Mail & Guardian suspends political editor over 'involvement' in irregular Prasa tender

Prasa. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)
Prasa. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

The Mail & Guardian (M&G) has suspended its political editor, Matuma Letsoalo, while an independent investigation is conducted into allegations of a conflict of interest with the Passenger Rail Authority of South Africa (Prasa), the publication announced in a statement on Tuesday.

The M&G made the decision to suspend Letsoalo ahead of the release of the results of an investigation by Werksmans Attorneys into tenders awarded by Prasa.

Letsoalo was a director of Kgomomorareng Travel when it was allegedly awarded an irregular tender in 2010.

According to the M&G's statement, Werksmans concluded that the joint venture "did not submit a bid and should not therefore have been considered for the tender, let alone awarded same".

"While the initial tender was for the venture to receive a commission based on a percentage of what it booked, this was changed to a set amount of R350 000 [per] month. Werksmans concluded: 'The amendment of their appointment (and particularly the fixed monthly fee payment) negotiated and agreed to by Prasa favours the supplier to Prasa's detriment, financially and operationally.'"

He left the company in 2012, but his wife is still involved.

Internal investigation

Letsoalo was investigated by the M&G in 2016 after he had commissioned an article on Prasa in July that year, which mentioned the cost of the Werksmans investigation into irregularities at Prasa.

After an internal investigation, then-editor Verashni Pillay found that Letsoalo had not breached the publication's editorial code and that he had disclosed his past and his wife's continued involvement with Kgomomorareng Travel.

He could, however, no longer report on Prasa to avoid a conflict of interest.

"Werksmans had asked the M&G to keep the investigation confidential, and no formal charges were laid. There was also no evidence that Letsoalo's business involvement with Prasa had in any way influenced the reporting on the utility," according to the statement.

A decision was then made not to take the issue any further.

"No new evidence has come to light to change this conclusion, but, with the Werksmans report in its final stages, the M&G decided to suspend Letsoalo last week," the publication said.

"This was done to allow a further, independent investigation to be conducted.

"The investigation will look at whether any ethical transgressions took place, and if any further action needs to be taken."

The M&G's editor-in-chief, Khadija Patel, said: "The M&G's responsibility is to its audience and to telling the truth. If anything new should come to light in the new investigation, this will be acted upon."

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