Nomvula Mokonyane’s ‘Ben 10’ calls the shots

Nomvula Mokonyane
Nomvula Mokonyane

Minister of Water Affairs and Sanitation Nomvula Mokonyane is allowing her young male companion to call the shots in her department – so much so that he has gone so far as giving orders to her director-general.

Senior department officials and contractors confirmed how Luvo Makasi, who turns 33 next week, has been attending senior management meetings, “arrogantly” dishing out instructions and “ordering us around”.

They say Mokonyane has extensively outsourced the running of her crumbling department to Makasi, a director of a Cape Town law firm and the recently appointed chairperson of the Central Energy Fund.

Seven highly placed sources – including senior officials, contractors and others close to Mokonyane – as well as a legal opinion and a letter City Press obtained, have revealed that:

  • Two weeks ago, at African Pride Irene Country Lodge in Pretoria, Makasi allegedly gave instructions to senior officials, including directorgeneral Dan “Gorbachev” Mashitisho and chief financial officer Sifiso Mkhize; Makasi and Thele Moema, Mokonyane’s special adviser, met with officials at Limpopo water board Lepelle Northern Water, allegedly to discuss which companies should get tenders in water projects around that province;
  • In the middle of last year, Makasi visited Polokwane’s mayor, Thembi Nkadimeng, and allegedly issued instructions on who should get a stake in a R2.2 billion water project the municipality is carrying out around the city;
  • Boqwana Burns, the law firm of which Makasi is a director, was hired to give Lepelle Northern Water a legal opinion on the controversial R5 billion Giyani Emergency Water Project;
  • Department officials close to Mokonyane apparently ordered contractors to meet with Makasi “if they don’t want issues with their contracts”; and
  • In his capacity as chairperson of the Central Energy Fund, Makasi has already written to Mokonyane asking if they can work together on hydroelectricity projects “and other renewable energy programmes which may even assist with water conservation”.

One official said “Luvo” and “Mama” were very close, adding: “They travel together; they are always together. They travelled together to Iran and New York.”

How Makasi calls the shots

Two weeks ago, Mokonyane and Makasi met Mashitisho, Mkhize, legal adviser Advocate Moss Mphaga (SC) and special adviser Moema at African Pride Irene Country Lodge.

An associate of Mokonyane said: “It was shocking. I have never heard of anything like this before. Luvo was issuing instructions to Gorbachev and Mkhize. He treated the most senior officials in the department as his juniors.”

A contractor told City Press this week that he was called by Zandile Mathe, the department’s infrastructure deputy director-general, and Moema, asking him to meet Makasi “for a discussion”.

“They came to me, Zandile and Thele. They said: ‘Please meet up with the guy so that your things can go well.’ I told them to f**k off. That is when our problems with the department began. As it is, we are owed more than tens of millions of rands,” he said.

An executive in the department privy to the details said: “Zandile literally begged him to meet Makasi, but he flatly refused.

“Fortunately, he is an established contractor. That is why he is still standing today. Small guys do not refuse; they know that a refusal means the end of their companies.”

The same official said last year that Makasi visited Polokwane mayor Nkadimeng to dictate instructions on who should get which tender on the R2.2 billion water infrastructure project in Polokwane. “But Nkadimeng would have none of it,” the official said.

A Limpopo businessman close to Nkadimeng said: “It is true. [Makasi] went there to dictate terms to the mayor. But the mayor said: ‘No, I don’t work like that,’ and she dismissed him. Now the R2.2 billion project has stalled.”

Of Makasi, another senior department executive said: “He runs the department, gives orders and issues instructions to all. You refuse to take orders at your own peril.

“I really think Nomvula should be moved to another department for her own sake. She should be moved to a department without money where she will sit and get her sanity back. She has lost it.”

Another senior department official said Makasi and Moema often visited Phineas Legodi, the chief executive officer (CEO) of Lepelle Northern Water, to “discuss” tenders.

“Legodi is not comfortable with meeting both Thele and Makasi. Remember, Thele is a special adviser to the minister. He is not employed by the department.

