More than 300 forensic audits, some dating back nearly a decade, have been handed over to the Special Investigating Unit with a view to instituting criminal proceedings and recovering hundreds of millions rands lost to the government by maladministration, corruption and theft.
One implicates the chief financial officer and the chief director of communication in the Gauteng department of agriculture and rural development (GDARD), although economic development MEC Lebogang Maile ordered that the two officials should not face a disciplinary process but instead should be given warning letters.
This has placed him at loggerheads with the department’s head of department (HOD), Nhlakanipho Nkontwana, prompting the intervention of Premier David Makhura.
Nkontwana was instructed by letter, which the Mail & Guardian has seen, not to act against chief financial officer Abdullah Ismail and communications chief director Roleta Lebelo for financial irregularity. Both worked under Maile in his previous portfolio in Gauteng sport.
Makhura said he intervened because he believed accounting officers should be left to do their work without political interference. “That tension, my office has intervened. I wrote a letter to say on issues of discipline and investigations those must be dealt with. We can’t negotiate on that. I don’t want to allow politics and political weight to deter those civil servants who think they are doing the right thing. I don’t want arbitrary exercise of authority by MECs.”
Maile this week said he had only used his executive powers to give direction. “As a matter of fact, I only intervened as the executive authority of GDARD on the irregular and unprocedural manner [in which]the HOD was handling the matter to ensure that the process is not any way tainted or compromised. That in my view cannot be deemed that I was vehemently opposed to the process, as the contrary is the case.”
Makhura’s latest move comes at the same time as he is having one-on-one sessions with MECs to get progress reports on the implementation of more than 300 forensic investigation reports in provincial government departments. He said an audit by his department had revealed that 60% of the reports, some of which date back to 2009, had not been acted on.
“Corruption demoralises citizens … In a period where the economy is not doing well and the cost of living is high for citizens, the idea that there are people in government or the private sector who are manipulating process to benefit themselves, it pisses off citizens.”
The backdrop to this is a battle for control of the ANC in Gauteng, which is pitting Makhura against former ANC provincial chairperson Paul Mashatile. The latter’s election as the ANC’s treasurer general has left a vacancy that requires the provincial general council to elect a new leadership structure.
Maile, with Mashatile’s backing, is being touted as a candidate for deputy provincial chair, whereas Makhura’s backers reportedly want Parks Tau to fill the position.
Several agriculture department insiders said Nkontwana, who was transferred from the Gauteng department of co-operative governance and traditional affairs (Cogta) in August, has been in effect stripped of some of his powers by Maile.
On Thursday Maile described the allegations as malicious fabrications. “Any suggestion that I have a fraught relationship with GDARD HOD Mr Nkontwana is not only false but a ghost imagination of the sources.”
But a union member in the department accused the MEC of protecting the two officials. “He brought these two people from the department of sport and has been protecting them ever since they got here. They answer to no one, and even the previous HOD could not manage them and ended up swapping with Nkontwana from Cogta.”
According to a senior official, the rift between Maile and Nkontwana has become so bad that the two have not attended government meetings together for the past two months.
Department spokesperson Nozipho Hlabangana did not respond to questions about the strained relations between the two but said the disciplinary process was proceeding against the implicated officials.
The report, which was penned by the Gauteng treasury’s head of forensic audit, Papadi Makhetha, recommended that Ismail, Lebelo and some other officials be disciplined for infractions of supply-chain management prescripts on the appointment of service providers to be selected for agricultural projects.
Ismail was reportedly found to have ignored a directive from the treasury to include it in a procurement of a technical nature and also to have appointed a bid adjudication and evaluation committee without the necessary delegation of authority.
Lebelo, in her role as chairperson of the committee, continued with a meeting despite not having a quorum. The committee was also found to have deviated from tender specifications, thus rendering the tender irregular and invalid.