South Africa

Never-ending story, latest instalment: Madonsela vs. Pule/Joemat-Pettersson/EC book non-delivery

By Greg Nicolson 6 December 2013

Public Protector Thuli Madonsela has been busy. Her investigation into Jacob Zuma's Nkandla home has created a headache for the president's allies and on Thursday she released three new reports, slamming both former Communication Minister Dina Pule and Agriculture, Forestries and Fisheries Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson. If Thursday was any indication of how she will treat the Nkandla report, Madonsela won't pull any punches. By GREG NICOLSON.

Madonsela, who is spending hours in front of the cameras lately, started Thursday’s press conference with a case dealt with by former Public Protector Selby Baqwa. In 1999, he found Mpumalanga Premier Ndaweni Mahlangu had undermined the credibility of his leadership by saying that sometimes it is okay for politicians to lie. The ANC’s response was to question whether Baqwa went beyond his powers, suggest he was wasting taxpayers’ money and was on a witch-hunt. Sound familiar? Mahlangu was eventually replaced as premier. “Do we still react in the same way when issues of impropriety are suggested or have our values shifted?” asked Madonsela.

Madonsela said that report is a good touchstone for her office and investigations around the Executive Ethics Code. She considered the case this week as her office is under attack and she was to release more reports into the maladministration and impropriety of government leaders. While the Public Protector is still working on the Nkandla report, she tackled Joemat-Pettersson and Pule’s cases on Thursday.

Madonsela wants the president to consider taking disciplinary action against Joemat-Pettersson for improper conduct and maladministration regarding the handling of a shift in contractors over a tender for fisheries patrol services. She found that the process which awarded the R800-million contract to the Sekunjalo Marine Service Consortium (SMSC) was flawed, with the head of the tender board, Joe Sebola, influencing the decision to score the previous contractor, Smit Amandla, the lowest score possible while awarding SMSC the highest scores possible, despite having less experience.

Madonsela commended Joemat-Pettersson for cancelling the contract when the dodgy details were unearthed, but criticised her refusal to let Smit Amandla, continue working while the tender was re-advertised. Madonsela asked Joemat-Pettersson to let them keep working for three months, which would have meant vital fisheries patrol services continued. She refused, requesting the navy to intervene, which could not cope with the task. Madonsela sounded frustrated with how the minister conducted herself and said refusing her request and getting the navy to help “led to a lack of patrols and deterioration of of patrol vessels leading to a fruitless and wasteful expenditure” which “constituted improper conduct and maladministration”.

The Public Protector is yet to fully investigate allegations that SMSC was improperly awarded a contract to fix the vessels that have deteriorated. The Democratic Alliance’s Pieter van Dalen, who was one of the complainants, said on Thursday the party will lay criminal charges against Joemat-Pettersson as Madonsela found that she interfered with her investigation. The DA pointed out that this is the second time the Public Protector has found against the minister, the first being after she combined a business trip to Sweden with a holiday using taxpayer money.

The DA isn’t the only party opening a case in relation to the matter. Sekunjalo Group chairman Iqbal Surve has opened a criminal case against Times Media Group after Sunday Times published parts of the provisional report. In a piece in The Star on Thursday, which is part of Independent Newspapers and owned by Sekunjalo, Surve said Times Media has a vendetta against him.

Also on Madonsela’s chopping block was former Communications Minster Dina Pule for her conduct related to the 2012 ICT Indaba. Firstly, Madonsela found that her partner Phosane Mngqibisa improperly benefited as a spouse on business trips. Pule’s claims that they were not together when she was minister was “not entirely honest” as he was listed in documents as her spouse during her time in office. Madonsela said Pule tried to “pass the buck onto staff” which was “grossly improper and unethical”. Secondly, Madonsela found that Mngqibisa improperly benefited from the ICT Indaba when his company was brought on as a partner to the organisation running the event while another company had already been chosen as a partner. Because of his links to Pule, Mngqibisa was able to make up to R6 million from the event which was “unlawful and improper”. On multiple fronts, Pule breached the Executive Ethics Code.

The only respite in the report was that Madonsela could not directly link Pule’s red-soled Christian Louboutin shoes to Mngqibisa’s earnings.

He has refunded almost R90,000 of money the state wrongfully spent on his trips (Mzilikazi wa Afrika, the Sunday Times journalist who broke the story and was at Thursday’s event, said there’s evidence that at least R150,000 was spent on his travels) but Madonsela asked the Department of Communications to list all that needs to be repaid. The Public Protector recommended Pule issue an apology to Carol Bouwer, whose company organised the ICT Indaba, for subjecting her “to a hidden agenda” and also apologise to the Sunday Times, which Pule lambasted to defend herself. Pule should also consider vacating her seat from Parliament, said Madonsela.

The final report was about the state’s failure to properly deliver workbooks to Eastern Cape schools in 2012. While not as politically charged, the issue is more in line with what Madonsela continues to ask journalists not to forget – the plight of regular citizens. She found that the national and provincial education officials failed to provide learners with the necessary materials to study, violating their right to education and equality as it put them behind peers in other provinces.

Madonsela was asked about the Department of Public Works report into Nkandla, which is to be released, and she welcomed the decision to do so, claiming it will help provide clarity on the matter and readers can compare the different approaches.

It’s been a busy end to the year for the Public Protector and her final recommendations in the Pule case suggest she is frustrated with the continued flaunting of the rules from state leaders. When they are appointed, many politicians don’t know the ethics codes until they breach them, she said. She wants Public Administration Minister Lindiwe Sisulu to introduce an ethics seminar for all new appointees, a pocket-sized Executive Ethics Code, and posters of key ethical points to be placed in all executive officers.

Over a decade after Baqwa took on the Mpumalanga premier, too many ministers clearly still think its okay to flout the rules when it suits them. DM

Photo: Public Protector Thuli Madonsela briefs reporters at a news conference in Pretoria, Wednesday, 6 July 2011. Picture: Werner Beukes/SAPA

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