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Property watchdog board slams suspended CEO’s looming...

Business Maverick

REGULATOR BATTLE

Property watchdog board slams suspended CEO’s looming court dust-up as ‘opportunistic’

Suspended Property Practitioners Regulatory Authority CEO Mamodupi Mohlala. (Photo: Gallo Images / Financial Mail / Russell Roberts)

Steven Ngubeni, board chair of the Property Practitioners' Regulatory Authority, said the decision to temporarily oust Mamodupi Mohlala was not driven by a ‘personal vendetta against her’, but by an investigation that implicates her in allegations of misconduct.

The Property Practitioners’ Regulatory Authority (PPRA) board has hit back at Mamodupi Mohlala’s attempt to legally challenge her precautionary suspension as CEO, saying it will “vigorously” oppose the court action as it has the potential to “smear the integrity” of the property industry watchdog. 

The impending legal battle has pitted Mohlala against the PPRA’s 12-member board and Human Settlements Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi, who oversees the governance procedures of the watchdog which regulates the affairs of estate agents and other elements of the property industry.  

In an interview with Business Maverick, the PPRA’s board chair Steven Ngubeni said the decision to temporarily oust Mohlala was not driven by a “personal vendetta against her”, but was necessitated by an ongoing investigation implicating her in allegations of financial and administrative misconduct. 

Mohlala’s precautionary suspension in late March 2022 was designed to create a safe, intimidation and interference-free environment for whistle-blowers at the PPRA to come forward to support the investigation, said Ngubeni. 

“Mohlala going to court and saying that she shouldn’t be suspended effectively means that she wants to be there [at the PPRA] when the whistle-blowers come forward. It can only serve to interfere and disrupt a fair investigation,” he said.

“We are of the firm view that because some witnesses of the investigation are in the organisation where the CEO [Mohlala] works, it is not fair to subject them to the reporting lines of the CEO while they are testifying against her.”

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Allegations of misconduct 

Ngubeni leads a newish board that was appointed by Kubayi on 26 November 2021. Shortly after the board was appointed, it was made aware on 10 December 2021 — via the office of the Public Service Commission (PSC) — that there were allegations of administrative and financial misconduct against Mohlala, brought forward by a whistle-blower. The PSC is entrusted with monitoring and evaluating the performance of the public service, including the PPRA, which is a public entity. 

The allegations against Mohlala are two-fold: they relate to the irregular appointment of six employees at the PPRA in junior, mid-level and senior positions over the past three years, and irregularities about the loss of pension fund payments. The whistle-blower alleged there were staff members employed by the PPRA who received their salaries without pension fund deductions, which is illegal.  

The whistle-blower also alleged that Mohlala was aware of the nonpayment of pension fund contributions and received advice on the legality thereof. She reportedly instructed the PPRA’s human resources department to stop deducting money for pension funds “after one or two deductions had been made”.

Mohlala has already had an adverse ruling on the allegations relating to the absence of pension fund payments.

In 2021, the Pension Funds Adjudicator Tribunal found Mohlala had disregarded pension fund scheme rules after issuing instructions for the suspension of several employees’ pension fund contributions. 

The deductions had to be recovered and paid by the PPRA, with the board’s Ngubeni estimating that the outstanding deductions amounted to about R1.6-million. 

Ngubeni said the PPRA board had to launch its own investigation to further probe the allegations made by the whistle-blower, which is the “only sin we are being accused of that has pushed the suspended CEO to sue us”. 

Ngubane said: “If the CEO is not guilty, then we will say so, even publicly. We will be the first ones to rise to her defence if she is cleared of wrongdoing. But why can’t the CEO give the investigation the space to be conducted? 

“Precautionarily suspending her is not a personal attack, but a due process that we are compelled to follow as the board. It is not like we are looking to put her head on a platter.” 

Court challenge by suspended CEO

Mohlala, whose employment contract as CEO of the PPRA is set to end in February 2024, wants the Johannesburg High Court to declare her suspension “unlawful, unconstitutional and void”. In court papers dated 31 March 2022, Mohlala argued that the PPRA’s board has no lawful authority to exercise any powers at the watchdog, including her suspension. 

Read more here: Suspended property industry watchdog CEO draws legal dagger with human settlements minister

She believes that the PPRA’s board is not legitimate because it was appointed by Kubayi on 26 November 2021 under the old Estate Agency Affairs Act, which governed the affairs of the property industry watchdog. 

The PPRA underwent legislative changes on 1 February 2022, paving the way for it to no longer be governed by the Estate Agency Affairs Act, but by the Property Practitioners Act. 

Because the board was appointed under the Estate Agency Affairs Act and not the Property Practitioners Act, it should be rendered improperly constituted, said Mohlala.

Ngubeni has described Mohlala’s argument as “opportunistic”.

“Since our appointment in November last year, she has never raised concerns about the lawfulness of our appointment. Instead, she has endorsed our presence and work by participating in our board meetings and subjecting herself to our authority, and acceding to our instructions. 

“It is only now that she is suspended she thinks the board’s appointment was unlawful.”

Mohlala claims ulterior motives are behind her suspension. 

She has accused Ngubeni and another board member, Shadeed Peters, of interfering in the PPRA’s procurement procedures when they didn’t have the mandate to do so. Mohlala said Ngubeni and Peters put pressure on her to terminate the contracts of service providers and replace them with companies allegedly handpicked by the pair. Ngubeni has denied this. 

“We are members of the board and not full-time employees. We don’t get involved in everyday procurement processes. But there are decisions we take as the board. These decisions are given as suggestions or instructions to the CEO. 

“All decisions taken by the board have been communicated in writing. There was never an insistence to appoint preferred companies. She is just trying her luck.” DM/BM

 

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