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Eskom board member Lamberti denies claim he’s ‘under a cloud’

Jan 24 2018 18:02
Tehillah Niselow

Johannesburg - Imperial Holdings CEO and newly appointed Eskom board member Mark Lamberti has denied claims by a former employee that he’s ’under a cloud’ for allegedly thwarting her promotion, as both parties await the judgment from the North Gauteng High Court.

Adila Chowan, a former employee at Imperial’s subsidiary Associated Motor Holdings (AMH), brought a court application against the logistics company’s CEO last year after she was fired in September 2015 over allegations of misconduct. 

At the heart of the matter is the claim that she was promised the position of Group chief financial officer (CFO), by Lamberti, at AMH, and she was not given the job as she is a black female and a white male, Ockert Janse van Rensburg, was appointed instead.

News24 reported earlier that Chowan questioned how Lamberti was included in the plans for an Eskom clean-up and his appointment to the newly constituted board. The new board consists of, among others, Business Unity South Africa (BUSA) President Jabu Mabuza, former energy director General Nelisiwe Magubane and health ombudsman Dr Malegapuru Makgoba.

“I am actually shocked. I was shocked to see that someone hadn't done their research and reference checks on Mr Lamberti because he has a cloud hanging over him," Chowan told News24.

Chowan who was employed by AMH between 2012 and 2015,  is suing Lamberti, Imperial and AMH for more than R23m, which includes the R1.9m annual salary and R886 000 in annual benefits provided for in her contract, which had 6 years to go before her employment was terminated in September 2015. 

She’s also claiming R5m for her loss of dignity due to the alleged sexist and racist comments as well as the legal costs of the case.

Her legal representative, Advocate Dali Mpofu SC argued in court in August 2017 that the refusal to promote her, breached the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act, 2000.

Not racism, but inexperience 

In the court papers, Lamberti stated that Chowan wasn’t given the position of CFO as she was inexperienced.

“On 20 June 2014, during a meeting… the third defendant (Lamberti) indicated to the plaintiff (Chowan) that he would like nothing more than a person of colour to be appointed as CFO but that she would require a few years to develop for purposes of a leadership position and that efforts would be made to facilitate her development.”

The defendants court papers further detail that Chowan was dismissed in September 2015, following allegations of misconduct which were upheld during a disciplinary hearing.

Imperial, Lamberti and AMH also attached a copy of Chowan’s contract for court records which contained the provision that she could be axed summarily, without any notice, under certain circumstances.

They asked the court to dismiss Chowan’s application with costs.

In response to News 24’s questions Imperial stated: “We can confirm that a case of unfair dismissal was brought by Ms. Alida (sic) Chowan against Associated Motor Holdings Limited, Imperial Holdings Limited and Mr Mark Lamberti.  All three defendants strenuously deny the allegations."

Shevira Devachander, Chowan’s attorney confirmed they’ve yet to receive a date for the judgement, by the North Gauteng High Court.

PPF shocked by Lamberti’s appointment

Meanwhile, the Progressive Professionals Forum (PPF), which is headed up by media owner Mzwanele Manyi, ‘cautiously’ welcomed the changes to the Eskom board on Saturday but expressed concern over Lamberti’s inclusion as a member.

“The racism case against Mr Mark Lamberti is a very serious matter that is still pending in a Court of Law. This is a very unfortunate contradiction in the intent of government as contained in the announcement to improve the image of Eskom and an indictment on the due diligence process by government prior to making board appointments,” the organisation said in a statement.

Other business organisations such as BUSA and Business Leadership South Africa were more optimistic about Eskom's new leadership calling it a mix of "diverse, specialist skills".

The new board is expected to chart a way forward this week already after Mabuza cancelled a trip to the World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting in Davos to tackle the issues at the ailing parastatal. 

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