De Lille suspends public works DG over state funeral spending

29 July 2020 - 14:43 By MPUMZI ZUZILE
Public works director-general Sam Vukela has been suspended.
Public works director-general Sam Vukela has been suspended.
Image: Supplied

The saga in the public works and infrastructure department continues, with minister Patricia de Lille on Tuesday suspending her director-general, advocate Sam Vukela.

Vukela has been implicated in massive overspending on state funerals and an irregular hiring spree.

In March, President Cyril Ramaphosa, whose prerogative it is to hire and fire directors-general, gave De Lille the go-ahead for the action against Vukela.

“I confirm that on Tuesday July 28, I placed the director-general of the department of public works and infrastructure (DPWI), advocate Sam Vukela, on precautionary suspension - effective as of today, Wednesday July 29 - pending the finalisation of the disciplinary processes instituted against the DG,” De Lille said in a statement.

She says the action follows reports she received into two investigations:

  • a report by PwC which investigated allegations of irregularities related to the provision of moveable infrastructure for official funerals; and
  • a report by the Public Service Commission (PSC) which investigated allegations of irregular appointments within the senior management service of the department. 

De Lille said an internal disciplinary process chaired by a senior advocate will start soon.

“In order to protect the integrity of the process, no further comment will be made to the media until the process has been concluded,” she said.

Vukela and four other officials were implicated in the overspending on funerals. Reports by public works' governance, risk and corruption unit and PwC made findings against Vukela.

In a separate matter, a PSC report last year found Vukela had signed off on irregular appointments during a hiring spree in 2017 and early 2018. Among 739 appointments investigated, 12 senior officials were found to not be properly qualified.

Two weeks ago, the standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) finally received a copy of the PwC report into the expenditure of official funeral for funerals of struggle veterans Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Zola Skweyiya and Billy Modise.

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The report showed that some items were hugely inflated, allegedly in favour of Crocia Events. Officials named in the report are:

  • chief director prestige management Mzwandile Sazona;
  • chief director for user demand management Daniel Kgasoane;
  • administration clerk Koliswa Ralarala; and
  • administration clerk Mapula Mabuela.

Crocia is owned by Pheladi Mphahlele and husband Sammy Mashita, who in December 2018 married Mashita in a three-day wedding at which US R&B star Anthony Hamilton performed.

The three funerals cost taxpayers a whopping R76m, with the department spending, among other amounts, R7m to hire padded chairs, leather couches and scatter cushions, R2.47m for draping, R470,000 for serviettes and R695,000 for orchestra equipment for Madikizela-Mandela's and Skweyiya’s funerals.

Vukela is implicated in alleged financial irregularities and approving the payment of invoices even though there were glaring irregularities.

The report found that Vukela approved invoices for the funerals of Madikizela-Mandela and Skweyiya, while the department was still awaiting the outcome of the legal opinion on whether to pay the invoices.

It also found that:

  • the department had only budgeted R7m for each of the nine provinces for state funerals;
  • R26.3m of the more than R35m paid for Madikizela-Mandela’s funeral was made up of deviations;
  • of the R28.9m paid for Skweyiya’s funeral, more than R20.8m was also made up of deviations; and
  • R11.4m was paid for Modise’s funeral.
It is an indictment that the names of our struggle icons that are passing away are being brought into disrepute with allegations of corruption.
Patricia De Lille

The report also stated that between December 13 2018 and February 7 2019, PwC struggled to obtain e-mail data files of three senior officials linked to the procurement of the funerals and DPW-owned notebook computers.

It recommended that corrective action be taken against Vukela, as well as subordinate personnel implicated, and that the pricing schedules and specifications of the Modise, Skweyiya and Mandela funerals should be reviewed.

The investigative report also found that there was no evidence of tests carried out by the department to verify that items charged for were delivered for these funerals.

“In addition, Crocia did not provide delivery notes for items delivered. We noted duplications of certain line items, which at this stage may indicate duplicate payments in respect of these items. We have requested, but have to date not been provided, clarification by the [department] in this regard,” the report found.

Sazona, Kgasoane Ralarala and Mabuela who are still working for the department referred the TimesLIVE to the department.

This week, Crocia Events, flagged during an investigation for potentially receiving “duplicate payments” for the funerals of three ANC struggle stalwarts, secured a contract for the funeral of Andrew Mlangeni.

Mashita said: “We are aware of the report and have as yet not seen the report, despite numerous requests to the department to have access to the information. Crocia Events cannot respond to any matters related to the reports as a result.”

De Lille said: “I was not aware that Crocia had been appointed as I am not and cannot be involved in procurement processes. It is the duty of the DG to oversee procurement in terms of the PFMA [Public Finance Management Act].”

She, however, stated her disappointment in her department for appointing Crocia.

“It is an indictment that the names of our struggle icons that are passing away are being brought into disrepute with allegations of corruption. Our legends deserve the respect of the nation to honour them for their contribution to the struggle for freedom in our country and not have their legacy tainted with allegations of corruption,” she said.

De Lille said criminal charges had been laid at Pretoria Central police station against the company and the law must take its course.

She said she had been informed that in terms of restricting the company from doing business with the department, the matter will go before a restriction committee which will look at all the evidence. The company will also be given an opportunity to respond in this process.

She said when processes are completed, the committee will make a recommendation to the National Treasury. A final decision on restricting the company from doing business with the government will then be made.

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