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High Court backs Centlec in fight against CFO ousted over criminal, civil cases

The Free State High Court has endorsed the sacking of a chief finance officer (CFO) sent packing by Centlec after the Mangaung electricity distributor discovered she was unfit for office due to a pending criminal case and and a civil judgment for an unpaid debt.

Hlonelwa Nkomo has been fighting to cling on to the top job although she had initially agreed to part ways with the power utility on a mutual basis.

The about-turn prompted Centlec to launch an urgent application at the High Court seeking an interdict to prohibit her from accessing and entering the company’s premises and from resuming her functions as its employee.

According to court papers, the electricity distributor had appointed Nkomo as its CFO on July 1, 2021.

However, barely a month after she assumed her duties, Centlec discovered that she had a pending criminal case, an outstanding warrant of arrest for failing to appear at a criminal court and a civil judgment for an unpaid debt which rendered her ineligible to be appointed as a CFO.

Centlec’s investigations further revealed that Nkomo had also falsified a letter and transmitted it to the sheriff as if it emanated from her creditor’s attorneys in which she instructed the sheriff to release her goods which were attached by the sheriff for the satisfaction of a judgment debt.

As a result, on August 16, 2021, Centlec instituted disciplinary proceedings against Nkomo for misconduct.

Shortly thereafter, the parties concluded a settlement agreement in terms of which the company essentially abandoned the disciplinary proceedings against the CFO after she undertook to resign from her employment.

“Ms Nkomo has agreed to formally resign at the end of November 2021. However, the parties agree that during this aforesaid period of November 2021, Ms Nkomo will not attend to the offices of the employer,” part of the material terms of the settlement agreement stated.

“Thereafter, subsequent to the lapsing of the November period, the employer/employee relationship will be considered amicably terminated and the employer would then pay Ms Nkomo a salary equivalent to two months.”

As part of the settlement, Nkomo agreed to return to Centlec by no later than October 28, 2021 all property, including a laptop, belonging to the company.

In return, Centlec agreed to withdraw criminal charges against Nkomo and to furnish her with a letter of good standing subject to her full compliance with the terms of the settlement.

However, despite having agreed to resign from her employment by the end of November, as provided for in the settlement agreement, Nkomo failed to do so and instead, on February 15, 2022, she presented herself at Centlec’s premises and insisted on performing the CFO duties.

This prompted Centlec to lodge an urgent application with the High Court seeking an interdict to prohibit Nkomo from accessing and entering the company’s premises and from resuming her functions as a Centlec employee.

Correspondence from her attorneys alleged that Centlec had breached the terms of the settlement agreement and thus Nkomo was entitled to resume her duties as a CFO as she had not resigned.

However, according to the court papers, Centlec had duly performed its obligations in terms of the settlement agreement as it had allowed her to collect her personal belongings from its premises, paid her the amounts due, withdrawn the criminal case it had lodged against her and also furnished her with a letter of good standing.

The case was heard on June 22.

In his ruling handed down on August 29, Judge Nokuthula Daniso declared the respondent’s employment contract concluded between the parties on June 1, 2021 had been terminated as provided for in the settlement agreement concluded between the parties on October 18, 2021.

“In conclusion, I’m of the view that Centlec has complied with its obligations in terms of the settlement agreement,” the judge said.

“The obligation to release a press statement falls squarely on both Centlec and the respondent and pursuant to the respondent’s resignation.

“I have consequently arrived at the conclusion that the application ought to succeed.”

The respondent was ordered to pay the costs of the application. – Staff Reporter

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