Patricia de Lille stands firm as calls mount for her axing over 'interference'

21 September 2020 - 18:17
By Mpumzi Zuzile
Minister of public works and infrastructure Patricia de Lille defended herself on Monday against calls for her to step down.
Image: Esa Alexander Minister of public works and infrastructure Patricia de Lille defended herself on Monday against calls for her to step down.

Embattled public works minister Patricia de Lille says when she arrived at the public works and infrastructure department it already had a bad reputation for corruption.

“I inherited the legacy of the misappropriation of funds related to state funerals. Other matters which I had to take forward were the irregular appointments of senior officials, including people without the relevant qualifications, the Nkandla matter, as well as allegations of corruption with government leases and many more,” De Lille said in a statement on Monday.

The minister is in the midst of a battle with the department's suspended director-general Sam Vukela.

There is also speculation that President Cyril Ramaphosa plans a cabinet reshuffle.

The Vukela issue is said to have created mistrust between Ramaphosa and De Lille, and some opposition parties have called for her axing. Such calls mounted after Vukela took De Lille to court last month.

Vukela is challenging De Lille's decision to institute disciplinary proceedings against him after a damning investigative report over the irregular spending of millions on funerals of struggle luminaries.

In a statement responding to Vukela’s claims, DA and former deputy director-general Dhaya Govender's complaint to the public protector, De Lille said it is her responsibility to act against allegations of wrongdoing.

“One of the first things I did was to implement contract and consequence management and put systems in place to detect and prevent corruption to ensure accountability and clean up the department,” she said.

She said the Public Service Commission (PSC) wrote to her in September 2020 inquiring about whether there had been consequence management instituted against officials emanating from irregular, fruitless and wasteful expenditure about the after:

  • irregular expenditure of more than R1.7bn;
  • fruitless and wasteful expenditure of more than R88m; and
  • unauthorised expenditure of more than R261m.

She said also in early September 2020, the auditor-general (AG) wrote to the acting DG regarding the expenditure on three state funerals, the same three funerals which are one of the grounds for Vukela's suspension.

“In terms of the Public Audit Act, the accounting officer, which is the DG, is responsible for ensuring that an entity complies with the legislation applicable to it and for preventing financial losses resulting from non-compliance with, or contravention of, legislation.

“An accounting officer is also responsible for identifying and appropriately addressing any non-compliance and contravention of legislation and any resultant financial losses.”

She said the AG is now asking her department to make a submission to his office on circumstances that led to the material irregularity, the steps that have been taken to recover the financial losses and the steps that have been or will be taken against individuals responsible for material irregularities.

Now that the looters’ taps are being turned off, people call it 'interference'.
Patricia de Lille

On the allegations by Govender, De Lille said his contract came to an end in December 2019 and was not renewed.

“He has now lodged a complaint against me at the public protector. I respect the office of the public protector and will co-operate with it, as I always have,” she said.

“The above examples and the AG’s findings confirm the rotten department that I have inherited and which has been a looter’s paradise for some time. Now that the looters’ taps are being turned off, people call it 'interference'.”

She said she is not surprised by the fightback campaign because people are afraid that they will be confirmed as having looted the state’s coffers.

“The buck stops with me and I want to be held accountable. The more the public holds me accountable, the harder I will work to clean up,” she said.

On allegations by the DA, she said the party has lost all cases against her in the Western Cape High Court.

“They are still bitter and hopping on to anything they can to try to destroy my reputation now after failing this mission when I was the mayor of Cape Town,” she said.

She said she had nothing to fear and looked forward to giving evidence whenever and wherever she is called to do so, whether in front of the public protector or in court.

Vukela was suspended in July after being implicated in huge overspending on state funerals and an irregular hiring spree. In March, Ramaphosa, whose prerogative it is to hire and fire directors-general, gave De Lille the go-ahead for the action against Vukela.

De Lille said the action follows reports she received into two investigations:

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

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.