/ 30 September 2020

Public protector clears Magashule, Joemat-Pettersson

Cop-out: ANC secretary general Ace Magashule wants the Reserve Bank to bail out crippled parastatals rather than to ensure they function properly.
Cop-out: ANC secretary general Ace Magashule. (Rogan Ward)

Current ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule has been cleared of allegations that he misled the Free State provincial legislature when he was premier of that province. 

It follows a complaint by the Democratic Alliance’s Roy Jankielsohn, who asked the public protector to investigate whether Magashule lied about payments made for the funeral of health MEC Fundiswa Ngubentombi in 2012. 

The DA claimed that R15-million rand was spent on Ngubentombi’s funeral. 

When the matter was raised in the provincial legislature, Magashule said his office had no involvement in funeral arrangements, and that the public works department had organised the funeral. 

Citing it as evidence, Jankielsohn revealed a letter from the director general in the office of the premier to the municipal manager of the Fezile Gabi district municipality, instructing it to undertake the cost of the funeral, which would later be refunded by the provincial government.

“The former premier’s response may have been somewhat vague and to an extent inadequate, but cannot be regarded as evasive and/or misrepresenting the facts and as such, it could not be established that the former premier deliberately or inadvertently misled the legislature,” public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane said while delivering her findings on the matter. 

The public protector did find that public works MEC Sam Mashinini misled the legislature when he said he did not know of the department repaying the cost of the funeral. 

Tina Joemat-Pettersson cleared

Busisiwe Mkhwebane also made findings into the controversial 2015 sale of South Africa’s strategic fuel stocks. 

The matter has already been to the Western Cape high court with the Central Energy Fund reaching an out-of-court settlement with companies who bought the country’s strategic oil reserves. 

The shady deal, involving former Strategic Fuel Fund chief executive Sibusiso Gamede, is now also the subject of an investigation by the Hawks. 

The public protector was called on to investigate by former DA MP Pieter van Dalen and Freedom Front Plus’ Anton Alberts. 

They alleged former energy minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson approved the sale of 10-million barrels of the strategic fuel reserves held by the Strategic Fuel Fund in a closed bidding process. 

They also contended that the sale of the oil, to be needed in case of an emergency, was “irrational.”

At the time Joemat-Pettersson said the sale was merely a rotation of the stock.  In papers before the court, the Central Energy Fund said Joemat-Pettersson was unaware of the sale and that Gamede had misled her.

Mkhwebane agreed. And because the matter was already in court, she too would be bound by law to its ruling. She was also satisfied that the Strategic Fuel Fund had put in place procedures around fuel stock rotation. 

She also could not make any findings against implicated officials, like Gamede, because they had already resigned from the entity. 

No findings on Holomisa claims

On the request for an investigation into the Public Investment Corporation by United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa, the public protector said she made no finding.

This related to a 2016 complaint by Holomisa on whether the PIC had implemented recommendations by accounting firm, Gobodo Forensic and Investigative Accounting. There were allegations of impropriety on the part of the PIC in a R75-million investment in an oil company. 

The report recommended more stringent guidelines to protect the pensions of government employees. 

The public protector said she concluded that the recommendations were indeed implemented and said she would not seek any remedial action against the PIC.  

Vrede dairy farm probe expected soon

Mkhwebane also confirmed that she had finalised her investigation into the Vrede Dairy Farm matter. 

But she is waiting for people — who may be implicated — to make representations to respond to the allegations, in terms of section 7 (9) of the Public Protector Act. 

“The investigation is completed. But where we think that there are implicated parties, we will issue them with section 7 (9) notices. So we want to hear the other side. We issued the notices at the beginning of this month, and unfortunately, there was a delay,” Mkhwebane said.

“We thought these matters were simple, and it would only involve Free State politicians. But we’ve had to request affidavits from other politicians who were involved. We also had to engage and rely on other law enforcement agencies, because there is information we need from them.”

Mkhwebane also said her office is awaiting documents from the home affairs department on whether politicians had travelled to India.

In July 2019, one of the dissatisfied beneficiaries of the Vrede dairy project, Ephraim Dhlamini, told the Zondo commission how former Free State agriculture MEC, and current parliamentary transport committee chairperson, Mosebenzi Zwane, took his church choir to India, instead of a group of farmers. 

According to legislation, implicated people have 14 days to respond to the notice, but Mkhwebane said she had granted extensions in “the interest of fairness”. 

“We don’t want to issue a report and then be accused of not being fair. Then it is taken on review because of the process we have followed,” she said.