Limpopo premier suspends official who was supposed to testify about R585m IT tender

Stan Mathabatha, premier of Limpopo. Picture: KENNY MATHIVA
Stan Mathabatha, premier of Limpopo. Picture: KENNY MATHIVA

Limpopo premier Stan Mathabatha has allegedly suspended a senior official, who made it known that he would testify to the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture about possible corruption in the province relating to a R585 million broadband connection tender.

Lesetja Mathiba, the provincial government’s IT officer, was suspended last week for misconduct relating to his failure to use “proper mechanisms or follow official procedures to register [his] dissatisfaction with Limpopo Connexion”, a subsidiary of the Limpopo Economic Development Agency, according to a suspension letter served on him earlier this month.

Another reason for Mathiba’s suspension was that he allegedly failed to comply with lawful and reasonable instructions issued to him by Mathabatha.

The instructions are not specified in the suspension letter, which City Press has seen.

In correspondence dating back to last year, Mathiba had been scathing about the tender, which was awarded to digital communications business Altech Alcom Matomo in 2017 to connect Limpopo departments and the public.

Mathiba said that the awarding of the tender was in contravention of the State Information Technology Agency (Sita) Act, which makes Sita the sole statutory supplier of broadband infrastructure and services to national and provincial departments.

This, said Mathiba, meant that expenditure on the project was irregular.

Mathiba also lodged a complaint with the SA Human Rights Commission on October 14, claiming that Limpopo director-general Nape Nchabeleng had attacked him during executive meetings when he raised concerns about the project.

Four days after lodging this complaint, Mathabatha suspended Mathiba.

In his letter of complaint to the human rights commission, Mathiba claimed that on May 20 he was invited to attend a meeting of the extended executive management committee, where a presentation of the Limpopo Connexion network broadband project was made.

The meeting was chaired by Nchabeleng.

The director-general remarked that I was happy to be a five-minute celebrity and would regret [it] for the rest of my life
Lesetja Mathiba

“During question time, I was the first to raise a hand as I wanted to pose a question. But the director-general said I was not allowed to participate and should not raise my hand because I was the one who went to the media making allegations of fraud and corruption relating to the project. He was, in a way, intimidating, harassing and victimising me,” Mathiba wrote.

“The director-general remarked that I was happy to be a five-minute celebrity and would regret [it] for the rest of my life. I therefore feel insecure and threatened.”

He said he believed that the project was pushed through, in contravention of the Sita Act, because certain individuals stood to benefit from “corruption”, given that this project was a possible “conduit or conveyor belt” for funds.

“Without this project,” said Mathiba, “Limpopo Connexion would have no reason to exist because it would have no work to do.”

In response to questions from City Press, Sita’s acting chief executive officer, Ntutule Tshenye, concurred with Mathiba’s view.

Tshenye said that Sita was working with the Limpopo government to align the broadband initiative to the legislative framework.

He said the agency was not involved in the issuing of the tender and had warned that the use of the Limpopo broadband tender would result in irregular expenditure.

“Upon learning about this development, Sita wrote a letter to the director-general and departmental heads in the provincial government on February 22 2018, formally alerting them not to utilise the vehicle created through Limpopo Connexion as doing so would violate the Sita Act,” Tshenye said.

“While the Limpopo government has made a significant investment in broadband infrastructure, Sita has put forward reasonable options for consideration.”

Acting provincial spokesperson Mamogo Ntuli confirmed Mathiba’s suspension but would not be drawn into commenting about the charges.

Ntuli said the Limpopo government supported the Zondo commission’s work and encouraged public servants to report corruption or maladministration to such agencies.

“At this stage, we cannot comment any further, and neither will we go into the merits of the case since this is a matter between the employer and the employee,” she said.

With regard to encroaching into Sita’s space, Ntuli said: “According to the Sita Act, Sita’s mandate is to connect national and provincial departments, not the general population. Limpopo Connexion is focusing on connectivity to the entire population of the province. Sita and Limpopo Connexion will collaborate to provide broadband connectivity where possible.”

Mathiba decried the fact that no action had been taken with regard to this project since February 2018, when the alleged irregularity was initially raised.

“We are now approaching 2020 and nothing has happened. Limpopo wants to deplete the R585 million,” he said.

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