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12 Dec 2003 09:34
Statistician General Pali Lehohla’s taste for expensive houses, with at least four traced so far, has prompted a high-level corruption investigation into his affairs.
Minister of Finance Trevor Manuel has tasked the Public Service Commission (PSC) with discreetly probing Lehohlaâ€™s financial affairs to ensure that his property nest egg is not bankrolled by bribes or other irregular income.
Investigators have already determined that Lehohla personally owns at least four upmarket properties in Pretoria, valued at about R3,4-million. His wife, Anastacia, appears to own a fifth Pretoria property.
Senior Statistics SA managers told Manuel, in a series of letters that are in the possession of the Mail & Guardian, that Lehohla may have purchased the houses with bribes gained from irregularly approving at least three multimillion-rand tenders.
The suspect contracts include a R89-million Census 2001 tender, a recent R6,6-million software licence tender and a linked R13-million data warehousing contract.
Lehohla refused to comment on the allegations on Wednesday, except to stress that he personally requested the PSC investigation in an attempt to defuse “growing rumours” that were undermining his authority.
PSC chairperson Professor Stan Sangweni reluctantly confirmed the probe, but refused to discuss details for fear of prejudicing investigations.
“This is a very sensitive matter that I simply cannot comment on at this stage.”
He did, however, confirm that a preliminary probe by forensic experts had determined that Lehohlaâ€™s finances warranted a “thorough investigation”.
The M&G has seen a copy of the PSC terms of reference, approved by Manuel, that gives more detail.
“The number of [Lehohlaâ€™s] properties and the value of these properties raise concerns of possible impropriety.
The number of properties owned by [Lehohla] is above the average ownership pattern,” the PSC mandate reads.
The PSC will therefore investigate how R6-million was paid to SAS Institute for software licences, allegedly without authorisation from Statistic SAâ€™s strategic management team or proper tender approval.
The software was, however, allegedly useless on its own and Statistics SA was forced to spend another R13-million buying a data warehousing facility.
“[The PSC will] investigate whether there was any breach of statutory policy, prescript or practice with regard to financial disclosures [by Lehohla] and the awarding of contracts,” the PSC mandate reads.
Sangweni declined to say how long the probe would take, but confirmed it was considered urgent and was being fast-tracked.
Lehohla struck back last week, however, suspending two whistleblowers on insubordination and misconduct charges.
Census operations executive manager Lucky Ngwenya and health statistics manager Precious Modiba have been charged with contravening the public service code by writing directly to Manuel on November 17 to warn about alleged tender irregularities and wider mismanagement.
An emergency meeting of provincial Statistics SA managers was told last week that the letter “denoted insubordination” and would not be tolerated.
The PSC probe, however, appears to be based on even earlier and more detailed concerns voiced by Deputy Director General Dr Gugu Gule.
Gule wrote to Manuel in May asking to be redeployed because of supposed widespread irregularities at Statistics SA. She attached a dossier, which has since been leaked widely within Statistics SA, and a copy of which the M&G possesses.
Gule, census operations executive manager Calvin Molongoana and statistics information support executive manager Motale Phirwa are understood to have been asked to testify before the PSC. Molongoana and Phirwa were unavailable for comment, while Gule referred all questions to the PSC.
Statistics SA spokesperson Trevor Oosteryk declined to answer specific questions about the suspensions or Lehohlaâ€™s property holdings, except to stress they had all been declared and were legal.
Oosteryk also denied any impropriety in Lehohlaâ€™s relationship with tenderers and support companies.
“In fact, Lehohla took the initiative here and asked the PSC to investigate. He has offered full disclosure, and has also offered to immediately resign if there is any evidence of impropriety,” said Oosteryk.
Ministry of Finance spokesperson Logan Wort meanwhile confirmed Manuel had become aware of “rumours and letters”, was then briefed by Lehohla, and was satisfied with the investigation process. — African Eye News Service
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