Zille faces probe over son's video venture

11 June 2017 - 02:00 By APHIWE DEKLERK

Already embroiled in a fight for her political life over controversial tweets, Helen Zille now faces the threat of an investigation by the public protector.Busisiwe Mkhwebane's office is considering whether to investigate allegations the Western Cape premier put pressure on officials to kick-start her son Paul Maree's business.Copies of e-mails seen by the Sunday Times show the provincial government rushed to ensure that Maree and his business partner, Chris Mills, had the use of 150 new tablets.Former teachers Mills and Maree are partners in Paper Video, which offers video lessons in science subjects. It was started in June 2014, and three months later it approached the Western Cape government to run holiday workshops for matrics.In an e-mail to Brent Gerber, director-general in the premier's office, Augi de Freitas - a chief director at the Centre for e-Innovation, also part of Zille's department - said: "The request for information for the tablets was issued with the shortest advertising timeframe possible and will be evaluated as a matter of urgency ... This is a top priority for the WCED [Western Cape education department] and Ce-I."Gerber forwarded the e-mail to Zille, who replied: "Thanks for all the efforts to get this ready by the holidays, to the benefit of students. That is what Paul and Chris were aiming for and worked day and night for eight weeks to be ready in time. I am keen to encourage that level of dedication wherever it raises its head."She added: "I just want to make it clear, as discussed with [education MEC Debbie Schafer], that these tablets should be available for use by all service providers who provide free services to students."Zille and Schafer insisted this week that nothing untoward happened, saying the tablets were issued to Maree in his capacity as a teacher at the Centre of Science and Technology in Khayelitsha. The premier said Maree and Mills had not started a company at that point and were offering their services for free.However, a report prepared by the directors of Paper Video - the company was registered in February 2015 - says: "The aim [of the workshops] was to jointly test the viability of the Paper Video platform and the use of ... tablets, provided by the WCED, in an educational context."In addition, the workshops were also used as a showcase to create awareness around Paper Video's products and services."In an interview this week, Mills said that, as a start-up, they quickly realised they needed a lot of students to use the resource. But he and Maree were vague about how they went about applying for the education department's help.On Thursday, Schafer said: "I can honestly not recall who exactly was approached and in what order."But at the time, she said, the province was working on its e-learning "game-changer"."One of our priorities is improvement in mathematics. So when Paul Maree said that they wanted to donate their time, expertise and resources to help our matrics of 2014 with their final maths exams, we were eager to enable them to do so."Zille said she was first told about her son's proposal by Gerber."My son would have discussed with me his desire to offer free workshops for matric preparation for disadvantaged schools. For as long as I can remember he has been thinking of ways to spread his teaching to as many disadvantaged learners as possible. He discusses this with me often."Gerber said once the opportunity to assist matriculants was identified, "[Zille] did request that ... we track the delivery of 150 of the tablets ... to be in time for the spring break training of the matriculants".De Freitas said Gerber's replies to Sunday Times questions " cover my response".ANC MPL Cameron Dugmore has laid a complaint with the public protector. He told the Sunday Times: "It's clear that Zille's conduct, and that of her senior officials, boosted her son's business and denied other service providers an opportunity. This amounts to a clear breach of the code of ethics. While there is no evidence at this stage that Paper Video received direct payment from the provincial government, they gained unfair advantage because of nepotism and abuse of normal procurement procedures."Mkhwebane's spokeswoman, Cleopatra Mosana, said no decision had yet been taken to investigate.

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