How Cwele 'protected' Dina Pule's pals

02 August 2015 - 02:00 By MZILIKAZI wa AFRIKA, STEPHAN HOFSTATTER and PIET RAMPEDI

Telecommunications Minister Siyabonga Cwele stands accused of protecting two senior officials who lied to parliament to help his predecessor, Dina Pule, and who rigged a R756-million tender to go to a company owned by an alleged crony of hers. Internal disciplinary hearings recommended that Themba Phiri, deputy director-general for ICT policy and strategy, and Sam Vilakazi, who was deputy director-general of administration, should be fired for several offences they were found guilty of last month.The hearings heard damning evidence against Phiri and Vilakazi from Special Investigating Unit officials who probed the R756-million contract irregularly awarded to Media Corner. The company belongs to Nhlanhla and Denise Dakile, who are believed to be relatives of Pule's boyfriend, Phosane Mngqibisa.The contract was to publicise the department's digital migration programme. The department has gone to court to set aside Media Corner's contract after it was paid R44-million in what the auditor-general deemed was irregular expenditure.According to internal correspondence, transcripts of their disciplinary hearings and SIU affidavits obtained by the Sunday Times, the offences Phiri and Vilakazi were found guilty of included:Lying to parliament about how Pule gave dodgy deals to Mngqibisa and flew around the world with him at taxpayers' expense;Rigging the digital migration tender to ensure it went to Media Corner at about R756-million, even though advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather offered to do a more comprehensive job for R295-million;Approving millions in retainer fees paid to Media Corner based on payments to another agency that denied doing any of the work; andBullying the SABC into appointing Mngqibisa's crony Gugu Duda as chief financial officer.mini_story_image_hleft1Despite these findings and the recommendation by an independent chairman of the hearings that the officials should be fired, Cwele has accepted Vilakazi's resignation, which has allowed him to take another cushy government job.According to an external legal opinion for the department, Cwele's actions violated the Public Service Act and regulations. The legal opinion states a minister cannot accept the resignation of an employee facing "misconduct allegations".Vilakazi wrote a resignation letter to Cwele on July 7, offering to meet the minister to discuss the "unfair and unlawful disciplinary processes". On July 23 - two days after Vilakazi was found guilty of all charges - Cwele signed acceptance of his resignation letter "after the meeting with you this morning".Phiri resigned on the day he decided not to continue attending his disciplinary hearings when it became clear he would be fired. Cwele refused to accept his resignation.Last month Phiri was found guilty and fired while Cwele was abroad.Cwele, through his spokesman, Siya Qoza, denied he had played any role in protecting the officials. "The minister was never involved in the disciplinary processes of the department but was concerned about allegations of procedural irregularities. He advised the department accordingly," he said. Cwele did not respond to detailed questions.Vilakazi said this week he had been subjected to a "kangaroo court" to purge him and others from the department, but declined to comment on specific findings against him.mini_story_image_hright2"I will not accept those so-called findings. I call it b*******," he said. "This was nothing but a witch-hunt. You know the minister's views on these things. I parted on amicable terms with the minister, who has accepted my resignation."He confirmed he had accepted a post at another state-owned entity but declined to divulge details.Phiri claimed this week he had been denied the opportunity to state his case at the hearing.However, transcripts of the hearings contradict this and reveal that the chairman had become exasperated with Phiri's constant delaying tactics and ruled that it proceed with or without his lawyer. Phiri then chose not to attend.Phiri declined to be interviewed this week to state his case. "You have confidential information about an internal process, [therefore] I cannot engage with you any further," he said before cutting the call.The Dakiles didn't respond to requests for comment.sub_head_start How a freeloader used lover Dina to make a quick buck sub_head_endThe deal went down one Saturday at the Palazzo Hotel in Montecasino, Johannesburg.That night, on November 18 2011, Phiri, close confidant of Pule had arranged to meet socialite Carol Bouwer to discuss her brainchild to host a telecoms indaba.Halfway through their meeting, Pule's Mngqibisa, pitched up.The former ANC Youth League member was later described at a parliamentary ethics committee hearing as a bogus businessman and freeloader trading on his girlfriend's connections to make a quick buck.Phiri painted a different picture. He told Bouwer that Mngqibisa was just the man she needed to partner with if she wanted to get her ICT indaba off the ground. She understood this to mean that without Mngqibisa, she would forfeit government backing - and reluctantly agreed.mini_story_image_hright4This later translated into Pule leaning on telecoms giants to sponsor the event for tens of millions of rand and chipping in another R10-million from her own department - with her boyfriend skimming off a handsome R6-million "management fee" for himself and using sponsors' money to pay another company to do his job.In disciplinary hearings that led to Phiri being fired, Vilakazi, quitting last month, witnesses stripped away the web of lies spun by Pule and her circle of cronies.The witnesses included ANC stalwart and ethics committee chair Ben Turok. He said the Montecasino meeting was orchestrated by Phiri and launched Mngqibisa's career."Mr Mngqibisa gained something like R6-million and became an established businessman through a connection with minister Pule."Transcripts of the hearings show Turok outlined how Mngqibisa swanned around the world with Pule, at taxpayers' expense, attending conferences in Monterey, Kuala Lumpur, New York, Washington, Paris and Prague while passing himself off as a telecoms expert.There was no evidence Mngqibisa had ever made presentations or served in any official capacity at these functions. "It was clear that his travelling to Monterey with the minister was purely social. Clearly, from all the evidence, he's a very small businessman, if at all, and certainly no expert. The minister and Mr Phiri did not give us evidence that this man was anything other than bogus, who was in for a quick buck, and who was actually pushing out Ms Bouwer, who has a long track record doing exhibitions."mini_story_image_hleft3Citing evidence including plane tickets, hotel bills, official travel forms and sworn statements, Turok demonstrated how Mngqibisa and Pule had lied to parliament about their relationship and trips, and Phiri and Vilakazi had colluded to cover up for them."We found they all lied, and we suspected collusion in advance," he said. "They were rehearsed, and came with similar stories. They were very evasive and dishonest."At the hearing, Turok also revealed Pule had confessed to public protector Thuli Madonsela that she was romantically involved with Mngqibisa - after the minister had denied this publicly and to the ethics committee.Another witness, director-general Rosey Sekese, detailed how Phiri had sent the CV of Gugu Duda, a crony of Mngqibisa's, to the SABC for the post of chief financial officer even though she had not applied and long after the recruitment process had closed.Sekese said Phiri and Vilakazi had "failed to ensure there was value for money" in awarding the digital migration publicity contract to Media Corner at an estimated cost of R756-million, when advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather would have done the job for less than R300-million"Their conduct prejudiced the department ... as we eventually had to approach the court to set aside the contract. "Phiri and Vilakazi claimed they had been subjected to a kangaroo court without getting a chance to state their case, but declined to answer questions on the findings.investigations@sundaytimes.co.za..

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