Friday, February 23, 2024

Ombudsman gives former Permanent Secretary a “great farewell”

For students who had thought that they were enrolling into an aviation school to fulfill their dreams to become pilots, events of the next three years were to prove nothing short of a nightmare.

For their parents the events were no less harrowing. They were costly too as parents had to dig deep into their pockets to finance legal battles they could never have foreseen.

School time lost during the endless altercations will never be regained.

But by far the most difficult task was left to Theophilus Mooko who as Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Higher Education was accused of working to destroy the aviation school where students had enrolled.

Dr Mooko is today enjoying the last laugh.

Two separate reports – one by the Auditor General and the other by the Ombudsman have vindicated him from a trial by the media.

He had been accused of abuse of office and also going at length to destroy International Aviation Solutions, an aviation school founded by Teezah Seduke to train and produce pilots.

“It feels like the Ombudsman report has been a great farewell for me,” he says.

Dr Mooko is now out of the civil service.

When we catch up with him after the release of the Ombudsman report last week, he tells us that he is not bitter, before adding wryly that it has become clear to him that there was some coordination between the media and those in government who wanted him out.

“I can’t blame the media. There was certainly somebody who fed the media with all the false information. And it was timed to coincide with the final months of my contract. But I have moved on,” says Mooko.

The Ombudsman has since released a report elaborately apportioning where blame lies, where faults happened and where governance failed.

The Auditor General too has come to a conclusion that IAS owed government money.

He has recommended to the Ministry to seek compensation from IAS.

In the end both reports were damning, especially on the culture of bad ethics including at top management level.

The Auditor General observed that there had been unethical behavior among senior management.

This behavior included the overriding and circumventing of established control procedures.

“For instance on 10 august 2015 through a letter, the Acting Director informed IAS of the error that occurred during payments of previous invoices and further requested IAS to separate bills. IAS appealed the decision to the Minister of Education and Skills Development who overruled the decision and instructed payment of fees for all the stages at once,” the Auditor General’s report reads in part.

The Auditor General said the overriding of financial controls contravened the provisions of the Financial instructions and led to loss of government funds.

“Furthermore, senior management who do not adhere to controls, practically set unethical precedence.”

The minister at the time was Dr Unity Dow.

For Dr Mooko it is at the very least clear to him that the person who fed the media with information was somebody who knew details on when his contract was coming to an end.

In the end his contract was not renewed.

On his contract not being renewed he chooses to be philosophical about the misfortune: “Well it was the prerogative of the appointing authority. And I accepted it that way.”

He refuses to be defeatist and says he is not bitter.

“I am at peace with myself. What matters most for me is that I have served my country well. And my integrity is absolutely intact.”

For him it is absolutely clear that life must go on.

“Anger and bitterness are enemies of progress. And I was not going to allow myself to waste my precious life agonizing over something that I had no power to change. And I have totally forgiven those who conspired against me and I wish them well,” says Dr Mooko.

Based on the way he talks and also his attitude, his life is not a wreckage that other people might have thought.

Clearly, he remains saddened by the treatment he got, including from people who should have known better because they had access to information.

His Christian faith teaches forgiveness and also healing.

And he has adopted those two principles as his guide in this matter.

He says when he arrived at the ministry, he immediately realized that too many things were not going right at the Ministry of Higher education.

“The IAS matter is just one example of a whole host of things that were not going right in the tertiary education sector,” he says, before adding that “there were just so many anomalies that I found when I assumed office.”

He believes the absence of a contract between the Ministry and IAS complicated matters. Nobody felt they had obligations yet Government paid IAS P12 500 a month per student.

Mooko came up with a Memorandum of Understanding between institutions and the ministry.

Naturally other people felt such moves were disruptive to their ulterior plans.

There was resistance as his actions rubbed other people the wrong way.

Mooko persevered in putting in systems and also tightening the noose.

During the interview instead of focusing on himself, Dr Mooko chooses to talk about the students who he says were facing uncertain future.

He says one of the things that gives him joy is to know that the students were eventually accorded the opportunity to proceed with their studies.

“Someone had to intervene. And I am glad I did,” he says with a sense of both relief and triumph.

In the end Dr Mooko holds that he had to go through this ordeal so that his legacy at the Ministry could stand out.

“It was a traumatic challenge for the students and the parents. It is now up to these students to put the painful past behind them and strive to complete their studies. Their future, which seemed to have been taken away is now in their hands,” he says.

In the end Government found alternative aviation schools for the students in Namibia and South Africa.

It is this development that feels Dr Mooko with lasting joy.

Realising that they were in it for the long haul, parents had organized themselves into a committee through which to engage the authorities.

As it turned out the Committee also became a forum for fighting the court battles that they encountered on the way.

Mothusi Serumola is the chairman of that committee. There is still pain in his voice when he recounts the treatment that both the parents and the children received from authorities including government officials. The committee’s relationship with IAS has been far from cordial.

“We are still in court fighting to get Logbooks from IAS. Mr Seduke has decided to keep the Logbooks,” says Serumola before explaining why students still need those logbooks even as they have now enrolled at various schools.

“The Logbooks point to the number of hours flown. In piloting and aviation total number of hours flown is the most important thing. It can determine failure or success of a pilot,” says Serumola.

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