/ 10 December 2008

KZN health minister faces corruption charges

KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Health Minister Neliswa Nkonyeni, who was arrested on Wednesday, will face charges of corruption, fraud and additional charges under the Public Finance Management Act when she re-appears in January, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) said.

”The state will allege and adduce evidence to the effect that conduct of the accused persons criminally interfered with and/or influenced procurement procedures in order to achieve their intended outcomes when a cancer-screening machine was purchased,” NPA spokesperson Tlali Tlali said.

”The machine, he said, formed ”a critical part of the investigation.

”Other allegations are being separately investigated,” he said.

On Wednesday Nkonyeni was told by the Pietermaritzburg Regional Court that she would remain in police custody until bail of R10 000 was paid.

She had allegedly been linked to a flawed tendering process and inflated costs of procurement.

Defence lawyers told reporters that she could afford bail.

Nkonyeni appeared alongside Mduduzi Ntshangase and Lindelihle Mkhwanazi, owner of Rowmoor Investments, a company which won a R1,5-million tender from the health department.

Mkhwanazi’s bail was also fixed at R10 000 while Ntshangase’s was set at R5 000.

The case was postponed to January 22 for further investigation.

Scorpions investigator Clarence Jones alleged in an affidavit that Rowmoor charged the department R1,5-million for a mammogram machine, which could have been bought for R425 000.

State advocate Hein van der Merwe told regional Magistrate Dries van Vuuren that the only condition he wanted imposed on the accused was that they not contact certain members of the procurement section of the province’s health department.

Nkonyeni was warmly greeted by colleagues, well-wishers and supporters in court.

The courtroom was jammed with journalists, court staff and onlookers.

Nkonyeni’s supporters broke out in song and chanted in protest against what they perceived as the delay to the start of court proceedings.

Health department spokesperson Chris Maxon said Nkonyeni would continue her duties as provincial health minister.

”She has not been charged yet and she is presumed innocent until proven guilty. When we got to court today, the prosecution was playing another ball game, saying they are not charging anyone with anything, but on January 22 they may place charges.”

In reaction, the Inkatha Freedom Party and the Democratic Alliance said they were not surprised by Nkonyeni’s arrest as there was ”unscrupulous activity” within the health department. — Sapa