Mpumalanga officials who were implicated in a forensic report related to Covid-19 malfeasance worth about R15.6 million have been reinstated, and one of them has been appointed as acting CEO.
What is peculiar in this development is that Mpumalanga Regional Training Trust (MRTT) CEO Riaan Oosthuizen – who initiated the investigation – has himself been suspended, and R977 000 has been spent investigating him.
MRTT general manager for corporate services, Sammy Makgoba, is acting in Oosthuizen’s position.
Makgoba, chief financial officer Mbuyiseni Jafta and supply chain manager Ntombenhle Phathwa were labelled as “individuals of interest” in the forensic audit report by Nexia SAB&T.
A source within the nonprofit, artisan training entity of the Mpumalanga department of education said that Oosthuizen was targeted because he was intolerant of corruption allegedly perpetrated by MRTT’s board members, some of whom were submitting quotations to do business with the entity.
“The CEO [Oosthuizen] raised concerns in a meeting with [Education MEC Bonakele Majuba] in September, immediately after the suspensions [of Jafta and Phathwa] regarding the conduct of the board members and a dispute about the nonpayment of his performance bonus, which the board had legally opposed.
“The MEC recommended that a settlement be reached with the CEO, and a percentage was agreed on in the meeting. However, that payment’s never been made,” said the source.
“The CEO later wrote a memo to the provincial director-general [Peter Nyoni] about all the issues at MRTT. Following these disclosures, the board took a retaliatory approach and suspended Oosthuizen, claiming – among other things – that he was bringing the entity into disrepute and demanding the lifting of the chief financial officer’s and supply chain manager’s suspensions,” he added.
Expenditure on Oosthuizen’s investigation has itself raised some suspicions, with astronomical claims by law firm TMN Kgomo & Associates.
According to two invoices totalling R977 509, which City Press has seen, the law firm claimed:
- R300 000 for interviews with MRTT’s 10 board members;
- R180 000 to interview senior managers, and the same amount to interview junior officials;
- R30 000 to interview Makgoba; and
- R30 000 to interview union officials.
For perusal and analysis of MRTT’s supply chain policy, human resources policy and the Public Finance Management Act, the firm charged R30 000 – R15 000 for each document.
“The two invoices,” the source said, “form part of one scope of work [investigation of allegations against the CEO]. However, they were divided into two to bypass the Public Finance Management Act’s procurement procedure, which stipulates that services with costs above R500 000 must go out on tender.”
MRTT spokesperson Simphiwe Shungube said Makgoba deserved to act in the position of a senior official and was never suspended, as the two other men were.
He said the officials returned to work because there was no substance to the allegations against them, adding that he was unaware of board members’ interference in MRTT’s operational matters.
Regarding the fees of TMN Kgomo & Associates, he said: “The amount paid is justifiable.”
Mpumalanga education spokesperson Jasper Zwane said the department could not comment on MRTT matters.
Nexia SAB&T indicated in its report, a copy of which City Press has seen, that auditors faced an uphill battle in getting MRTT to cooperate when they were conducting the investigation in November and December.
Phathwa refused to hand over her laptop for the investigation, and MRTT’s management refused to hand over the employment contracts of the three implicated officials that the auditors needed to extract details for basic lifestyle audits.
The looting allegedly happened after the Mpumalanga department of education mandated MRTT to implement projects to clean toilets in 249 schools and erect water fountains that would enable social distancing.
Nexia SAB&T investigated 46 companies appointed between May and July last year and found that Oosthuizen did not authorise payments to any of these companies, although he had the authority to sign off on any payment above R50 000.
The auditors found that R2 953 437 spent on deep-cleaning and R12 707 000 spent on “Project Covid-19” (the construction of water fountains) were irregular.
They also found that the contracts were awarded to suppliers whose specialities were accommodation and catering services.
Nexia SAB&T conducted a pricing analysis and found that certain service providers had inflated prices. For example, a company charged R1 900 for a hand basin, while other companies set the price at R1 450 and R420.
Oosthuizen was not available when City Press tried to contact him for comment.