State-paid wedding plan blows up

Criminal charges hang over a government spin doctor who allegedly tried to use funds from her employer, the crisis-stricken Housing Development Agency (HDA), to pay for her wedding in December.

The agency said this week it would press criminal charges against its former communications manager, Zingaphi Martin (formerly Matanzima), who resigned while her alleged fraudulent activity was being investigated.

The HDA falls under the human settlements department and works with provinces and municipalities to provide social housing.

Martin resigned from the HDA in December while on suspension pending an investigation after allegations emerged that she used her delegated authority as a manager to authorise government funds to cover a R43 300 shortfall on her wedding.

In December, the Mail & Guardian reported that financial mismanagement at the HDA, which had an R11-million cash-flow deficit, led to demands from the treasury for the return of more than R2.3-billion that was meant to be distributed to provinces for the delivery of houses to the poor.

READ MORE: Roof caves in on housing agency

In addition, because of allegations of irregularities and financial mismanagement as well as sex-for-jobs claims, four executives and the then chief executive, Pascal Moloi, were suspended by the board.

Martin was so desperate for a Bloemfontein guesthouse, Pepper Tree Venue and Guesthouse, to host her function that she sought quotations directly from the venue and then had the quotation forwarded to Atlantis Travel Group, the HDA’s travel agency, which sent it back to her for approval so that payment could be made.

In correspondence between her and the HDA’s employees, Martin claimed that a human settlements communicators forum conference was to be held at the venue. But there was no planned conference, and the venue had already told Atlantis that they could not accept bookings for December 10, the date Martin wanted for the alleged conference.

It could also not be established whether Martin declared that she was using the venue for her wedding. She married her beau, Mocumi Martin, at the venue on December 15 in a wedding to which 120 guests had been invited.

On Wednesday, Martin said she and her husband had paid for their own wedding and that she had evidence to prove this.

“I resigned from the HDA as stated in my resignation letter due to changes in my personal life circumstances,” she said.

She did not respond to questions about allegations of her involvement in the conference, which is detailed in a series of internal HDA emails that the M&G has seen.

The emails show how, on November 6, she initiated a requisition for the conference to be held on December 10 to herself (as the delegated authority), which was approved by her and forwarded by HDA’s travel desk to Atlantis in less than 30 minutes.

A day later Atlantis travel consultant Pat Ntlamba responded, saying the venue was unavailable and asking whether he should procure another venue.

This prompted Martin, who by then had secured the venue for her wedding and paid R47 900 towards it, to respond: “Can they [Atlantis] just allow me to call the venue and get back to them. I called around and spoke to the reservations person there they said they are available. Let [m]e just follow up.”

What she did not reveal to her subordinates or Atlantis is that, on November 6, before submitting her requisition, she had already mailed the venue requesting a quotation for the conference of 20 people with breakfast, a buffet lunch, soft drinks, a screen projector and a PA system. No conference was planned and she had told the venue the balance of what she owed on her wedding would be paid by Atlantis.

On November 20 she followed up on her earlier email to the venue, saying the event could be moved to the following year, but she still required a quote and increased the number to 40 people.

Gerda Harris of Pepper Tree Venue and Guesthouse responded on the afternoon of November 20 with a quotation for R15 600 and Martin forwarded this internally — with the quotation increased to R44 200 — asking that it be given to Atlantis for them either to pay or to send back to her for approval.

Further emails show Martin wanted it signed off and paid within three working days, saying the reason Atlantis was told there was no space was because the owner did not trust the travel agency. She wanted the venue for the conference, she told a colleague, because it was close to a social housing project the department was going to visit at about the same time.

HDA acting chief executive Johan Minnie said: “The HDA discovered a possible fraudulent activity and immediately suspended Ms Matanzima [Martin], which was followed by a forensic investigation.

“Ms Matanzima resigned prior to the finalisation of the investigation report. The report has been finalised and the HDA will be starting the criminal charges in accordance with the PFMA [Public Finance Management Act]. All the funds were recovered from Ms Matanzima.”

The M&G understands that Martin was tripped up by an email from Harris to Ntlamba, in which she wrote: “I see that you have made the voucher for a conference on the 10th December, for 40 people. For our bookkeeping I just need the right information for the voucher — It is for 15th for a wedding for Zingaphi Matanzima.”

A source said Harris had been told by Martin to expect the remaining R43 300 from a third party, Atlantis. Once the discovery was made, the HDA funds were returned by the venue and Martin made the outstanding payment for her wedding herself.

  • Another source in the HDA told the M&G this week that the investigation into the allegations of sexual abuse of staff members had been completed.

The report, he said, had recommended action against three members of the agency’s executive for sexual harassment of employees. It also recommended that Moloi be charged for negligence for failing to act against them.

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Sabelo Skiti

Sabelo Skiti is an investigative journalist.

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