Culture of Fear – Former SADC Staffer

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Southern Times Writer Windhoek A senior employee of the Southern African Development Community Parliamentary Forum (SADC PF) has resigned citing frustration and alleged personal differences between him and the Forum’s Secretary General, former Zambian parliamentarian Dr Kasuka Mutukwa. Namibian Audrin Mathe quit the Forum last week and spoke of his trials and tribulations while under the employ of the Windhoek-based regional institution for the first time since joining it as Mutukwa’s Executive Assistant last year. Mathe’s resignation barely a year after he joined the Forum and well before the end of his two-year contract expires has set tongues wagging, with inside sources saying other employees at the Forum were as frustrated as he was and were just hanging on by their fingernails. In an interview with The Southern Times shortly after he threw in the towel, an evidently heartbroken Mathe spoke of how he would have loved to soldier on up to the end of his two-year contract and how he had allegedly fallen out of favour with his boss and had to quit. Mathe, a former special assistant to two successive Namibian prime ministers, joined the Forum on June 14 last year as Mutukwa’s Executive Assistant. He said he had initially applied for a different post at the Forum but Mutukwa had, upon seeing his impressive academic qualifications (he holds an MA degree in Communication Science, a BA (Hons) degree in Communication Science and a BA degree in Communication Science) and experience, called him on his mobile phone and encouraged him to apply for the post of Executive Assistant. His employment with the Forum, he said, was subject to the successful completion of six months’ probation. “A few months into my job I realised that my boss did not tolerate dissenting views. If you don’t agree with him, he sees that as an attempt to undermine his authority. I would express reservations over a number of things that were being done in a manner that I felt violated the host country’s laws but I don’t think he took it lightly,” Mathe said showing a letter he wrote to Mutukwa querying the manner in which a Namibian casual employee had been summarily fired by the Forum, allegedly at Mutukwa’s behest. The employee was employed as a gardener at Mutukwa’s recently acquired house in Eros, one of the upmarket neighbourhoods in Windhoek. He was summarily fired on allegations he was a thief but was neither reported to the police nor brought before an internal disciplinary committee, Mathe said. Mathe said whereas labour laws stipulate that an employee must be confirmed, fired or have his or her probation extended when the probation period ends, no action was taken in his case. His probation ended September 10. “In November, just before we went to Botswana for the SADC PF Plenary Assembly, the SG told me that my performance at the plenary would be critical in determining whether or not I would have successfully completed my probation. After the plenary nothing was said to me about my probation,” he said. “In January the SG asked me to check his e-mails – no big deal as I used to check even the prime minister’s e-mails – and I agreed. While checking the mail I saw an e-mail from (Finance and Administration Officer Justin) Bonongwe advising the SG that a lawyer whom they had apparently consulted about my probation was busy somehow. I was so hurt that the SG had avoided talking to me about my probation and sought the opinion of a lawyer over the matter instead. “I immediately called the SG and sought clarification. He said there was no big deal, and said he would discuss the matter with me the next day. We had a meeting the next day and I issued an ultimatum: either fire me or confirm me,” Mathe said. He was confirmed to his post of Executive Assistant on January 11, 2006. Mathe said a meeting of the Executive Committee of the SADC PF was scheduled for February 25 in Johannesburg, South Africa and the Forum assigned him and three others to attend. “I was dropped from the list at the last minute. It turned out that I was on the agenda.” He said that at the Johannesburg meeting Mutukwa advocated the creation of the post of Administrative Officer, which the Executive Committee approved. “On March 2, the SG wrote to me appointing me Acting Administrative Officer despite the fact that I was neither trained, skilled nor interested in the job. What it meant was that I was being demoted from my job to this new one and to turn the weapon in the wound, it was in an acting capacity,” Mathe said. He wrote back declining the job. He said he held a meeting with the SG and learnt that a position for a Public Relations Officer had been created and that he should take it. He declined it, arguing that it was graded lower and so he would lose monetary benefits. “The SG then changed the title to Public Relations and Conference Services Officer to ensure that I maintained my benefits. I took the job but it occurred to me that I was no longer welcome in the organisation and so on March 23 I gave a month’s notice of my intention to resign,” said Mathe, who has since been snapped up by the Roads Authority as Public Relations Manager. In a no-holds-barred exit report dated April 21, Mathe pulled no punches. ” I am leaving because the situation and working conditions at SADC PF (have) become untenable … It is an unwritten rule that employees at SADC PF owe their jobs to the SG. As far as I was concerned, I did not. I believe that citizens of SADC PF member states have the right to work at the institution and not at the pleasure of the head of the institution. A culture of fear manifests itself at SADC PF… ” The Forum (can only progress) if and when the employees have the confidence to express themselves freely and openly regarding the operations of their line portfolios, without regard for possible loss of employment if their views differ with those of the powers that be… The African experience of absolute power reminds us to be cautious about how that power is exercised…,” he wrote in the report copied to SADC PF chairperson, the Namibian Speaker of Parliament and the vice-chairperson of SADC PF in charge of human resources. Well-placed sources say morale is low at the Forum. They say there is now friction among employees as the SG allegedly routinely asks employees to improve on or re-do assignments done by others without going back to the original authors. “Imagine you have spent all week working hard on some document, submit it to him and the next thing you see is a fellow employee – sometimes even one junior to you – surreptitiously working on the same assignment? “Meanwhile you have not been told where you got it wrong. How do you develop?” said one source on condition of anonymity. Investigations by The Southern Times have revealed that this practice is quite prevalent at the Forum and has frustrated a number of employees. Barely a month into her job, the Forum’s Assistant Secretary General Bookie Kethusegile-Juru from Botswana nearly burst a blood vessel from anger and came close to quitting in protest after she caught a junior employee crouched over an assignment she and other employees had worked on and submitted to Mutukwa. She could not be reached for comment. Mutukwa did not respond to written questions sent to him on Monday. Bonongwe, speaking on Mutukwa’s behalf, told The Southern Times on Wednesday: “Do not expect a response from us.” The SADC PF was established 10 years ago. It is a regional parliamentary institution whose mandate is to provide a mechanism, at the legislative level, that would hasten the achievement of the long-term goal of regional integration. It brings together 13 parliaments from SADC member states and represents more than 2000 presiding officers and parliamentarians.

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