Deputy Competition Commissioner Tembinkosi Bonakele. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL
Deputy Competition Commissioner Tembinkosi Bonakele. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL

THE Public Protector is investigating allegations of maladministration, financial mismanagement and victimisation of staff at the Competition Commission.

The allegations come in the wake of reports of the resignations of several senior managers at the commission, one of the country’s key agencies, over the past 18 months.

The commission is tasked with investigating, controlling and evaluating restrictive business practices, abuse of dominant positions, and mergers and acquisitions.

"The Public Protector is investigating alleged maladministration, financial mismanagement and victimisation, all of which are based on corporate governance failure," spokeswoman Kgalalelo Masibi told Business Day last week.

The protector’s investigation is not the first probe into the commission. Documents show that former deputy commissioner Tembinkosi Bonakele wrote to Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel last year requesting his urgent intervention.

The letter referred to staff members complaining about the competition commissioner’s leadership and management.

Mr Patel was also asked to intervene over alleged verbal abuse of staff by the commissioner.

Mr Bonakele declined to comment on Sunday.

As far back as 2009, an investigation into allegations of mistreatment of staff by commissioner Shan Ramburuth and the underlying causes of delays in certain projects was commissioned.

The investigation recommended that Mr Ramburuth undergo personal coaching to assist him in dealing with people and controlling his temper. The report also recommended that if the problems persisted, the minister should be invited to deal with the matter.

Asked to comment and to say whether there was a witch-hunt against the commissioner, advocacy and stakeholder relations manager Trudi Makhaya said the commission was not at liberty to comment on the allegations concerning its leadership and management.

"The commissioner responded in writing to similar allegations against him to the economic development minister, and it would be inappropriate to comment at this stage," she said last week. "There has been no grievance lodged against the commissioner, in terms of the commission’s grievance policies, by any member of staff."

Ms Makhaya said that with the skills and age profile of staff at the commission, it was normal for employees to pursue other career opportunities to advance themselves.

"As an institution with many young professionals, and also working in a relatively new and emerging field of the law in South Africa, we encourage employees to use the skills and experience they have gained at the commission to contribute to other institutions in both the private and public sector," she said.

Ms Makhaya noted that the commission has been the recipient of the Deloitte Best Company to Work for Award in the public sector category in 2009 and 2011.

She said a significant number of past employees had sought to be re-employed by the commission.

A report published last year by the Global Competition Review, the world’s leading antitrust and competition law journal, noted that lawyers believed there were pockets of excellence in the commission’s wider staff. However, it also said that there had been leadership gaps.

"The authority still struggles to retain staff — its average two-year tenure is the shortest in rating enforcement and over two-thirds of its 2011 team joined that year," it said.

The report said there were concerns that this was affecting institutional memory but the commission was quoted as saying that it had developed programmes to combat this.

The commission fell from three-and-a-half stars to three in last year’s Global Competition Review of the world’s top competition authorities.

The Department of Economic Development had a week to respond to requests for comment but had not done so by the time of going to print.