Mbuli’s R50?000 for no-show

2014-05-23 00:00

CONVICTED armed robber and “People’s Poet” Mzwakhe Mbuli netted over R50 000 from KwaZulu-Natal’s prisons department to spend hours sitting in a car, while he was meant to officiate a swanky department event last month.

The event, attended by almost 1 000 officials, was held to mark a combined celebration for Freedom Day and National Workers’ Day.

It is understood that Mbuli was the main draw card for the occasion, but arrived long after proceedings had started with the Correctional Services Department funding his travel, accommodation and booking costs to the tune of R51 300.

There are now claims that the procurement of Mbuli’s services carefully skirted financial procedures and was channelled through a private entity so the government department could avoid a tender process.

The spend also comes in the wake of Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan’s order that state departments curtail unnecessary expenditure.

Mbuli claimed to The Witness that he was spurned by Corrections management when he arrived at the event, and was made to sit in his rental car as top officials enjoyed a gala dinner.

Mbuli was convicted of armed robbery and sentenced to 13 years’ imprisonment. He maintains his innocence.

The Witness has obtained documents showing that funds for Mbuli’s services were paid to Phumelela Entertainment from the Pietermaritzburg Correctional Services “Recreation Club”, a private business entity that handles fund contributions from prison officials.

According to two well-placed sources within the department, the fund paid for Mbuli’s services under the pretence that they would be reimbursed by the provincial Correctional Services Department.

Because the Recreation Club is a registered service provider with the department, no tender process is required to facilitate the transfer of money.

A source, who occupies a top management position and asked not to be named, claimed controversial KZN Corrections head Mnikelwa Nxe­le ordered the payment of Mbuli.

“Nxele sent the memo for the release of funds from the club, which duly issued a cheque. The club will send the state an invoice for the payment and they will be reimbursed because they are a registered provider. I was there and Mbuli didn’t even make it onto the stage. He arrived when the function was already finished,” he said.

Another well-placed source confirmed that Mbuli was paid upfront from the club’s account.

“Mbuli would only accept payment for his services in advance so a memo was issued to the head of the Recreation Club to make the payment, which allowed the department to subvert the tender process,” he said.

He added that Mbuli’s travel costs were included in the quote.

He said that the “exorbitant” spend flew in the face of widespread cost-cutting measures in government departments.

“Last year we received a circular in the department telling us that we need to contain costs. We have people in the department who could have fulfilled the role of programme director and we could have done it in house for free, there was no need to spend R50 000 on someone who didn’t arrive,” the source said.

Nxele is no stranger to controversy, having been suspended in 2011 on charges of misconduct.

Under his reign rampant corruption has come to light at Durban’s Westville Prison where last year a firearm, bullets and hundreds of cellphones were smuggled into the facility.

Nxele has also come under fire for allegedly harassing union shop stewards.

Department spokesperson Nonkululeko Memela evaded questions posed by The Witness and repeated attempts to contact her were unsuccessful at the time of going to press.

Mbuli hit back in a statement, insisting that he had been the one hard done by.

“I need to express my outrage at the events of that evening because they are of such a severe nature,” he wrote.

He said that he had left Johannesburg without receiving payment and arrived at the all-day event at 3 pm.

“A decision was made [because the day’s event was finished and only the dinner remained on the programme] that Mr Mbuli would be co-compere at the dinner.”

Mbuli said that he had sat in his car until 10 pm when dinner was over and was never summoned.

“In all that time, Mr Mbuli was ill-treated and not given any type of hospitality that one would expect to be extended to a high profile individual of his stature,” he wrote in the third person.

Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union KZN chairperson Kwenza ­Nxele called for an investigation.

“This is a very interesting revelation and there needs to be a thorough investigation conducted. We will definitely be following this matter with interest as the expenditure and the outcome will directly affect our members,” he said.

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