Nkandla: 2 months for R246 million

2014-12-28 15:02

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Top civil servant keeps his job in a plea deal and gets a slap on the wrist with a brief suspension and a final written warning after Zuma homestead hearing

A senior department of public works employee has become the first official involved in the upgrades of President Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla homestead to take the fall for the R246?million project.

Itumeleng Molosi (58), the department’s director of projects, pleaded guilty to irregularly appointing contractors and flouting procurement procedures.

But Molosi will keep his job after the department slapped him with a two-month suspension without pay and a final written warning. Department insiders say these sanctions fall just short of him being fired.

Molosi has also been ordered to undergo retraining on the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) and has been barred from buying anything – even so much as a packet of salt, said a public works manager close to the Nkandla hearings – until his training has been completed.

City Press has been informed by three senior public works sources that Molosi’s plea deal, which was presented by his representative at the National Education Health and Allied Workers’ Union, could now pave the way for the other 11 officials to sign similar deals to avoid lengthy hearings.

All these officials are represented by the Public Servants’ Association (PSA).

Molosi signed the plea deal on Monday after writing to the department about his intention to plead guilty.

A senior public works official said Molosi wanted to preserve his pension, which he would have forfeited if he was found guilty.

City Press understands that at least two senior officials, who were also charged in connection with the Nkandla upgrades, are considering a similar plea deal.

A lawyer close to the hearings said Molosi told the disciplinary hearing sitting in Durban that he was “not a scapegoat for anyone” and accepted responsibility for failing to ensure that all PFMA procurement processes were followed.

The lawyer, who asked not to be named as she is not authorised to comment, said Molosi blamed officials, including himself, who felt pressured into cutting corners and taking short cuts because the project involved President Zuma’s home.

The PSA said it needed to consult its lawyers and clients to determine if any of them preferred similar plea deals.

Roshan Lil-Ruthan, the PSA’s labour officer representing the officials, said his clients intended telling the hearings they also felt pressured into speeding up the Nkandla upgrades.

“This would give my members a lot of food for thought ... If our members come to us to say we want a plea bargain, nothing will prevent us from doing so, but the concern from my members was the stigma of being labelled for having taken the fall for certain individuals,” he said.

“It’s interesting to reach a plea bargain agreement in one case as there were reports about arranging a settlement meeting with us by the department.

“But there was no such meeting and no settlement talks. We’re surprised the department has gone and settled a case.”

A senior public works manager said Molosi’s admission of guilt was a sign that the relationship between him and his employer was not “damaged” to the extent that they would fire him.

“If you look at the charges of all these officials, there is no element of fraud or corruption, or even a hint that they benefited in any way. In fact, they have all cooperated with the different investigations since day one,” he said. “They are the only people who can be charged under the PFMA.”

The act does not govern the actions of politicians, only those of civil servants.

The senior official said: “Molosi told the hearing he was aware of what he needed to do under the PFMA, but felt pressured by ministers and deputy ministers into approving the appointment of contractors, which resulted in irregular expenditure.”

He added that the guilty plea helped because the department was spending vast amounts of money flying witnesses and evidence leaders to and from Durban because of the numerous postponements.

Although the PSA demanded that former public works minister Geoff Doidge and his then deputy Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu be summoned as witnesses to answer for their roles in the Nkandla project, the union has yet to officially request that the two be summoned.

Molosi was a member of the department’s bid adjudication committee, which the probe by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) found guilty of financial misconduct for irregular expenditure.

The finding was based on the fact that they violated the code of conduct for senior managers because they negotiated directly with contractors instead of advertising tenders.

The SIU found that Molosi approved a “negotiated procurement strategy” instead of an open tender system by which tenders are advertised.

He also appointed electrical company E Magubane to undertake electrical work which neither police nor army experts involved in the project had asked for in their needs assessments for security upgrades.

The SIU found that E Magubane was paid R10.8?million for electronic security systems, but it could not find details about “electrical works” amounting to R5?347?999 it received because there were “no details of what the spend ... was for”.

The PSA said it believed Molosi’s plea could mean that the chairpersons of other hearings, scheduled to start next month, might not be harsher than the sanction Molosi received.

Lil-Ruthan, who said Molosi’s punishment was “too harsh”, said they still intend summoning Doidge and Bogopane-Zulu as their defence would be that the two put pressure on officials to negotiate directly with contractors and not put contracts out to tender.

Phillip Masilo, legal adviser to Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi, confirmed that Molosi had accepted guilt and his case was the first of the Nkandla hearings to be finalised.

But he warned that the outcome had no bearing on the other cases which would be determined individually.

“Each case is dealt with on its own merits and they would have to present their arguments at the hearing – it’s up to the chairperson of the hearing to give sanctions, not the department,” said Masilo.

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