Eastern Cape Premier Phumulo Masualle has been offered an olive branch by the ANC’s newly elected provincial leaders, who say it is up to him to decide whether to remain in his position.There was speculation that Masualle could be booted out after his supporters failed in their court bid this week to have the outcome of the provincial elective conference – which took place in September – nullified. The conference was marred by violence and disputes. The case was dismissed with costs. On Monday, Masualle failed to arrive at the party’s provincial headquarters, at James Calata House in King William’s Town, to explain the provincial government’s role in the misappropriation of funds for former president Nelson Mandela’s funeral. Funds amounting to R300m that had been earmarked to improve social infrastructure were found to have been diverted so people could profit from Mandela’s 2013 funeral.Masualle, along with three mayors – Buffalo City metro mayor Xola Pakati, OR Tambo district municipality mayor Nomakhosazana Meth and King Sabata Dalindyebo municipality mayor Dumani Zozo – were summoned to appear before the provincial executive committee (PEC) on Monday. This after Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane released her report about the scandal. The premier was the only one who did not show up. Instead, he sent a last-minute apology, saying he was consulting lawyers on the matter. According to provincial secretary Lulama Ngcukayithobi, the premier will be given a chance to exercise his rights following his appeal to the ANC not to recognise the new provincial leadership on the grounds that the conference was procedurally unfair. The national executive committee’s appeal panel, led by Sbu Ndebele, is yet to announce its decision on the matter.Despite this, Ngcukayithobi said Masualle still had to appear before the PEC, in his capacity as premier, to account for the misappropriated resources in the funeral fund scandal. Masualle is at the centre of controversy after the Public Protector’s report found that R250 000 was allegedly deposited into his personal bank account by the provincial planning and treasury department at the time of Madiba’s passing. Masualle was then MEC for finance and economic development.The premier told City Press in a recent interview that the money had been deposited into his personal bank account because the department did not have a credit card at the time. He said the money had been returned to the department – save for R5 000, which he had spent and accounted for in full. Oscar Mabuyane, who replaced Masualle as provincial chair, criticised officials who failed to attend ANC meetings. He told delegates at last month’s provincial general council that such behaviour would not be tolerated. Ngcukayithobi said: “It is up to Masualle. We have given him an opportunity. He apologised, saying he could not attend. So it is up to him how he thinks and he feels about working with the new PEC. We have given him leeway and even invited him to the provincial working committee to explain himself.”He said the PEC also took the matter of Masualle consulting with lawyers seriously, but acknowledged that the premier was facing the challenge of having been mentioned in the Public Protector’s report. “Probably, after consulting with his lawyers, he will have legally sound responses in respect of the Mandela scandal,” he said.Asked if there could be a disciplinary process or a recall of the premier if he failed to cooperate with the new PEC, elected in September when Mabuyane won, Ngcukayithobi said it would not be proper to speculate. City Press tried to contact Masualle for comment, but his phone went unanswered. Sonwabo Mbananga, Masualle’s spokesperson, released a statement on the day after the premier failed to meet the PEC, claiming that the amount of R300 million mentioned in Mkhwebane’s report was factually incorrect. He said the Auditor-General’s report put the total expenditure for the funeral at R35.9m.Mbananga said it was untrue that the provincial executive had diverted R300m away from poverty alleviation and infrastructure priority programmes to bury Madiba. It was thus “defamatory and mischievous to reinforce as fact that Masualle ... benefited from the R250 000 of public funds in relation to the funeral”.Mbananga said the provincial government would seek a review of Mkhwebane’s report. Pending legal advice, it had already written to her to acknowledge receipt of the report as well as to give notice of its intention to review it.