/ 17 December 2015

Bribing a minister isn’t cheap



A deputy director general gets holidays, tickets to the football and a job for his girlfriend, all worth maybe a few hundred thousand rands.

A director general gets to live for nearly two years in a house he could not possibly afford – the rent alone would add up to a little over R1-million.

But a sitting Cabinet minister overseeing the dodgy dispensation of contracts worth nearly R2-billion doesn’t come that cheaply, it would appear. For such a specimen you would have to fork out more than R10-million in cash.

Such is the hierarchy of bribes laid out by the state this week in its provisional indictment in the corruption case against former transport minister Sbu Ndebele and two top officials in his department during his tenure.

The charges – yet to be answered by the accused – relate to the extension of the eNatis management contract and paint a picture of outright bribes disguised in only the most perfunctory fashion, even as whistle-blowers were bringing irregularities to the attention of oversight bodies.

Ndebele and his co-accused are expected to appear in court in mid-2016, though the case is unlikely to be heard even then. None of the three government accused could immediately be reached for comment this week. The representative of a man accused on the private-sector side of the bribery allegations said the entire group had been advised not to make any statements on the matter while it is before the courts.

That leaves only the version of events constructed by the Hawks, and presented by way of a provisional indictment, in the public domain – and it is damning.

Ndebele, prosecutors told the court on Monday, “started receiving payments totalling R10 264 000 … about nine months after the department he was in charge of as a minister had concluded [without following prescribed procurement processes] a contract … to the value of R49 551 724.83”.

During the same period, the same set of actors accused of bribing Ndebele profited from the dodgy extension of a R1.9-billion contract, also overseen by him.

The money was paid into Ndebele’s account starting from October 2010, prosecutors said, and Ndebele did not declare it under the Executive Members’ Ethics Act.

That certainly does not look good for Ndebele. In May 2009, shortly after his appointment as transport minister, Ndebele first accepted and then returned a gift of head of two cattle and a car worth more than R1-million. To address the ensuing outcry, he issued a defensive statement in which he quoted at length from the executive code of ethics – 17 months before the cash payments allegedly started.

George Mahlalela, the director general Ndebele appointed and who had a much more direct role in the apportionment of contracts, was less well remunerated, according to the indictment.

He got to stay in a cookie-cutter mansion in Kyalami owned by Sibusiso Ncube at a supposed R45 000 monthly rental on his R63 377 a month salary. Ncube, who has been linked to several dubious deals and is married to KwaZulu-Natal local government MEC Nomusa Dube-Ncube, only called in the rent years later.

As prosecutors tell it, deputy director general Zakhele Thwala was cheap in comparison with his superiors: two all-expenses-paid holidays at a Mossel Bay golf estate, tickets to the South Africa vs Mexico opening game at the 2010 World Cup, a handful of domestic flights and employment for a girlfriend.

The difference in the alleged remuneration between the three might reflect what each stood to lose. Then again, maybe not.

Ndebele is currently South Africa’s high commissioner to Australia. Despite now standing formally charged with corruption, it is not yet clear whether he will lose that post.

On Wednesday international relations spokesperson Clayson Monyela could say only that he was “not aware of any changes” in Ndebele’s status as a diplomatic representative.