Ombud PA sits pretty in business class

A personal assistant at the troubled state-owned Community Schemes Ombudsman Services (CSOS) flew business class during a state-sponsored trip to Australia.

CSOS staff allege Palesa Mabetha, for whom a R34 00 economy return ticket had been booked, was given a business class ticket hours before she and the rest of the group boarded their flights home.

The new ticket, on Emirates Airways, cost an extra R67 000 and the CSOS’s suspended acting chief ombud, Seeng Letele, used the parastatal’s corporate card to pay for it.

READ MORE: Senior CSOS staffers suspended for VBS deposit

This contravenes a treasury instruction that stipulates business class tickets on flights longer than five hours are only for board members and other specific senior staff.

Mabetha’s flights, together with the wasted economy class ticket, came to just over R101 000. Her accommodation and per diem were R71 000 and R21 000, respectively.

Mabetha is the PA to chief financial officer Themba Mabuya, who has also been suspended. Her employment is also problematic because she has failed to produce a copy of her matric certificate for more than a year.

Mabetha’s trip cost the CSOS R23  00 more than the average amount spent on the rest of the group, who went on a seven-day study tour to Australia in February.

Mabetha was the only office administrator on the trip, which itself is now the subject of an internal investigation initiated by the board’s audit committee after the suspension of Mabuya and Letele.

“The group was constantly late for engagements — twice in Melbourne — and even went to the wrong venues because she [Mabetha] is so inept … They looked so disorganised, wasting the state’s money. She never confirmed meetings, venues or transport, and it’s baffling what she was there for,” said a CSOS employee, who asked not to be named.

Another source questioned the benefit of the trip because the board had less than six months left to serve.

Two sources, speaking independently, said Mabetha’s employment was also contentious because she had been appointed without a formal interview process. As a result, CSOS’s human resources department was still waiting for a copy of her matric certificate.

“It is said that they [Letele and Mabetha] are related, but what I do know is that advocate [Letele] instructed that she be employed,” said one of the sources.

“She was a real embarrassment because in the office you can hear her call for the other PAs to come help her whenever she had to do something as simple as draft an email.”

READ MORE: State officials fingered in a VBS-linked dodgy deposit

The CSOS said there was “an independent forensic investigation into alleged misconduct in respect of advocate Seeng Letele and Mr Themba Mabuya (currently serving precautionary suspension). It is anticipated that the investigation will conclude at the end of October.”

Letele denied the allegations, describing them as “malicious”, and Mabetha declined to comment. Mabuya did not respond to phone calls and questions texted to him.

Letele’s and Mabuya’s suspension relates to their involvement in the unlawful investment of R80-million of the organisation’s surplus funds with the sequestrated VBS Mutual Bank in contravention of CSOS’s own policy. 

It is alleged that, in a report to Human Settlements Minister Nomaindia Mfeketo, a board resolution was altered to make it seem as though the policy allowed them to do so. The Mail & Guardian has established that Letele and Mabuya were using CSOS corporate cards despite being suspended and that Letele had a corporate card made for herself without the organisation’s knowledge. 

The M&G has seen emails between board members discussing the unauthorised issuing of the second card, which can only be done by the CSOS’s finance department.

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Sabelo Skiti

Sabelo Skiti is an investigative journalist.

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