Mail & Guardian 14 June 2019

The public protector has given everyone who scored from a dodgy R39-million Nelson Mandela memorial service a pass. Instead, Busisiwe Mkhwebane has found that the director general who approved the irregular payments should be held solely accountable.

Of the R39-million awarded to Carol Bouwer Productions for the event, R18-million went to controversial Durban businessperson and former president Jacob Zuma’s benefactor, Mabheleni Ntuli, who then paid some of that money into the bank account of one of Zuma’s wives, Nompumelelo “MaNtuli” Ntuli-Zuma.

Mkhwebane’s slew of bizarre findings has placed her under intense pressure in the past few months. 

Her other recent report, which has been criticised for being baseless, found that Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan had violated the Constitution when he granted former South African Revenue Service (Sars) deputy commissioner Ivan Pillay early retirement with full benefits in 2010. Gordhan has filed a review application in the Pretoria high court seeking to have the report’s findings set aside.

In 2016 Shaun Abrahams, the former head of the National Prosecuting Authority,had charged Gordhan with the same offence, but this was dropped after it was found that Sars had approved the pension.

Mkhwebane’s report on Carol Bouwer Productions from earlier this month found that the allegations that the Mpumalanga government had, in December 2013, irregularly appointed the television production company as the main contractor to organise Mandela’s memorial services were substantiated.

But Mkhwebane ordered that only Mpumalanga’s former director general, Nonhlanhla Mkhize, who is now KwaZulu-Natal’s director general, must face the music, and that the KZN premier, Sihle Zikalala,take appropriate steps.

Of the R39-million Bouwer unfairly benefited from, R18-million went to Ntuli, who was one of the major donors of the Zuma Education Trust and sponsored parties at Nkandla, all of which earned him the label of Zuma’s benefactor.

This detail was, however, not enough for Mkhwebane to do more than focus on the director general who approved the irregular appointment.

Mkhwebane’s finding also seems to overlook a 2014 treasury report, which came after an investigation into the contract and recommended that the police should investigate the transactions between Bouwer and Ntuli, who was alleged to have been a sub-contractor to Bouwer’s company.

It is unclear whether Mkhwebane considered the treasury’s report before letting Bouwer off the hook.

The treasury money trail shows that Bouwer paid out four tranches of R4.5-million into the bank account of Dartingo Trading 20, a company solely owned by Ntuli, who is known for his taste for luxury cars, jewellery, high-end clothing and his association with Zuma.

Before the payments the account had a balance of less than R5000. Just a few days after receiving the payments from Bouwer, Ntuli spent R5-million on a luxury car dealership in Ballito.

Later R55 000 was paid from the Dartingo Trading 20 account into the bank account of Ntuli-Zuma. Her lawyer previously confirmed that this had been “a gift”.

MaNtuli has been estranged from Zuma since 2015, after claims by state security that she had attempted to poison the former president.

In her report, Mkhwebane did note that: “Ms Bouwer also stated that all invoices were certified before payments were processed and added that this was done by someone from the department of finance in Mpumalanga, who was located at the site. However, the name of the official was not provided. There was also someone tasked with verifying deliveries for catering, whose name was also not provided.”

Despite Bouwer being unable to provide these names and there being no evidence of the recording of the memorial events, Mkhwebane still made no finding against Bouwer.

“The office of the premier, in their letter dated 25 April 2019, stated that the ‘department does not have the recordings of the events’and that ‘no information is available’ on the invitation of the honourable premier by the churches,” Mkhwebane said.

A senior government official, who has an insight into the situation, questioned why Mkhwebane made no findings against Bouwer, even though it was clear that she had unfairly benefited. “Why is there no finding about this matter [no records of the events]? The department may have paid for work not done.”

The official further told the Mail & Guardian that Mkhwebane had ignored several invoices that were submitted by Bouwer to the province without any proof of any subcontractors being hired. “The agreement signed between Carol Bouwer Productions and the accounting officer states the following: ‘All invoices submitted in respect of functions performed shall be accompanied by certified copies of original documentary proof emanating from the entity concerned with whom Carol Bouwer has contracted’, [but] there is no such evidence.”

Bouwer had previously maintained in her defence that Ntuli was her subcontractor and that they had delivered on the events.

Mkhwebane found that Mkhize’s failure to report the deviation in the appointment of Bouwer’s company to treasury and the auditor general rendered its appointment irregular.

“Dr Mkhize only approved the deviation memorandum on 10 December 2013, when Carol Bouwer Productions had already commenced with her work on the Mandela memorial service event on 06 December 2013. This means that compliance with Treasury Regulation 16A 6.4 in appointing Carol Bouwer Productions by the Office of the Premier was also irregular.”

The senior government official told the M&G that in such findings, the government should have been given a chance to recover the monies that were paid out irregularly. Mkhwebane has recently come under fire from several courts that have found her wanting in her job. She faces calls from Parliament to start formal proceedings to remove her for being incompetent.

Various political parties, the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, Freedom Under Law, the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse, trade union federation Cosatu and the South African Communist Party have all called on Mkhwebane to resign. Mkhwebane’s office had not responded by the time of going to print.

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