Limpopo deputy speaker not in the clear

2017-05-28 06:05
Former ANCYL Limpopo chairperson Lehlohonolo Masoga took the youth league to court to stop the deciplinary action against him. Picture: Muntu Vilakazi

Former ANCYL Limpopo chairperson Lehlohonolo Masoga took the youth league to court to stop the deciplinary action against him. Picture: Muntu Vilakazi

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Public Protector says report was premature, irregular

Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane has distanced her office from a report released by her provincial office seemingly exonerating Limpopo legislature deputy speaker Lehlogonolo Masoga for running up an estimated R140 000 cellphone bill.

Earlier this month Masoga released a statement saying he was in possession of a Public Protector report absolving him of any wrongdoing. But Mkhwebane’s office told City Press that the investigation was prematurely and irregularly concluded. She said she only saw the report for the first time last Thursday.

City Press published a story in March 2015 revealing that Masoga had incurred a cellphone bill of R125 000 allegedly for watching pornographic material while on an official visit to the US.

He has denied the allegations.

Masoga sent the report to the Press Ombudsman demanding that City Press apologise for its story now that he has been “cleared”.

While preparing to respond to the ombudsman on the matter earlier this week, City Press learnt that Mkhwebane had dismissed the report, prepared by a senior investigator who signed it as “Stanley I. Mhinga”, as an unofficial document. She further expressed her intention to take steps against those who worked on it. She did not, however, express a view on its findings.

“The Public Protector learnt last week that her investigation into the matter was irregularly and improperly closed by provincial officials,” said her spokesperson Oupa Segalwe.

He said an investigation into allegations against Masoga were categorised under “Special Attention Matters (SAM)”, which are matters “involving a politician or head of an institution or an investigation conducted in terms of the Executive Members’ Ethics Act”. He added that “only the Public Protector can close investigations classified as SAM”.

“The conduct of the provincial officials concerned in irregularly and improperly closing the investigation is inconsistent with established standards as outlined in our internal investigation handbook ... Disciplinary steps will be taken against the officials involved,” he explained.

There were some notable inconsistencies and contradictions in the report in question. Among them was the description of the probe as an investigation initiated after the “Public Protector’s office picked up reports on print media against (Masoga)”. However, Segalwe had told City Press in March 2015 that the Public Protector’s investigation was initiated after the allegations were raised during an interaction with Deputy Public Protector Kevin Malunga in Polokwane earlier that month.

It was not clear why the national and provincial offices were citing different incidents as having triggered the probe. It was also not known whether the investigator who signed the report or anyone in the province had been assigned Masoga’s case at all.

The report claimed that Masoga’s bill for August 2014 was actually R138 701.99. Giving reasons for closing the investigation, the report stated that the legislature’s “policy on telephone benefits to members allows the legislature to pay for expenses incurred while on international official trips and this was uncapped. Therefore, the legislature did not violate the policy on telephone usage when it paid the bill.” This is despite Masoga’s monthly phone allowance being R6 000 at the time.

Masoga said he had no influence on how the Public Protector’s Polokwane office conducted the probe or how it was meant to release the report.

“I cannot speak for a report that I did not produce personally, however, I can certainly vouch for my clear conscience and innocence on the allegations levelled against me.”

He said he held the Public Protector’s office in “high regard” in the execution of its mandate and wouldn’t interfere with its procedures.

Read more on:    busisiwe mkhwebane

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