NEF’s Philisiwe Mthethwa ‘cleared of wrongdoing’

A forensic investigation has cleared National Empowerment Fund (NEF) chief executive Philisiwe Mthethwa and two other employees of allegations of wrongdoing, the NEF board said on Monday.

"An independent forensic investigation by audit firm Deloitte has dismissed serious allegations of wrongdoing levelled at three NEF employees by an anonymous whistle blower," the board said in a statement.

"The Deloitte investigation reported there was no basis for allegations of misconduct relating to breaches of corporate governance, conflicts of interest, fraud, nepotism, tribalism and abuse of power."

Mthethwa is the wife of Police Minster Nathi Mthethwa.

Also investigated were divisional executive Hlengiwe Makhathini and fund manager Nhlanhla Nyembe.

Trade and Industry Ministry Rob Davies in September asked the NEF to investigate the allegations in September.

"Importantly, the report affirms the integrity of the individuals and of the corporate governance framework that is in place at the NEF," the board said.

Mthethwa was pleased
NEF chairperson Thando Mhlambiso welcomed the findings.

"We welcome the clarity provided after a thorough, robust and independent investigation by the specialist forensic firm."

Mthethwa was pleased she had been vindicated.

"Having been vindicated by a methodical and independent forensic investigation, we can declare that our collective belief in the power of truth has been upheld, and as a result virtue has triumphed over malice," she said.

"As victims of an unsuccessful, but malicious and vindictive smear campaign, we regret that whistleblowing has been abused for unjust motives."

Twenty-three allegations
A total of 23 allegations were investigated.

The board said it was troubled by aspects of Deloitte's report.

These were that most of the allegations were changed before or after the investigation began, and the whistleblower indicated he had received the original allegations second-hand.

When the investigation began, it was understood that the whistleblower was the original source of the allegations.

"This led the board to question the reliability of the allegations, and the integrity, and perhaps the motives, of the whistleblower in making the allegations," it said.

Given the damage the allegations and investigations had done to the NEF's reputation, the reputation of those implicated and staff morale, the board was keen to assess how to handle such situations better in the future.

Non-performing loans
In September, Business Day reported that the fund had to write off R290-million worth of non-performing loans last year.

In July, Davies called for a report into the NEF's R34.1-million funding of the upmarket boutique Luminance, in Hyde Park, Johannesburg.

He reportedly said he wanted to determine whether it was in line with the NEF's mandate and whether there was a need to strengthen that mandate.

In August, Mthethwa defended the decision to fund the boutique. – Sapa

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