Death threats for Mr Fixit

Communist heavy-hitter Phillip Dexter says he has received repeated death threats after spearheading corruption investigations into senior Mpumalanga provincial politicians as well as trade union and business figures.

The investigations launched by Dexter have touched on business interests of top former Mpumalanga bureaucrats and politicians, not least the present Defence Secretary, January ”Che” Masilela.

There is no suggestion that Masilela or any other named person is behind the death threats.

Dexter, acting chief executive at the Mpumalanga Economic Empowerment Corporation (MEEC), refused to elaborate on Thursday, but confirmed that he had reported a string of telephone and SMS threats to the police.

The threats, he said, appeared to be directly linked to his attempts to uproot endemic corruption at the corporation. Tom Nkosi, adviser to current Mpumalanga economic affairs minister William Lubisi, said he took the matter very seriously. Immediately after being told of the death threats to Dexter, he had instructed his department’s security manager to take ”appropriate steps”.

Dexter — South African Communist Party treasurer, African National Congress national executive committee member and former Nedlac boss — was appointed caretaker of the MEEC in May after its entire board resigned amid claims of financial irregularities and mismanagement.

The claims also cost MEEC chief executive Ernest Khosa and provincial economic affairs minister Jacob Mabena their jobs in January. The corporation and its predecessors have been plagued by corruption, fraud and mismanagement.

The latest scandal exploded late last year when a forensic audit confirmed media reports that the corporation had extended irregular multimillion-rand loans to board directors and senior managers.

Khosa grudgingly authorised the PricewaterhouseCoopers forensic audit after Premier Thabang Makwetla personally intervened.

Dexter said this week that his first instruction after taking over at the corporation was to ask the auditors to expand the scope of their inquiry urgently. ”We suspected that the terms of reference for the initial investigation were deliberately limited to protect senior figures, including Khosa himself,” said Dexter.

The preliminary results, outlined in a new draft audit report, appear to support the contention. A leaked copy of the report claims that contracts and loans worth millions of rands were awarded not only to board members, but also to companies linked to senior provincial politicians or their relatives.

The highest-profile figures include the ousted Mabena, former Mpumalanga public works minister Steve Mabona and Masilela, Mpumalanga’s former local government minister.

The report says a company linked to Mabona, Miliswa Security, obtained a R600 000 loan and a security contract worth about R250 000 a month. Miliswa Security has done security work for the corporation since 2003.

Mabona resigned his directorship in 2000, but his links with the company remain. The company’s financial director, Sonnyboy Mabona, is Mabona’s nephew.

Mabona confirmed the relationship this week.

”I don’t understand why this is an issue. I have so many relatives doing business with government. I don’t think there is any minister in South Africa whose relatives are not doing business with government,” said Mabona. He said he was no longer involved with Miliswa Security.

Masilela and Khosa are also directors of the Reconstruction & Energy Development Corporation (REDC), which the auditors contend irregularly claimed more than R200 000 from the MEEC for private functions, air tickets and accommodation.

Masilela confirmed a shareholding in the REDC on Thursday, but denied ever applying for loans from the MEEC or making any other claims from it.

”The REDC is a shell company we set up for possible work in Angola. I declared my interests to the defence department at the time, so everything was above board. The Angola projects fell through though, so the REDC is actually dormant. It has never had an office, or even any staff,” said Masilela.

”If anyone actually used the REDC to claim payment from the MEEC, it would be fraud and they should be prosecuted. The truth is that I’ve never benefited from any funds from the MEEC or similar government agencies — why would I when there are so many other legitimate sources of funding? There is no need to be underhand.”

Masilela’s wife, Mavis, works at the MEEC as an administrative manager, and also insisted on Thursday that she was unaware of any ”family” involvement in any companies that benefited from MEEC largesse.

”In fact, I would be very surprised if it were true. I worked in the MEEC’s finance division at the time and don’t remember processing any claims for the REDC or anyone else related to my husband,” she said.

Ikhaya Milling and Highveld Fruit Packers are two more companies the auditors believe benefited irregularly from the MEEC. Both feature Musi Skosana, CEO of the parastatal Mpumalanga Investment Initiative, as a director.

The Mpumalanga Investment Initiative is being merged with the MEEC, and Skosana is being punted as the ”ideal” head of the newly restructured body.

Skosana was also not available for comment on Thursday. His personal assistant, Veronica O’Reilly, confirmed he was scheduled to meet the auditors’ forensic investigation team on Friday.

Skosana is a business partner of Mabena, the ousted economic affairs minister, in an unrelated company, Thusanang.

Mabena on Thursday denied conflict of interest. ”I declared my interests in the company while I was in government, and have never been a beneficiary of MEEC loans, help, or anything else … I was also never in a position to influence the MEEC to favour Musi [Skosana] or his companies, and in fact know nothing about his other businesses. We have no relationship outside of Thusanang, and anyone suggesting anything untoward had better be ready for a fight. I am clean.”

Mabena’s position as Mpumalanga’s highest-ranking cabinet member did not save him from being axed in January, after he allegedly refused to take action on the MEEC.

The auditors’ investigation highlights serious irregularities relating to Khosa’s expenses while leading the parastatal. Among other things, the report charges, he claimed more than R1-million for private travel expenses.

Mail & Guardian attempts to elicit comment from him were unsuccessful.

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Matuma Letsoala
Guest Author
Justin Arenstein
Justin Arenstein works from Africa. Investigative journalist & #CivicTech strategist. Manages innovation fund tech labs across Africa. Founder @afriLEAKS @Code4Africa @AfricanCIR @HHAfrica Justin Arenstein has over 7519 followers on Twitter.

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