By ZINGISA MVUMVU and SIKHO NTSHOBANE
Eastern Cape premier Phumulo Masualle has welcomed public protector Busi Mkhwebane’s report into the provincial government’s abuse of millions meant to be spent on Nelson Mandela’s funeral in 2013.
He likened the issue to a “black cloud” that had been hanging over the province for some time.
Mkhwebane released a damning report on Monday which implicated senior Eastern Cape officials in the swindling of millions of rands earmarked for the late statesman’s funeral.
The Daily Dispatch reported yesterday that Mkhwebane wanted President Jacob Zuma to task the Hawks’ serious commercial crimes unit with investigating all those implicated.
Speaking to the media from the sidelines of an event to commemorate the fourth anniversary of Mandela’s passing on December 5 2013, held at the Nelson Mandela Museum in Mthatha yesterday, Masualle said they were happy the report had finally been released.
“We have been waiting since 2014,” he said. “We will look into it, scrutinise it and check what recommendations have been put forward. We will look into the remedial actions that have been prescribed.”
Masualle also pointed out that while there was talk of R300-million being diverted this was factually incorrect as that was the total amount allocated towards funeral arrangements and only R22-million of that amount had been used.
“It’s not that all that happened was bad but there were elements of it that were bad.”
The UDM in the Eastern Cape has called for Masualle to axe the provincial government director-general (DG) Marion Mbina-Mthembu for the damning findings against her in the report.
Mbina-Mthembu was pointed out by Mkhwebane for having “misdirected” the provincial government in 2013 into diverting about R300-million of taxpayers money to the Eastern Cape Development Corporation (ECDC).
The money transferred from government coffers was meant for social infrastructure, but at Mbina-Mthembu’s advice, the provincial government transferred it to ECDC for preparation of Mandela’s funeral exactly four years ago.
The Public Service Accountability Monitor (PSAM), although acknowledging Mbina-Mthembu’s centrality in the saga, is of the view that she should not be used as a scapegoat to shield politicians who might have had a hand in the abuse of funds.
But Eastern Cape UDM leader Thando Mpulu believes that Masualle’s immediate reaction to the report should be to fire Mbina-Mthembu.
“Only through premier Masualle’s firm action by releasing the DG will [we] know whether or not the premier himself was complicit because if he does not act it sends a message that he was complicit,” said Mpulu of Masualle, who at the time of Mandela’s funeral preparation was provincial treasury MEC while Mbina-Mthembu was head of the department.
PSAM director Jay Kruuse, however says it was highly unlikely that Mbina-Mthembu would have wielded so much power that everything that was done wrong could only be her fault.
“The public protector has made some strong and necessary findings centred on what I call poor planning and implementation by our government, and it would seem as we see with Ms Mbina-Mthembu that in the main the report implicates public servants,” said Kruuse.
“However, it is important to note that public servants would have taken instructions from their powerful politicians therefore I dare say that national government and the provincial executive council at the time should carry part of the blame.”
The ANC in the province has in the meantime called on the NPA, the Hawks and Masualle to act as per the recommendations in the report.
“Our view is consistent with our long-standing campaign against corruption, fraud, wasteful expenditure and mismanagement of public funds and we strongly call for tough action to be taken against anyone found to have been involved in such conduct,” said ANC provincial secretary Lulama Ngcukayitobi.
In a statement sent to the Daily Dispatch yesterday, OR Tambo district municipality spokesman Ayongezwa Lungisa said although they would comply with the report and its contents, “we also wish to state that there are matters that we shall seek clarity on from the public protector”.