and other accomplices, conspired and transferred the R6 million into Masepule Dinga Attorneys' trust account.
After the R6 million was received, say the Hawks, the funds were distributed and a farm was bought for R2 million as well as an X5 BMW and a BMW 118i for Mohlaloga, who was a member of Parliament and chairperson of the Portfolio Committee of Agriculture at the time.
The fraud-convicted chairperson contested the guilty judgement against him.
Commenting via its social media page on behalf of the communications minister, the DOC indicated it has noted the outcome of the appeal by the ICASA chairperson.
"Whilst the minister will study the judgment, it is important to note that a councillor who is convicted of, amongst others, fraud, is disqualified from holding office.
"The removal process of a disqualified councillor, however, entails a National Assembly process and therefore falls outside of the minister's ambit.
"The minister is only enabled to suspend a councillor after the commencement of such proceedings which are initiated in terms of Section 8 (2) of the ICASA Act. The minister will further engage all relevant stakeholders in this regard."
Meanwhile, the Portfolio Committee on Communications, which has in the past recommended that Mohlaloga be dismissed, also says it has noted the sentence imposed on the ICASA chairperson.
Committee chairperson Hlengiwe Mkhize says: "The ICASA Act of 2014 is clear on what constitutes disqualification to persons serving on the ICASA council. Accordingly, the committee will play its oversight role on ICASA in line with the legislation in order to restore stability and ethical leadership at the entity."
Speaking on the Xolani Gwala show on 702, Mkhize said there have been diverse views in regards to Mohlaloga, as some committee members felt action should be taken irrespective of the appeal, while others want to allow the rule of law to take its course.
"We really hope in the interim that ICASA will formally inform us of what has happened and their decision. Our interest is to ensure ethical leadership and defend the integrity of our entities. We will be eagerly awaiting a written response from ICASA."