Taxpayers billed R270k for Pansy Tlakula

2013-09-01 14:00

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The taxpayer has been hit with an almost R270 000 bill for Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) chairperson Pansy Tlakula’s legal fees. She is battling the Public Protector’s probe into her role in a R320 million lease deal.

Tlakula came in for a hiding in Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s report into the role Tlakula played in awarding the deal to a business associate, Parliament’s finance portfolio chairperson Thaba Mufamadi.

Madonsela found Tlakula flouted procurement regulations and held an “unmanaged conflict of interest” as a result of her and Mufamadi’s separate and undisclosed business relationship.

City Press has also established that although Tlakula told Madonsela the business in which she and Mufamadi had a joint stake was dormant, both online company records and the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC) confirmed this week that the company and two subsidiaries are still active.

Terry Tselane, the IEC’s vice-chairperson, told City Press the commission paid R268 844.52 for Tlakula’s representation during the investigation.

Tselane did not explain why Tlakula had to have her own separate legal representation at taxpayers’ expense when the IEC had already retained attorneys to represent it.

The IEC’s legal bill from a separate law firm came to R109 668.

In her report released on Monday, Madonsela noted: “Tlakula conducted virtually all her correspondence, including submissions on questions asked about what happened, through her lawyers.”

Tlakula even had a senior advocate, Ishmael Semenya, represent her during an interview with Madonsela.

Tlakula and Mufamadi’s directorships in a mining contractor, Lehotsa Holdings, led Madonsela to her finding of an “unmanaged conflict of interest”.

Although Tlakula disclosed her stake in Lehotsa to the IEC, she did not disclose that Mufamadi – whose Manaka Property Investments owns a 20% stake in the ownership of its head office – was a fellow Lehotsa director.

Madonsela made no finding as to whether or not Tlakula was romantically involved with Mufamadi.

In response to emailed questions, Tlakula denied having a relationship with Mufamadi. She also said: “The CIPC classifies a company as either trading or deregistered. Lehotsa has not been deregistered but it is not operating. It has not done any business in the last five and a half years.”

Mufamadi’s attorney, Hennie de Klerk, said claims of an affair between Mufamadi and Tlakula were “spurious and deeply hurtful to Mufamadi and his family”.

De Klerk said the reason Mufamadi did not respond to further queries by Madonsela in this regard was because the claims had been contradictory and were ultimately refuted during her investigation.

He said all negotiations pertaining to the lease were between the IEC and the property management company Abland.

He said Lehotsa had not been trading since 2007.

A mining trade publication has reported the firm was co-founded by former Anglo American Platinum CEO Barry Davison and Mufamadi because the latter was planning to leave politics.

Despite Tlakula having claimed Lehotsa was dormant, she still names the company in an abbreviated CV of herself in the latest annual report of Bidvest, where she is also a director. She told City Press: “I have not resigned but have declared my directorship.”

Manaka Property Investments, the empowerment partner in the ownership of the IEC’s headquarters, is building its own property empire on the back of government contracts.

City Press reported last year the company has rental contracts worth at least R500 million with national and provincial state departments in Pretoria’s CBD.

A lease with the department of water affairs is under scrutiny by the Special Investigating Unit.

Manaka Property Investments is also the Gauteng department of health’s landlord and has another government contract in Polokwane.

Manaka is only one of a number of companies in which Mufamadi holds directorships.

His interests include a stake in Vibrant Veterans Mineral Resources, which claims on its website to have various prospecting rights in South Africa.

What happens now?

Madonsela’s report has been tabled in Parliament and it’s now up to Speaker Max Sisulu to refer it to a committee.

The IEC falls under the Home Affairs portfolio committee, but it is possible an ad hoc, multiparty committee will be appointed to deal with this matter.

The committee will have to consider what action can be taken. They may decide to call Tlakula, Madonsela and others, but it’s not a parliamentary committee’s job to second-guess the Public Protector, so they’ll have to be careful not to conduct their own investigation.

The committee will have to report back to Parliament and the National Assembly. Parliament is in recess until September 10.

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