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Presidency calls for ‘cool heads’ as SA Tourism launches witch-hunt for Tottenham deal whistle-blowers

Presidency calls for ‘cool heads’ as SA Tourism launches witch-hunt for Tottenham deal whistle-blowers
Image: iStock | Gallo Images | Wikimedia

While Parliament’s tourism committee made it clear that SA Tourism’s proposed Tottenham Hotspur sponsorship deal was dead in the water, the SA Tourism board released a statement announcing it would be launching a ‘forensic investigation’ — to find the whistle-blowers.

A Wednesday morning statement from Parliament’s tourism committee, chaired by ANC MP Tandi Mahambehlala, made explicit in writing what was already clear from the marathon meeting it held a day previously.

“The Portfolio Committee on Tourism has told South African Tourism (SAT) and the Minister of the Department of Tourism, Ms Lindiwe Sisulu, that the R1 billion Tottenham Hotspur Football Club deal must be cancelled with immediate effect. Furthermore, the portfolio committee will investigate the deal,” the unusually robust statement announced.

“The committee also said the Acting Chief Financial Officer (CFO), who was headhunted for seven months, must tender his resignation with immediate effect as, during its engagement with the SAT, the committee discovered a conflict of interest pertaining to the Acting CFO.”

This follows Daily Maverick’s exposure of the fact that SA Tourism’s acting CFO, Johan van der Walt, had previously worked as group financial director of an agency — WWP Group — which stood to benefit directly from the Spurs deal. Van der Walt is also listed as an active director of a number of companies which share the same business address as the WWP Group.

“In response to Ms Sisulu saying that only the President can stop the deal,” the committee statement continued, “Ms Mahambehlala made it categorically clear to Ms Sisulu that it is the executive that accounts to Parliament, not the other way round”.

‘Forensic investigation’ into whistle-blowers

Yet a statement from the SA Tourism board arriving shortly after gave little indication of the committee’s message having been received.

The statement claimed that the SA Tourism executive had been on the verge of carrying out consultations with the Treasury and other stakeholders when Daily Maverick first broke the news of the potential R1-billion sponsorship deal.

There is no evidence for this claim, as Daily Maverick has it on good authority that a delegation was due to fly to London two or three days after our report was published to sign the deal so that it could be announced in the President’s State of the Nation Address (Sona). This would have allowed precious little time for the extensive consultations SA Tourism now claims it had planned.

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“Prior to the [sponsorship proposal] consultation processes being undertaken, a presentation containing the deals of the Tottenham Hotspur FC deal was regretfully leaked to the public. Unfortunately this was prior to the planned consultations with the above-mentioned stakeholders and any final decision on the deal being made.”

The next sentence contains the astonishing crux of the SA Tourism board’s statement: “The SA Tourism board has deliberated and resolved that a forensic investigation on the leaking of the SA Tourism board discussions be conducted.”

The statement concluded: “The board has noted the media reports on the issue of the interim CFO, Mr van der Walt. It has been resolved that the matter be investigated.”

Presidency condemns board’s attempt to victimise Spurs whistle-blowers

The SA Tourism board’s decision flies in the face of recent comments made by President Cyril Ramaphosa and Justice Minister Ronald Lamola on the South African government’s heightened awareness of the value of whistle-blowers and the importance of securing them adequate protections.

Just this week, Lamola told a criminal justice conference that whistle-blowers are an “integral part of any anti-corruption framework”, and that any reprisals against whistle-blowers for their disclosures should be unacceptable.

Contacted by Daily Maverick for comment on the SA Tourism board’s statement, Presidency spokesperson Vincent Magwenya reaffirmed Ramaphosa’s commitment to the protection of whistle-blowers.

“With respect to the developments at SA Tourism, we need cool and calm heads amongst the leadership of the organisation that fully appreciate that the agency exists within the broader ecosystem of the public sector,” Magwenya said.

“Its actions reflect on the broader image and reputation of government.”

Opposition parties and civil society express outrage… 

“Corruption Watch condemns the actions by the SA Tourism board to institute a forensic investigation into the disclosures made by brave whistle-blowers, which brought to light a matter that would’ve resulted in a clear abuse and misuse of public funds,” Corruption Watch spokesperson Kavisha Pillay told Daily Maverick.

Pillay referred to the comments previously made by acting SA Tourism CEO Themba Khumalo — that the whistle-blowers should be “isolated” for being “un-South African” — as “chilling”, adding: “The subsequent launch of a forensic investigation is merely a witch hunt for those who acted in the public interest and exposed the idiocy of this deal.”

The DA spokesperson on tourism, Manny de Freitas, termed the proposed investigation “a travesty”.

De Freitas stated: “The only ‘forensic investigation’ that should be done here is into the deal itself and who would have benefited from it.”

The DA MP added: “It is completely misplaced for them to go after the whistle-blower. It strengthens the notion that had this information not been leaked they would have gone forward with the deal and in all probability it would have been announced in Sona tomorrow”.

…While support arrives from an unexpected source

With condemnation building during the course of Wednesday, a statement arrived adding criticism from an unexpected source: Tourism Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, who has appeared up till now to be acting in lockstep with the board.

