The National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) on Thursday fired suspended Chief Executive Officer Joyce Mogale and Chief Financial Officer Sikhumbuzo Zulu, following “procurement irregularities” worth R200m.

Mogale and Zulu were suspended in February 2017.

“In essence, the CEO and CFO were charged with irregularities and failure to fulfil their duties in relation to three procurements, totalling approximately R200m. The charges related to exceeding delegations of authority, irregular payments made to service providers and irregular appointment of service providers,” reads a statement from NHLS board chairperson Eric Buch.

In September 2017, the suspended CEO and CFO failed in their application to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) to set aside their suspension and/or to declare it unlawful.

According to Buch, disciplinary processes were “marred by a series of delay tactics and legal technicalities by the suspended employees”.

“The NHLS also terminated the services of its representing attorneys in order to instruct new attorneys who could expedite the hearing process. Furthermore, Mr Osborne Molatudi – the initial independent chair – decided 18 days into the inquiry to recuse himself from the matter, requiring a new independent chair to be appointed. The inquiry continued before the new chairperson on 29 January 2019,” reads the statement.

On Tuesday, the disciplinary hearing’s chairperson, advocate Nazeer Cassim, delivered his findings and ruling.

‘They breached the trust vested in them’

He concluded that both the suspended employees were guilty of misconduct.

“In the circumstances of this case, it suffices for summary dismissal. They breached the trust vested in them by their employer. They acted contrary to their duty of good faith, contravened the law and the employer’s SCM (Supply Chain Management) Policy. They plunged their employer in serious financial prejudice. No employer can be expected to put up with their conduct,” Nazeer said in his judgment.

He recommended that Mogale and Zulu be dismissed; that the NHLS should issue a publication that they are not fit for any senior office which involves money matters; and the NHLS should institute legal proceedings to recover the irregular expenditure.

When the Board first became aware of the procurement irregularities, they were reported to the Chief Procurement Officer in the National Treasury and charges were laid with the police. The board also requested that the Special Investigation Unit (SIU) investigate these matters.

“The Board trusts that this will lead to all those involved in the corruption facing civil and criminal liability,” Buch said.

He also pointed out that, since suspending the CEO and CFO, the NHLS had progressed positively, turning around a R1.8bn accounting deficit in the 2016/17 financial year to record a surplus of R1.2bn in 2017/18.

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