/ 13 September 2013

International relations DG ‘could duck cash probe’

Going quietly? Jerry Matjila.
Going quietly? Jerry Matjila. (Masi Losi)

The director general of the department of international relations and co-operation, Jerry Matjila, is prepared to resign rather than face allegations of financial impropriety, according to Mail & Guardian sources in the department.

They said that although the minister, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, was considering putting him on special leave pending an investigation into allegations of "possible fraud, corruption and gross negligence", there are indications that Matjila plans to pre-empt it and resign.

Nkoana-Mashabane ordered an investigation of the allegations that Matjila was responsible for the African Renaissance Fund's (ARF's) irregular expenditure of half a billion rand. South Africa uses the fund to offer humanitarian assistance to struggling countries, mostly in Africa, although it has been used to assist the Palestinians.

Chief among the allegations is that Matjila disregarded the treasury's directive to channel R250-million for humanitarian support in the Sahel region through the World Food Programme.

He is also accused of acting beyond his powers by personally awarding a R53.9-million contract to a company called Motse 1st to deliver emergency food aid to drought-stricken Mali, Niger, Mauritania and Chad before the recommendation to the ministers of finance and international relations by the advisory committee had been approved and authorised.

A forensic auditing firm has been tasked to investigate allegations that:

  • Matjila personally brought his preferred supplier Motse 1st to the ARF, single-handedly appointed the supplier and instructed the international relations department's management to contract the company, waiving the supply chain process;
  • Matjila instructed that Motse 1st be paid R40.4-million – 75% of the contract price of R53.9-million – before any services were provided;
  • He failed to disclose an unspent balance of R13-million resulting from the prepayment of Motse 1st;
  • Matjila failed to disclose interest accrued to the ARF as a result of the advance payment to Motse 1st of R40.4-million, from which R18-million was invested by the supplier in a market-linked interest account.
  • Matjila told an audit committee meeting that he had received "instructions and directives from the minister and the state president verbally" on how to deal with the ARF projects concerned, but that the ­executive refused to put the directives in writing, causing him to incur unauthorised and irregular expenditure.
  • A company called Letsatsi Renewable Energy, which partnered with a company in Guinea for a street-lighting project, was paid R29.6-million without an appointment letter or contract, except for a 2007 letter of concurrence that ­covered three financial years up to 2010;
  • And Matjila understated the ARF's irregular expenditure by over R141-million when he disclosed R388.1-million instead of R529.5-million. The amount was corrected in July by the audit committee.

The allegations prompted the United Democratic Movement leader and veteran MP Bantu Holomisa to urge President Jacob Zuma to intervene.

In a letter to Zuma, copied to Minister of Public Service and Administration Lindiwe Sisulu and Nkoana-Mashabane, Holomisa said a proper forensic audit would only be realised if it was conducted together with the treasury, the auditor general, the Hawks, the National Intelligence Agency and Interpol.

The minutes of the advisory committee meeting of November 2012 quoted Matjila's report as saying "the humanitarian projects that have been funded are political decisions that were taken at the highest level of government and in all cases the ARF was expected to implement".

Zuma's spokesperson Mac Maharaj referred questions to the department's spokesperson, Clayson Monyela, who rejected Matjila's claim that he was backed by Zuma and Nkoana-Mashabane.

He said the department would not hesitate to act if wrongdoing was uncovered by the investigation.

Matjila said he preferred the international relations department to respond to the M&G's questions.