The Eastern Cape government is resisting attempts to cast light on alleged corruption in its Department of Education.
And the role of Premier Makhenkesi Stofile is again under the spotlight.
The Eastern Cape government, and the man it hired to tackle corruption in the education department and then allegedly discarded, Modidima Mannya, are the central players in a two-year sequence of events that remains haunted by controversy and mystery.
Now the Public Service Accountability Monitor (PSAM) is using legislation to force the Eastern Cape government to deliver answers. The PSAM is a Grahamstown-based, independent research unit that monitors cases of corruption and maladministration and the management of government departments in the Eastern Cape.
The Mail & Guardian reported in February last year that Mannya was appointed superintendent general of the province’s education department in October 2000; but that three months and multiple death threats later, he was out of a job.
Mannya told the M&G after his ejection from the department that MEC for Education Stone Sizani recruited him because of what Sizani described to him as “the chaotic state of the department”, and gave him the task of “turning around the whole department”.
He said he found a “free-for-all situation”. Scams appeared to govern staff appointments and there were widespread management irregularities involving “non-compliance with procurement procedures”.
Mannya put 10 senior managers on suspension — but then found that those who had headhunted him were turning against him, he told the M&G last year.
“In almost all the actions I took, there were political representations and responses. Administrative decisions are constantly interfered with by politicians.”
And “almost everyone you touch is connected”, Mannya said, citing the example of a chief director he suspended whose wife is close to the premier’s wife.
“People are afraid to talk. I touched a raw nerve — but what exactly I’m not sure,” said Mannya.
A succession of death threats led Mannya to seek police protection. He said this was at first granted and then withdrawn. Fearing for his life, he submitted his resignation.
Sizani then approached Stofile to ask the province to pay for bodyguards, Mannya told the M&G last year. Sizani wrote to Mannya on January 29, saying “the provincial government has undertaken to provide you with adequate security” and inviting Mannya to withdraw his resignation.
Mannya did so in a letter dated February 2, but his withdrawal was not accepted. He told the M&G at the time he was in the dark as to why.
He also launched a R1,5-million defamation suit against Stofile for remarks the premier made at a press conference on February 7 last year, and on TV, following Mannya’s sudden departure from the education department. These remarks alleged mismanagement on Mannya’s part and questioned his qualifications.
The case reached the East London High Court in August this year. Mannya was halfway through his evidence, says his attorney, Julian Meltz, when the premier’s legal representatives requested settlement negotiations. This led to an out-of-court agreement, one of the terms of which is that neither Mannya nor Stofile will comment on the settlement, Meltz says.
But the PSAM is determined that the matter will not rest there.
“The PSAM has established that this settlement was not made an order of court and is therefore not afforded any legal protection,” says Colm Allan, director of the PSAM.
“Secondly, the defamation suit against the premier concerned remarks made in his official capacity about the conduct of a senior public official. Thirdly, the case was defended by Premier Stofile out of public funds.
“If the premier now recognises that his allegations cannot be substantiated, he should explain why it has taken 18 months to settle the matter,” Allan says.
“Why should the taxpayer have to cover the cost of the premier’s trial preparation and his settlement costs if these could have been avoided by an initial apology?
“The question is whether the premier has the right to spend public funds on a private settlement which appears designed to protect his personal credibility.”
The PSAM wrote to Stofile and the department’s director general, Dr Mvuyo Tom, at the beginning of September, citing the Promotion of Access to Information Act in its request for official documents that pertain to Mannya’s case. Stofile last month, and Tom last week, refused this request.
“The information we requested is precisely the kind of access the Act is designed to provide the public,” Colm told the M&G this week.
“And the confidential settlement is only one of a number of documents we asked for. It now seems inevitable that we’ll resort to the courts to obtain the documents.
“This case is of great public concern to the people of the Eastern Cape, and on their behalf we will take it further.”
Responding to the M&G through the chief state law adviser, Stofile declined to answer specific questions concerning the circumstances of Mannya’s departure, the death threats and the withdrawal of his bodyguard. He also said “neither party would make statements to the media” about the “confidential” settlement with Mannya.