Corruption: sword hangs over MEC, speaker

2011-07-11 00:00

THE Office of the Premier was silent yesterday about whether former MEC Mike Mabuyakhulu and KwaZulu-Natal Legislature speaker Peggy Nkonyeni will be suspended after confirmation that warrants of arrest have been issued for them as part of investigations into tender fraud involving the Health Department.

The Sunday Tribune reported yesterday that the acting head of Department of Public Prosecutions (DPP), advocate Simphiwe Mlotshwa, has confirmed that he signed the warrants last Monday for the arrests of Mabuyakhulu, the MEC for Economic Development and Tourism, and Nkonyeni, a former Health MEC. The case relates to an alleged R1 million donation to the ANC by South American businessman Gaston Savoi in exchange for a R45 million tender to supply water purification plants to the KZN Health Department.

Spokespersons for both Mabuyakhulu and Nkonyeni’s , Bheko Madlala and Wonder Hlongwa respectively, had “no comment” yesterday.

When the alleged donation was paid, Mabuyakhulu was the ANC’s provincial treasurer and Nkonyeni KZN’s Health MEC. Savoi’s company allegedly paid the R1 million to the ANC soon after receiving the R45 million tender in March 2007.

The arrests would mean that Mabuyakhulu and Nkonyeni will join Savoi, former Ithala Bank boss Sipho Shabalala and former Health Department boss Busi Nyembezi in the dock on charges of fraud, corruption and money laundering.

Shabalala’s wife Ntombi, Durban advocate Sandile Kuboni and other health officials and businessmen are among the 15 accused.

Mlotshwa confirmed yesterday that warrants have been issued for Mabuyakhulu and Nkonyeni relating directly to the R1 million payment, the Sunday Tribune reported.

“I signed those warrants on Monday,” he said. “At this stage, investigations reveal they should face two charges, of fraud and corruption.

“These charges have an umbilical connection to the matter involving Dr Savoi. But the investigation is ongoing and if it is found that more serious charges could be brought against them, we will do that,” Mlotshwa told the Tribune.

Mlotshwa said he will meet the investigating and prosecuting teams early this week for an update.

Opposition parties called for Mabuyakhulu and Nkonyeni to be suspended. KZN Democratic Alliance caucus leader John Steenhuisen, who blew the whistle on the alleged tender fraud, said: “We are quite relieved that the arrests are imminent and we believe that it is important that the investigation has arrived at the logical conclusion and that the long arm of the law has caught up with politicians.”

He said there is a perception in South Africa that the politicians and the connected elite are immune to justice. “In this case the matter will restore confidence in the system. It is now going to be a test for the Premier, Dr Zweli Mkhize, in how he handles the matter by suspending Mike Mabuyakhulu with immediate effect pending the outcome of the case,” said Steenhuisen.

The premier’s spokesperson, Ndabe Sibiya, declined to comment.

The fraud allegedly occurred after Savoi extended an invitation to Shabalala and certain government officials to visit him Brazil in 2004, where they were shown products manufactured by Savoi’s Intaka company, including water purification plants.

Upon his return Shabalala apparently asked for a quote from Intaka and arranged for R44,5 million to be released from the poverty alleviation fund, motivating that the purchase of the plants was urgent, allegedly bypassing proper tender processes.

ANC provincial secretary Sihle Zikalala said the party has noted the reports of imminent arrests, but declined to comment on “rumours”.

ANC insiders claimed that the timing of the disclosure is influenced by factionalism within the ANC ahead of its national conference in December 2012. Sources said state resources are being used to keep those want President Jacob Zuma to retain his position in check.

“The reports that such arrests are linked to the internal differences on who must be elected to lead the ANC in 2012 are hogwash and designed to undermine the unity of the ANC,” Zikalala said.

Zikalala said the ANC in the province remains united and no one will ever use any state institution to sort internal political differences.... “We must state it clearly that there are no differences within the ANC. It is equally important for our people to understand that the ANC leadership in KwaZulu-Natal, as a collective, supports the National Leadership of the ANC under the leadership of President Jacob Zuma”.

The reports that Nkonyeni and Mabuyakhulu were to be charged because of the divisions in the province are totally unfounded and are part of the attempts to create a sense of a division within the ANC in KZN he added.

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