Suspension follows M&G questions

The Department of Minerals and Energy has taken three and a half months to suspend a senior member of staff fingered in a corruption investigation, and it appears action was only taken after the Mail & Guardian posed questions to the department.

The M&G has in its possession a preliminary investigation report into the allegations faced by the Chief Director of the National Electrification Programme Martin Masemola, which was conducted by law firm Bowman Gilfillan.

In the report it is alleged that Masemola has been vetting family and friends as contractors for department projects, from who he has received kickbacks and in one instance a plot of land.

The report is dated November 27, 2008 and was delivered to the DME’s leadership on that day.

The report states that enough “red flags” had been picked up in the preliminary investigation to warrant “a full forensic audit into possible corruption, fraud and other irregularities”.

On Tuesday the DME’s director General Sandile Nogxina suspended Masemola, following questions that were posed to the department by the M&G on the same day.

A source close to the department informed the M&G that Nogxina had held an emergency meeting late on Tuesday, to deal with the M&G queries, however DME spokesperson Bheki Khumalo denies this claiming that there was no emergency meeting.

Khumalo said that Nogxina had summoned Masemola to his office on Tuesday morning and had suspended him for a period of thirty days.

“The DG has enlisted the services of forensic investigators to deal with this matter,” said Khumalo. “Allegations of corruption are viewed very seriously by the DG.”

However it is not clear why it took Nogxina two and a half months, from when he received the preliminary investigation report in late November 2008 to write to Masemola asking him to explain the allegations he was facing, which he did on February 16, 2009.

Two sources who are familiar with the report have told the Mail & Guardian that they had been informed that the department did not want to deal with the report’s findings this close to the election.

Khumalo says that Nogxina wanted to complete an internal investigation into staffing issues that involved Masemola before acting on the findings of the report.

Khumalo told the M&G that Masemola only responded to Ngoxina’s letter last week on Thursday March 12 and that he had denied the allegations that had been put to him.

The preliminary investigation lists a series of allegations against Masemola, however most centre around kickbacks he received from friends of his who were contracted to work on DME projects.

Masemola is alleged to have a relationship with Mteto Bam a contractor for Roshcon, an Eskom subsidiary that is contacted by the DME to appoint, manage and oversee contractors who install solar panels and other electrical equipment for the DME’s non-grid programme.

The report states that it alleged that Bam and Masemola have conspired to hire friends and family as contractors and that payments were filtering back to Masemola through Bam from the contractors.

A source that was aware of the investigation but wanted to remain anonymous said that Roshcon were meant to appoint the contractors but that Masemola had insisted that he would nominate the contractors.

“I know that money did pass hands,” said the source.

One contractor George Khambula told the investigators that he had paid over R180 000 in total to Bam during the course of 2007/2008.

Khambula said that the payments were R2000 per school his company had worked on and that the payments were made in cash at the Wimpy or in the street in Flagstaff in the Eastern Cape.

When the M&G contacted Khambula this week he said he did not want to talk and then put down the phone.

It also alleged in the report that another contractor Solomon Thwala, who admits to being friends with Masemola, gave a property in Hartebeespoort to him.

The M&G has established that the stand did belong to Thwala and that Masemola now owns it and has a bond for R480 000 for the property.

Thwala who is employed as a technician by MTN said that Masemola bought the property from him and was very adamant that he had never paid kickbacks to anyone.

Thwala says that Masemola had recommended him to Roshcon and he had been to see Mteto Bam who had told him to apply when Roshcon advertised for contractors.

Attempts by the M&G to contact Masemola and Bam were unsuccessful.

However Khumalo did provide the M&G with Masemola’s response to Nogxina’s letter where he claims that he had nothing to do with appointing contractors and that he bought the plot of land in Hartebeespoort, although he does admit to being friends with Thwala.

Khumalo said that Masemola could not respond to the M&G‘s questions because he had been suspended and forensic investigators are now dealing with the allegations.

He said that Masemola was innocent until proven guilty and that Nogxina would deal with the investigation “resolutely and properly”.

Lloyd Gedye

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