Mkhwebane slams water minister over deal with heist-accused former ANC staffer

05 May 2019 - 10:17 By QAANITAH HUNTER
Water and sanitation minister Gugile Nkwinti. File photo.
Water and sanitation minister Gugile Nkwinti. File photo.
Image: Simon Mathebula

Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane has made a damning finding against minister Gugile Nkwinti, establishing that he has violated the executive ethics code and the constitution.

In a report yet to be released by her office, Mkhwebane has found that Nkwinti - now water and sanitation minister - abused his position of authority when he was minister of land and rural development when he influenced his department to buy a farm and allocate it to his friend.

The investigation by Mkhwebane's office confirmed a Sunday Times report in 2017 that Nkwinti had introduced a former ANC staff member from Luthuli House, Errol Velile Present, to officials in his department. Eight months later, the department bought a R97m farm in Limpopo and handed it to Present and his business partners.

Present was fired by the ANC last year after he was arrested for alleged involvement in cash-in-transit heists. His trial is still under way.

Mkhwebane found this to be an abuse of position by Nkwinti and that he had unduly influenced his department to purchase the Bekendvlei farm in 2011.

"Minister Nkwinti used his position to improperly benefit Mr Present and thereby exposed himself to a situation involving the risk of a conflict between his responsibilities as a minister responsible for rural development and land reform and his personal relationship with Mr Present," the public protector says in her report.

Mkhwebane states that this was a clear violation of the executive ethics code governing the conduct of ministers and the constitution.

"The President [Cyril Ramaphosa] must, within 30 days of publication of this report, take the appropriate action against Minister Nkwinti for violating the executive ethics code and the constitution," she instructed, tersely reminding Ramaphosa that her recommendations are legally binding unless overturned by a court of law.

The Public Protector launched the probe against Nkwinti following a complaint by DA MP Thomas Walters.

Walters said he was carefully studying the report "to ensure that its full implications both in terms of Minister Nkwinti's conduct as well as what it actually says about the conduct and culture in the department is not lost going forward."

Mkhwebane detailed how Present introduced the Bekendvlei project to Nkwinti at a land reform conference in May before the minister referred him to his deputy director general of land reform.

"According to Mr Present, processes to acquire the Bekendvlei farm then commenced after they met Mr Mahlangu, who also introduced them to officials in the departments' Limpopo provincial office who assisted them until the farms were acquired by the department and later leased to them," the report noted.

Mkhwebane says in the report that Present confirmed his close personal relationship with the minister, who was even a speaker at his wedding.

She further says she was unable to find evidence that substantiated claims that Nkwinti received a R2m bribe in exchange for the deal.

"The allegation that minister Nkwinti received a R2m bribe as a reward for facilitating the transaction is without basis and could not be supported by evidence," Mkhwebane found.

TimesLIVE understands that the report was signed off by Mkhwebane and sent to the president on Tuesday.

Ramaphosa's spokesperson Khusela Diko said he had not yet received the report.

Attempts to get a comment from Nkwinti were unsuccessful.

Mkhwebane stated in her report that Nkwinti was asked to respond to the report but asked for an extension to May 10, after the elections - a request which was denied.