The Minister of Minions
How Faith Muthambi has crammed her ministry with far more staff than the law allows
Public Service Minister Faith Muthambi is running a bloated private office in which she’s employed 40 people allegedly in breach of government policy on the number of staff ministers are allowed to hire.
This has been revealed to Times Select by well-placed officials in the Department of Public Service and Administration and comes amid ongoing controversy over her conduct.
Last year she had to defend herself after the Sunday Times revealed that she flew 30 of her friends and relatives to Cape Town at a cost of R300,000 to attend her budget speech. She has also told parliament, according to reports, that she sees nothing wrong with hiring family members to work for her.
Now officials in her department charge Muthambi quietly expanded her office during the Christmas recess, employing among others a “protocol officer” even though such a position did not exist in terms of the ministerial handbook or the organogram of her department.The ministerial handbook spells out the number of staff ministers are allowed to hire and limits that to 10.But those familiar with government affairs said ministers were allowed to expand the staff compliment of their private offices to around 15 to, among others things, provide for the employment of political and legal advisors depending on their portfolios.
Muthambi has also been accused of “imposing exile” on her director-general, Mashwahle Diphofa, by not allowing him to return from the annual leave he took in October last year.
Diphofa has since been transferred to the Department of Traditional Affairs following intervention by the office of President Jacob Zuma and the Public Service Commission.Sources at the department, regarded as the custodian of proper administration in the public service, said with a bloated structure in her office, Muthambi was violating all the policies and public service prescripts she was employed to ensure other departments did not violate.
They said Muthambi had in December increased her private office staff compliment by hiring Cliff Bopape as a “protocol officer”, former Limpopo MPL Jack Matlala as speech writer, Joe Makhafola as a new spokesman even though she hired another spokesman, Pfarelo Maduguma, in May last year and he remained in the minister's office in an undefined role.
Responding through her acting director-general William Vukela, Muthambi denied she had a staff compliment of 40 people, but did not offer another figure.
Vukela insisted that all of Muthambi’s staff had been hired in line with the stipulations of the ministerial handbook. “As and when vacancies become available due to staff movements, as was the case in the ministry, the ministry has the responsibility to fill those vacancies. As such, the following vacant positions were filled: Mr Matlala was appointed as the Director: Parliament Liaison and Research Analysis, Mr Bopape as Ministerial Receptionist , Mr Makhafola, Director: Cabinet and Parliamentary Liaison Officer. These posts are not in the private office as alleged,” said Vukela.
Sources said Muthambi's modus operandi was to “give her people” government titles with which they performed functions outside those positions.
“There’s a deputy director whose job is to only take pictures at events that the minister attends. There’s also a guy who’s responsible for social media in the minister’s office. We don’t know what a protocol officer does because other ministers don’t have that,” said one source.
Muthambi last year suspended the department’s CFO, Masilo Makhura, and replaced him with Zweli Momeka who had been introduced to staff as the department's “financial overseer”.Muthambi was also said to have been unhappy when she discovered that Diphofa had been to his office recently and her staff reprimanded other officials for allowing their director-general access to the building.
Vukela did not respond to specific questions about this, saying only that Diphofa was “still on leave” which he took in October last year following differences between him and Muthambi on the running of the department.
Diphofa’s leave was due to end on November 17 but he continued to sit at home with full pay until he was moved to Traditional Affairs.
Diphofa declined to comment, only saying the Public Service Commission was still in the process of resolving his impasse with Muthambi in consultation with the Presidency.UPDATE: Muthambi denies hiring spree report
Since the publication of this report, the minister has subsequently given Times Select the following comment regarding the story above. Read it in full:
"We note with regret the article by Thabo Mokone published on, 2 February 2018, 'Faith Muthambi goes on festive hiring spree'.
“ 'Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth', is a law of propaganda often attributed to the Nazi Joseph Goebbels. I am not so sure where Thabo Mokone draws his own inspiration from. This is a classic display of lazy journalism because the facts were provided to Mokone by the office of the Minister on filling those funded vacant positions.
"Without sounding like a broken record, once more, this spurious and unfounded allegations, are a rehash of what the Minister has already answered to successfully, both in parliament and in the media. By brushing off Minister’s response in favour of sensationalizing and creating an impression that the Minister is the law unto herself does not serve any justice.
"We wish to repeat for the record, again, that the Minister has not deviated from the law and regulations provided for in the Ministerial Handbook.
"Perhaps the day Mokone takes the trouble of visiting the Ministry of Public Service and Administration, he will notice that there are four, as in 4, offices in the private office of the Minister, and not 40 as alleged.
"As the custodian of setting norms and standards in the public service, the Minister cannot violate her own Ministerial Handbook guidelines that she is supposed to adhere to and implement across government.
"It appears that Mokone and his informers, any mention of Minister Muthambi’s name, provokes total contempt in them.
"There is no attempt of honesty in the series of articles published hitherto, but sheer mission of personal vendetta against the Minister. This obsession with the Minister seems incurable at best.
"This highest level of desperation to fill up the newspaper where there is no story is regrettable. The quest to report truthfully has been halted by sheer laziness because the truth states otherwise.
"As and when staff in the Ministry develop other interests or move to other posts, they are bound to be replaced in line with the rules provided for, and this was the case."