Mthethwa defies official processes to appoint heritage council administrator at cost of millions
Sport, arts and culture minister Nathi Mthethwa appointed an administrator outside of the prescribed process, potentially exposing one of the entities under his department to irregular expenditure that will run into millions of rand in an apparent battle with its former CEO.
The National Treasury confirmed to TimesLIVE two weeks ago that Mthethwa’s department had sought direction from it last August on what process to follow to appoint an administrator to look after the National Heritage Council (NHC). Despite this, the minister went ahead and made the appointment outside the correct process.
This was after Mthethwa had removed the council’s board, which had informed him it would not be acting on a whistle-blower report implicating its CEO Sonwabile Mancotywa in procurement malfeasance.
Ten board members had, acting on legal advice, voted not to act on anonymous allegations against Mancotywa that were referred to it by Mthethwa, while three felt it prudent to act. This prompted Mthethwa to disband the board on the grounds it was not united.
Mancotywa resigned soon after the board was removed, paving the way for Mthethwa to appoint Robben Island Museum chairperson Louisa Mabe as administrator, with two assistants, at a combined cost of just under R350,000 per month.
Mthethwa made the appointments despite knowing that, in terms of Treasury prescripts, he was not empowered to appoint an administrator for the NHC.
“Clarity was required by the department of sport, arts and culture pertaining to section 49 (3) of the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA). The department was notified that only the director-general of National Treasury can appoint an administrator in accordance with PFMA section 49(3) if there is no such provision in an entity’s founding legislation,” a Treasury spokesperson said.
“Non-compliance with the PFMA in this instance does not require a reversal, but will result in irregular expenditure from the date of appointment of the administrator until the date the board of the NHC appoints an acting CEO or CEO.”
TimesLIVE was unable to confirm the total value of the potential irregular expenditure created by the appointments as the department has failed to respond to detailed questions sent to it three weeks ago. Mthethwa's spokesperson also failed to respond to questions sent to her.
Using paid internal invoices and salary slips leaked from within the council, TimesLIVE has calculated the expenditure to be in the region of R2.5m. It is comprised of:
- Mabe’s monthly salary of R126,799.25;
- a R105,000 monthly salary for each of the two assistants;
- an average of R30,000 per month for a Mercedes-Benz the council hired for Mabe to use between August and November; and
- between R20,000 and R30,000 for her accommodation.
TimesLIVE also saw payments for flights and accommodation for one of the assistants, who lives in Cape Town, to travel to Pretoria for work for up to four or five days at a time.
Mabe disputed the NHC had incurred irregular expenditure due to her team’s appointment.
“I must also indicate the fact that my stay at the NHC is for a limited period and to assist the institution, therefore I cannot procure my own accommodation,” she said.
“This is the common practice in government. At the time of joining the NHC, I insisted on the NHC procuring cheaper accommodation and the officials made me aware there were limited accommodation places in business due to lockdown regulations. I furthermore implored upon them to negotiate the price, something they were supposed to do without my advice because it is part of their responsibility.”
She said the two assistants were part-time and were used “only when necessary”, but did not reveal how many times they had been used.
“I am not privy to the process the minister [Mthethwa] followed,” she said in relation to her and the assistants’ appointments.
The NHC is a statutory body under the department and is responsible for the preservation of SA’s heritage. Its areas of focus are policy development, public awareness, knowledge production and funding of heritage projects.
Mabe’s appointment is similar to that of former administrator Bongisizwe Mpondo at the Passenger Rail Service of SA (Prasa), which was subsequently declared unlawful and reversed by the Cape Town high court last October.
The saga has also exposed potential abuse of the whistle-blower system at the NHC after a preliminary investigation into allegations, which were e-mailed anonymously to Mthethwa’s office, showed they could have been authored or edited on a computer inside the minister’s office and the NHC itself.
When asked what role she played at the council since Mthethwa appointed a new board there last November, Mabe said she was acting CEO.
However, it seems even that appointment could be flawed as several council employees, who were in the know, alleged the board had not made the appointment.
“Since she has arrived there has been conflict between her and staff, and we think she is trying to become permanent CEO,” said one staff member, who asked not to be named out of fear of victimisation.
Another council staffer said: “They are continuing with this witch hunt and have appointed a company to do a forensic investigation there with no basis at all. In fact, the advert for a company to do that listed a department employee as contact person, and the terms of reference were drawn up there.
“It brings two questions to mind: who will pay for this exercise, and why was the department running this process when we’ve had a board in place since last December?”
Documents out of the council show tremendous tension between the old NHC board and Mthethwa over Mancotywa’s tenure there.
This included the board referring to Mthethwa a cyber report from a forensic IT investigations company it had commissioned to look into two anonymous whistle-blower reports — one implicating Mancotywa and a later one rescinding the same allegations.
In a cruel twist of fate the company, Inovaio, used metadata from both e-mails and found the allegations were initially drafted and edited from a computer inside the minister’s office in Pretoria, while the second whistle-blower came from a machine linked to Mancotywa at the NHC. The report also identified seven laptops belonging to officials in the NHC, the NHC’s board and the department for further investigation, but requests for co-operation were not answered.
These findings were preliminary and the board did not brief the company to do a more comprehensive report which would have checked the ownership of the accounts that sent the e-mails, and video footage from the Postnet outlet where the reports were sent.
The company looked into five different anonymous e-mails sent about Mancotywa in 2020, some of which were sent to non-NHC e-mail addresses of some board members.
Last week Mancotywa said: “His actions of appointing administrators when he had no power to do so speaks to unlawful exercise of power and gross executive overreach, with the end result that me and the staff were terrorised by the minister’s conduct that ultimately led to my resignation. Such acts should not be allowed in a constitutional democracy where ministers act ultra vires [beyond the powers of] the constitution.”