“The investigation of resigned board members is a ruse, whether they have leaked information or not. Their matter is not relevant to this case and is not worth wasting resources on,” Sisulu stated.

“What must be investigated are all potential transgressors that have brought the image of SA Tourism into disrepute through deliberate deceptions; this includes hidden agencies that stood to benefit from this deal.”

Sisulu stated that the board was well aware that Van der Walt “had failed to declare his interests in three board meetings, concealing his special relationship with one of the companies involved in the deal”.

The fact that the board had apparently not yet actioned a “fully fledged forensic investigation” into this matter was a “serious governance lapse”, Sisulu said, and “tantamount to dereliction of fiduciary duties and malicious defiance”.

Sisulu added that she was “seriously disturbed that the CFO who is under investigation, is still in the office”: something confirmed by sources to Daily Maverick on Wednesday.

At the time of writing, attempts by Daily Maverick to seek formal clarity on Van der Walt’s position from SA Tourism had been unsuccessful. DM

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Johan Buys says:

    I doubt anybody at Tottenham will counter-sign any agreement. Well done DM, you saved SA from an own goal in extra time 😉

  • Kirsten du Toit says:

    Still no protection for whistleblowers? Is it legal, never mind ethical, for a government department, ostensibly there to serve its constituents, to aggressively pursue an individual for raising an alarm on highly irregular expenditure? How can the minister of tourism, note the lack of caps, justify spearheading an institutional, concerted witch-hunt for arguably the only person in the department with a moral compass? Pure embodiment of the rot that has beset our beloved country. Daylight robbery of the poorest of the poor, the hungry, the hopeless. What would they do they with dignity anyway? Viva Hotspurs! They’re the real Bafana.

    • virginia crawford says:

      It’s appalling and sends a clear message to other potential whistle-blowers. Surely these odious people deter tourists coming to S.A.?

      • Kirsten du Toit says:

        Odious people indeed, feeling utterly frustrated that this is allowed to endure. Where are the just, honest, good people? Everywhere but parliament it would seem.

  • Laurence Erasmus says:

    Surely the CEO of SA Tourism must also be fired for supporting and championing this corrupt deal!

  • Bruce Roger Wint Cameron says:

    This women and her department are an absolute disgrace. If they want to learn about running tourism go to Turkey. I thought protecting white blowers was government policy but like most of government policy it is other interests, mainly corruption, who win the day

  • André Pelser says:

    Where was De Freitas while this project was taking shape? Why do we have to rely on investigative journalists to uncover this issue? One expects more from opposition shadow ministers that earn over million rand of taxpayers money a year!
    Sisulu reveals, yet again, her racism by attacking the CFO. Why no comment on the acting CEO’s role in this?
    Thank goodness for our investigative journalists, and whistleblowers!

  • William Kelly says:

    And why is Khumalo, who suggested that the whistle blowers are un South African still in his position? This all happened under his watch! I suspect we can figure out where the money was going eh? Probably means he’ll get a promotion somewhere as an ambassador…

  • D'Esprit Dan says:

    Rotten from start to finish:
    * The Acting CEO apparently lied through his teeth when he proclaimed that no intermediaries were involved before it was revealed that his fellow director was in fact an alleged beneficiary.
    * The CFO (acting?) is still in office despite the complete conflict of interest in the whole saga.
    * The whistleblower is now to be hunted and hounded out by a vindictive SAT elite who, despite the (now obviously hollow) apology from Khumalo, have done nothing to boot out van der Walt and Khumalo.
    * The Presidency ‘calls for calm heads’ when it could – and should, dammit! – be demanding swift action against the executive who were trying to push this through under the radar, once again showing that despite calling for protection of whistleblowers, the Presidency actually whistles dixie whilst throwing them under the bus. Again.
    * One last question: will corporate South Africa have the guts and moral compass to offer the whistleblower a job, if/when they are outed? Not a great record on this front up until now.

  • Rory Macnamara says:

    the point really is not looking for whistleblower/s but firing the incompetents from top down who put this objectionable proposal forward, schemed behind the scenes and arrogantly believing that SA will blindly accept throwing money when it is needed elsewhere.

  • fishingboy says:

    As the adage goes “there is no honour amongst thieves………”

  • Chris 123 says:

    Wasn’t me, the devil made me do it, it’s the fault of Apartheid, it’s WMC it was Jan Van….. never I was trying to steal money but got caught, I resign.

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    Dear Mr President – no need to give a SONA tonight – we all know what state this nation is in…even those that turn a blind eye ( ie your cabinet!). Please stop using this ridiculous “Spurs” adventure as a foil for your lack of leadership!

  • Libby De Villiers says:

    Witch-hunt is a very appropriate term here. If only they would hunt her down and send her where she belongs!
    However, in this sad country of ours, it is always the good guy that gets kicked to the curb and the criminals who are protected and rewarded.
    Evil prevails.

  • Kirsten du Toit says:

    Good grief… The president says Protect Whistleblowers, the bust minister says Persecute Whistleblowers for treason. It is clear that there is not a functioning hierarchy in place, it’s free for all, first to the trough gets the spoils.

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