It's just not Ayoba!
Telecoms companies lobbied by Communications Minister Dina Pule to pay R25.7-million towards this month's high-profile ICT Indaba are furious that millions in sponsorship fees were drawn from the account of the event organiser by a man alleged to be romantically linked to her.
The Sunday Times has established that millions paid in "sponsorships" by Telkom, MTN and Vodacom were withdrawn within days by Phosane Mngqibisa, who is said to be romantically linked to Pule. The minister personally lobbied Telkom, MTN and Vodacom to sponsor the event, held in Cape Town last week.
Vodacom, MTN and Telkom together forked out R25.7-million , with her department chipping in another R10.5-million.
Senior executives at the telecoms companies contacted by the Sunday Times were furious.
Insiders at MTN said this was "serious, as it might warrant an internal review of our processes over how we pay sponsors", saying the marketing department "facilitated these questionable payments to alternative accounts".
The money trail followed by the Sunday Times shows that Telkom paid R5.7-million and Vodacom R5-million into a First National Bank account in the name of Carol Bouwer Designs, while MTN paid R15-million into the bank account of a company called ABR Consulting.
Pule's department appointed Carol Bouwer Designs, a company owned by former Generations star and businesswoman Carol Bouwer, who is close to President Jacob Zuma, to put the Indaba together.
All three telecoms companies confirmed that they paid those amounts only after they were approached directly by Pule's ministry and asked to sponsor the event.
In February, Pule sent a letter to Bouwer, seen by the Sunday Times, in which the minister said her department "will make a financial contribution amounting to R10-million". She said she would "sign off a letter of endorsement, which Carol Bouwer Productions will use to approach other potential sponsors".
The event drew political heavyweights, including Zuma, his deputy, Kgalema Motlanthe, Pule, Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies and foreign dignitaries.
Approached by the Sunday Times, Bouwer confirmed that Mngqibisa was a "second signatory" to her company bank account and that he had "access to the account until the conclusion of the [ICT Indaba]".
Bouwer admitted she hired Mngqibisa's company, Khemano, to handle the "event management" part of the indaba. "It was clear most of the payments would have to be effected by him, so I entrusted this responsibility to him to ensure ... suppliers can be paid timeously".
She would not reveal how much money Mngqibisa withdrew from her account or confirm whether he did pay the suppliers, saying only that "a full financial reconciliation is under way".
"Until I receive the audited statements from the project team, it would be premature for me to comment on payments being irregular or otherwise."
She said she had no idea of his relationship to the minister, but had she known, "such a relationship would simply disqualify him from working with me on this project".
Though Mngqibisa refused to reveal the exact nature of his relationship with the minister, a number of those close to the minister confirmed the link.
Though asked explicitly to clarify this "relationship", Mngqibisa sent a statement to the Sunday Times shortly before going to print, saying: "I prefer to keep my private personal life private, since I am not a public figure. I strongly deny all allegations of impropriety against me, and challenge anyone making such allegations to [provide] evidence".
He would not reveal whether the money he withdrew was spent appropriately to pay the suppliers, saying: "I have an obligation to maintain the privacy of my clients."
In a written reply, Pule's spokesman, Siya Qoza, did not address questions on the nature of her relationship with Mngqibisa. He said "questions regarding subcontractors and/or services providers engaged by [Bouwer] should be referred to the company".
He said an audit of the finances of the indaba "is expected in July".
He said the budget for the Indaba was R102-million, which was largely raised "through sponsorships", and it was necessary for the department to partner with Bouwer "because the ICT indaba is in the domain of the department".
He confirmed that the department paid R10.5-million for "securing the venue, conference speakers, the audio systems and interpreters".
MTN, Vodacom and Telkom confirmed that they were told by Pule's ministry to deal with Bouwer's company.
Pynee Chetty, a spokesman for Telkom, said: "[We] will engage with [Bouwer's company] to seek the necessary comfort on these matters ... to ensure that all promised rights were met, as well as proper governance followed."
MTN SA's chief human resources officer, Themba Nyathi, said his company put the money into the ABR Consulting account because the original account it was given, that of Carol Bouwer Designs, "did not comply to MTN's procurement requirements".
ABR Consulting president Sheryl Manchisi said MTN's R15-million was used to pay suppliers. "Everything is accounted for and in black and white. We're being audited right now."
Vodacom spokesman Richard Boorman said his company had "performed a full due diligence on Carol Bouwer Productions, including an anti-corruption questionnaire".