Mildred Oliphant is basking in the sun of a department that, for a third year under her leadership, has received an unqualified audit report. Although this suggests that she has been able to turn the tide, the improvement is largely on the financial management side and the credit goes to the department’s skilled professionals. It is difficult to isolate the role she plays as a political head.
The number of strikes in 2012 hit a five-year high at 99 and almost half of them were unprotected. As a result, workers lost an estimated R6.6-billion in wages. There is also little faith in Oliphant’s ability to intervene, say analysts, because she prefers to keep a low profile, even when immediate action is needed.
In the farmworkers’ strike she eventually increased the minimum wage to R105 a day, but her involvement in the Marikana mineworkers’ strike was criticised for being “clueless” about the deeper problems affecting workers in that area.
It was under her watch that the BMW factory in Rosslyn lost out on a contract to build a new model because of strikes that lasted for about two months.
On her watch the Compensation Fund received a disclaimer and failed to account for more than R155-million spent on consultants. The fund could not provide information about the payment of medical claims worth R24-million (2010-2011) and R43-million (2011-2012). Oliphant’s instruction to her director general Nkosinathi Nhleko to stop a forensic investigation into the fund raised questions about her commitment to fighting corruption.
Telling the standing committee on public accounts that she had referred the matter to the Special Investigating Unit when she had not raised questions about whether she was serious about getting to the bottom of the alleged impropriety.
Her decision to second Nhleko to the public service and administration department suggested a political head at loggerheads with her department’s technocrats on addressing the lack of financial accountability.