/ 26 August 2011

ANC MP guilty of lying about interests

Anc Mp Guilty Of Lying About Interests

Parliament has slapped the maximum possible penalty on a senior ANC MP for not disclosing her interests and wilfully misleading the ethics watchdog when confronted with evidence of non-disclosure.

The joint committee for ethics and members’ interests on Thursday reprimanded Yolanda Botha and fined her 30 days’ salary.

Yolanda Botha is no ordinary MP, she also chairs the parliamentary social development committee.

As committee chair, Botha sits at the top of the social development sphere in one of South Africa’s three branches of government.

Botha was head of the Northern Cape department of social development between 2001 and 2009, and signed long-term leases for office space worth more than R50-million with property group Trifecta Investment Holdings.

Ten percent
Mail & Guardian investigations from February onwards revealed that Trifecta offered Botha a 10% stake in the company in 2009. She nominated her nephews and nieces as beneficiaries of the stake.

Then, after she left provincial government for Parliament, Trifecta renovated her Kimberley home to the tune of more than R1-million.

Both Botha and Trifecta said that the renovations were, in fact, a loan, but declined to divulge its terms.

Botha did not declare the benefits to Parliament’s joint committee for ethics and members’ interests.

The M&G investigation prompted the ethics committee to intervene, and it held a hearing into Botha’s conduct on August 4.

Hot water
Botha landed in hot water with the committee when she lied under oath about the value of the loan. In its findings, the committee stated that: “The loan agreement [was presented] after the fact and lacked credibility as it referred to a sum of R500 000 when the costs [actually] amounted to more than R1.2-million.”

The ethics committee findings concluded: “There were other actions committed by Botha. This information will be sent to a variety of other public-body agencies for their attention. For instance, the public service commission may wish to examine some of these matters.”

Botha’s cellphone was switched off on Thursday afternoon.

The key witness to testify against Botha at the hearing was Magdalena Buizer, Trifecta’s former accountant who oversaw the company’s payments to Botha.

Death threats
Buizer has received death threats since her testimony, with an unidentified male reportedly phoning her to say, “Daar is ‘n koeël vir jou.” [“There is a bullet for you.”]

The M&G revealed in February that, apart from Botha, two more of the ANC’s top provincial leaders in the Northern Cape, John Block and Alvin Botes, as well as the ANC’s provincial secretary in KwaZulu-Natal, Sihle Zikalala, received benefits from Trifecta.

Buizer told the M&G that Trifecta paid Block, Botes and Zikalala to conduct business on its behalf.

Their primary role was to use their political influence to secure lease agreements with government departments.

According to Buizer, Trifecta hired Block between 2006 and 2009 to be a “facilitator” with the appropriate government department in transacting lease agreements.

“A facilitator was used to negotiate the rental agreement between the lessor [Trifecta] and the lessee [government] … basically they would use their influence to ensure that the tenders were awarded to Trifecta,” she said.

John Block
Buizer said Block facilitated rental agreements between Trifecta and the South African Social Services Agency, as well as the departments of agriculture and sport worth hundreds of millions of rands.

The M&G calculated that the total benefits Block received from Trifecta, including a basic salary, consultation fees, legal fees and renovations to property, exceeded R3-million. Block declined to comment.

Alvin Botes
Documents show that Trifecta paid Botes a monthly salary of R25 000, totalling R900 000 between 2006 and 2009. In addition to his salary, Botes’s family trust was allocated a 10% stake in Trifecta subsidiary Green Marble Investments 3 in October 2008.

Sihle Zikalala
Trifecta paid Zikalala a total of R100 000 in ad hoc instalments between August and December 2008, after which he received a monthly salary of R50 000 until April 2009.

Both Botes and Zikalala accepted that they had received benefits from Trifecta, but denied that they were paid to influence tenders or that they were in a position to do so.

Trifecta director Christo Scholtz told the M&G that Buizer’s allegations were “false”, “malicious” and that she “always fabricated koöperasie stories [and so] was not to be entrusted with information … that did not form part of her duties”.

“Buizer’s perception that a person can facilitate rental agreements with government organs is a false perception which she carries over to mislead other people,” Scholtz said.

However, the Hawks have since confirmed that they are investigating Trifecta’s business dealings.

Buizer has turned state witness against her former employers.

— Additional reporting by Lynley Donnelly

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