Minister versus CEO: Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies’s response to her evidence on SABS issues was "demoralising and disheartening", Boni Mehlomakulu says. Picture: PUXLEY MAKGATHO
Minister versus CEO: Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies’s response to her evidence on SABS issues was "demoralising and disheartening", Boni Mehlomakulu says. Picture: PUXLEY MAKGATHO

Embattled South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) CEO Boni Mehlomakulu has resigned after nine years in the position.

After losing a court battle against her parent ministry, the Department of Trade and Industry, Mehlomakulu on Tuesday said that she was resigning "under duress".

The department confirmed that Mehlomakulu had been suspended last week and had handed her resignation to minister Rob Davies on Tuesday.

The department said it could not comment further on a matter that was between employer and employee.

Mehlomakulu told Business Day on Tuesday that she would still fight her "unlawful" removal from the SABS board, as well as her suspension.

The SABS plays a critical role in testing products and giving its stamp of approval of their quality and safety.

Earlier in July, Davies dismissed the SABS board, of which Mehlomakulu was a member by virtue of being CEO, and replaced it with three officials from his department as administrators. Mehlomakulu, however, remained the parastatal’s CEO.

Mehlomakulu lodged an application in the High Court in Pretoria to fight her removal from the board. She also claimed she had been stripped of her executive powers.

Last Tuesday, the court dismissed her application on the basis that it was not urgent. Two days after that outcome, Mehlomakulu’s lawyers were informed that she had been suspended from her CEO position.

She was on leave when her lawyers were informed of her suspension, she said.

Mehlomakulu wrote in her resignation letter that "in light of the recent series of unlawful actions taken against me by the minister, including my unlawful suspension as CEO of SABS by the department … I believe that my hand has been forced".

She said by terminating her board membership and instructing her to refrain from conducting any board activities, except for assisting the co-administrators [the department] in the implementation of the "so-called turnaround strategy", Davies had changed her conditions of employment without due process.

Dysfunctional

The decision to remove the board and place the organisation under administration followed complaints that it was dysfunctional and poorly managed.

There have been allegations that the SABS issued an irregular certificate of approval for noncompliant coal delivered by the Gupta-owned Tegeta Brakfontein mine to Eskom.

Early in 2017, the former head of Eskom generation, Matshela Koko, justified the acceptance of noncompliant coal by Eskom on the basis that it had been given a certificate of approval by the SABS.

Trade and industry director-general Lionel October told Parliament the minister had instructed the board to undertake a full forensic inquiry into the irregular issuance of a certificate for Tegeta’s coal.

In her resignation letter Mehlomakulu referred to the "malicious association" with Gupta corruption allegations.

She said she had informed Davies in 2014 of possible corrupt activities at Eskom, especially in cases affecting the SABS’s work.

She said it was "demoralising and disheartening" to have the minister "conveniently disregard" her evidence.

She said investigations were still under way, yet the minister had meted out punishment for the alleged Gupta corruption.

quintalg@businesslive.co.za