“But Legodi is sceptical about raising the issue because he fears that he might be accused of insubordination,” the official said, adding that Legodi was “still trying to figure out Makasi’s status in the department”.

Legodi declined to comment about the visits, but said he did not directly appoint Boqwana Burns todo work for his water board.

“I procured the services of Phambane Mokone Attorneys for their attention to a battery of legal issues related to the Giyani project,” he said, adding that the water board subcontracted some of the work to Boqwana Burns.

Department spokesperson Sputnik Ratau said: “The minister knows Mr Luvo Makasi and has a political and professional relationship with him. Mr Makasi is not an employee of the department and, as such, has no role nor authority in departmental matters or those of entities under the department,” he said.

“The minister is the executive authority of the department and continues to personally exercise all her responsibilities, in line with the Constitution.”

READ: I’m not calling the shots – Nomvula’s ‘Ben 10’

An unnecessary sinkhole

A letter from a whistle-blower, distributed last week by Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema on Twitter, contained the allegation that Makasi received kickbacks of more than R35 million after facilitating the purchase of a R950 million SAP information technology (IT) system, which the department does not need.

In the widely circulated letter – also sent to the Hawks and the Special Investigating Unit – the unnamed whistleblower also accuses Makasi, “who does not even work for the department, of facilitating this corrupt deal”.

The letter confirms details of alleged corruption in the R5 billion Giyani Emergency Water Project, which City Press has revealed in the past year. Its contents have also been confirmed to City Press by senior sources.

However, Ratau said the department was not aware of the letter.

Other letters, documents and emails circulated between senior officials – which City Press has obtained – reveal that the department’s legal adviser, Puseletso Loselo, its chief information officer, Mmamathe Makhekhe-Mokhuane; and the State Information Technology Agency (Sita) all advised against the SAP IT contract.

Minutes of a meeting on July 21 last year also reveal that due diligence was not performed on the contract.

In addition, the documents reveal that the system was bought for eight of the country’s water boards without first checking with them whether they actually needed it.

Loselo’s legal advice found that the total cost of the SAP system was R950 million, as opposed to the amount of R450 million he had been led to believe.

She advised that this matter should be “looked at more prudently” and proper due diligence be done before negotiations went further.

She also warned about the “very high possibility of a duplication of costs”.

On July 19, Sita – which is responsible for all state IT procurement – warned the department not to sign the contract. Sita CEO Setumo Mohapi wrote that such a contract “may constitute irregular expenditure” and could clash with his institution’s “exclusive mandate”.

In a strongly worded email on July 22, Makhekhe-Mokhuane warned Patience Magubane, who was then Mathe’s office manager, to stay away from the contract.

“I strongly suggest that you get written consent from both Sita and the National Treasury before you act on a mandate of another institution knowingly,” she wrote.

Three senior officials told City Press that, afraid of signing the contract, Mkhize left on a trip to China. A deputy director-general, whom he appointed to act, had to sign it instead.

One official said: “There are too many things wrong with the contracts. We bought this for the water boards as well, but the water boards do not need it. They have their own IT systems. It is such a mess.”

What the department says

Makasi did not respond to a list of questions sent to him early on Friday, saying he had insufficient time to respond. His law firm asked for an extension until Tuesday, which City Press declined.

“Our rights, both those of Mr Makasi and Boqwana Burns Inc, are strictly and fully reserved,” the law firm said in a letter.

Ratau said: “The original process of the acquisition of SAP was approved by the executive authority and was duly finalised by the accounting officer, as delegated by the Public Finance Management Act. This approval was preceded by the Information and Communication Technology Committee considerations and Bid Adjudication Committee recommendations.

“The emailed letter from the Sita group CEO was received after the approval for the process was granted. “Further to that, the letter does not reflect that all IT infrastructure must be procured through Sita, but indicates that Sita need to determine if the SAP procurement falls within the Sita mandate.”

Ratau denied that no due diligence was done on the contract, saying the department needed the SAP system to “execute its newly defined strategies up to and including 2021”.

Ratau insisted the project cost R450 million and not R950 million.

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