Suspicion surrounds a "business transaction" that saw the father of a senior Limpopo education official become the owner of a luxury 4x4 BMW.
Worth about R300 000, it was previously owned by EduSolutions director Moosa Ntimba.
The official concerned is the senior manager of supply chain management in the department, Peter Letsoalo. He is named in a Special Investigating Unit (SIU) communication seen by the Mail & Guardian as being under investigation over a possibly fraudulent R19million increase in the price of an EduSolutions contract for the supply of textbooks in December 2010.
eNatis records show that the metallic grey 2006 BMW X5 4.8IS automatic, with black leather seats, was transferred into the name of Letsoalo’s father, Marothi Letsoalo, just seven months after EduSolutions signed a three-year contract with the department for the distribution of textbooks and other educational material for more than R1billion.
It was then transferred back into Ntimba’s name in May this year – shortly after the termination of the contract and the launch of a probe into the Limpopo education department by the SIU and private investigators.
Contacted this week, Marothi said his other son, McMillian Letsoalo, had given him the vehicle and referred all comment to him.
People have seen him
Three sources close to Limpopo’s education department told the M&G that “people have seen him [Peter Letsoalo] driving the BMW”.
Contacted in the United States, where he is on a trip, Ntimba said the transfer of the vehicle was a “private matter” and that he found the attempts to show wrongdoing by the Letsoalo brothers and EduSolutions “disappointing”.
He said the vehicle had nothing to do with the Limpopo education department or the contract with EduSolutions. The arrangement with McMillian Letsoalo had been that if he wanted to sell the vehicle, he would give first option to purchase to Ntimba, who “loved cars” and particularly BMW X5s.
According to a report in City Press on June 3, McMillian won a sub-contract from EduSolutions in early 2011 to distribute books, valued at R6.9million. The report quoted him as insisting that he was selected on merit.
Contacted by the M&G, McMillian said Ntimba had given him the BMW X5 as part of a “business transaction”, but that he had returned it to Ntimba when he could not “keep to the deal”. He refused to elaborate, saying that the deal was “personal” and a “monetary issue”.
Private business issue
But he said the return of the car to Ntimba in May this year “had nothing to do with the cancellation of [the EduSolutions contract with the department]”.
“This was a private business issue. It is unfortunate that my brother is getting dragged into this [by association] in matters pertaining to me.”
Using eNatis and other well-placed sources, the M&G tracked the vehicle’s purchase history:
• It was purchased by Ntimba for cash on September 17 2010. EduSolutions concluded its three-year contract with the department a month later, on October 18 2010.
• It was then transferred to Hyde Park Auto on May 10 2011 and the following day was transferred into the name of Marothi Letsoalo.
• On May 17 2012 the car was transferred back into Ntimba’s name.
No vehicle finance was used in the purchase agreements, implying that cash was used. The BMW in question is currently valued at between R280000 and R340000.
When Peter Letsoalo was contacted, he said that the transaction concerned only his brother. There was nothing suspicious about the deal, he said. “I have my own cars. This transaction has nothing to do with me.”
Irregular procurement process
He said McMillian had bought the car from Ntimba in a private transaction and “transferred it into my father’s name for insurance purposes”.
Peter is one of the 22 officials mentioned in the SIU document reported on last week by the M&G as facing possible charges of “financial misconduct” for an “irregular procurement process”.
At issue is his alleged involvement in the irregular approval of a R19million budget increase in December 2010 to EduSolutions for the procurement of textbooks. He may also be charged with gross negligence for contravening section 45 of the Public Finance Management Act.
The M&G has seen the budget increase payment order, which carries his signature, along with those of chief financial officer Martin Mashaba and former head of department Benny Boshielo.
The M&G reported that according to the SIU, the R680million contract awarded to the politically connected company EduSolutions for textbooks, educational toys, science kits and other materials for the 2011 school year is one of those under scrutiny.
Earlier this week Limpopo’s education spokesperson, Pat Kgomo, said he was “appalled” over the leaking of documents from “credible investigating agencies” such as the SIU and Gobodo Forensic Accounting, both quoted by the M&G last week.
Kgomo said he had yet to receive a formal report from any of the agencies probing the department.
This week Themba Ndhlovu, the chief executive officer of Genius Management Solutions, a subsidiary of EduSolutions’s parent company African Access and a previous executive director at EduSolutions, released a statement blasting the media’s reporting of the Limpopo textbook crisis.
Ndhlovu said that “media probes and reports on this matter have demonstrated shallowness in the complex task of providing learning and teaching support materials to schools”, and that EduSolutions had successfully delivered books in 2011.
“If books were delivered on time in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga and if no problems were reported in these provinces, then surely we should be looking elsewhere for answers to the Limpopo crisis.”
Conducting a further investigation into McMillian Letsoalo’s business activities, the M&G has established that he is the sole owner of Hlomphanang Cleaning Services, whose sub-contract with EduSolutions required it to distribute teaching materials to various education circuits, including Modimolle, Mopane and Vhembe, during the 2011 school year. – Additional reporting by Sally Evans