An “independent forensic investigation” that reportedly “vindicates” communications minister Dina Pule over the controversial ICT Indaba was commissioned and paid for by Phosane Mngqibisa, the minister’s alleged romantic partner who newspaper reports have suggested looted part of the R36m in sponsorship cash for the event.
ITWeb, an online news site, reported on Tuesday that the “Khemano report”, compiled by “independent risk management consultants” Pedlar, Compion, Henderson and Associates, undermined the “aspersions” (ITWeb’s word) cast on Pule by reports in the Sunday Times. The newspaper alleged in an expose earlier this year that Mngqibisa had benefited financially from the ICT Indaba, which was held in Cape Town in June.
According to the Sunday Times, Mngqibisa’s company, Khemano, was hired by Carol Bouwer Productions to help stage the event. The newspaper alleged that the money was then used by Mngqibisa, among other things, to buy an expensive pair of Christian Louboutin shoes for the minister, a charge he has strenuously denied.
Bart Henderson, one of the three partners in the company that conducted the investigation, has moved quickly to defend the report, saying it can still be considered independent, despite being commissioned and paid for by Mngqibisa. “This does not create a conflict of interest,” he tells TechCentral via e-mail. “A client, any client commissioning a report of this nature, cannot expect that practitioners in this field will either manufacture, misrepresent, manipulate or construct evidence and/or information to either protect or vindicate them. That would be highly unethical and/or illegal in most instances.”
However, Democratic Alliance MP and communications spokesman Marian Shinn has dismissed the Pedlar, Compion, Henderson and Associates report as a an attempted “whitewash” and “another smokescreen”. Shinn says independent investigations by the public protector and parliament’s joint committee on ethics and members’ interests must be allowed to run their course. The minister is “not exonerated until the public protector has reported and indicated whether further action is required”, she says.
In addition, Shinn says the fact that the report was commissioned and paid for by Mngqibisa “underscores tremendously the lack of credibility in this investigation”.
“The whole purpose of the public protector’s investigation is to investigate the relationship between Pule and Mngqibisa and whether he, and therefore indirectly her, benefited from this arrangement,” she says. “Having the main subject of this particular investigation pay for it just shows the whole thing to be totally worthless.”
Pule’s spokesman, Siya Qoza, won’t comment on the report or the fact that it was commissioned by Mngqibisa. “We are not going to comment on a report that is not ours,” he says.
News of the Mngqibisa-funded report comes after the deputy press ombudsman found in favour of the Sunday Times following a complaint lodged against the newspaper on Mngqibisa’s behalf. The complaint said the newspaper had “illegally obtained” information about his travel arrangements from a department of communications official and had “ascribed wrongdoing to him for having undertaken business trips as a part of the business delegation of the government and for falsely imputing the coincidence of his travel with the alleged accusation of romance”.
However, the ombudsman, who this week dismissed the complaint, found that the newspaper was justified in its reporting about Mngqibisa’s travel arrangements and in reaching the conclusion that he was in a romantic relationship with the minister of communications.
Meanwhile, the timing of the publication of the details about the report — which TechCentral has not seen — is likely to raise further questions given that it comes just days before the ANC kicks off its elective conference in Mangaung in the Free State. Widespread speculation in the telecommunications industry, which TechCentral has been unable to firm up, is that President Jacob Zuma wants to redeploy Pule. If this is the case, sources say party political changes after Mangaung may make it easier for him to act against her.
For his part, Henderson says he and his partners are “sufficiently confident” that their report is “above reproach and highly accurate”. He says that all three partners in the business — himself, Juan-Pierre Compion and Peter Pedlar — have track records in South Africa and in the rest of the continent in the fields of fraud risk management and anti-corruption that “you will have to get very far in any organisation to parallel, never mind beat”.
“It is our express view — and we invite anyone to challenge our findings — that the evidence against the minister, Khemano and others is based on hearsay, third-party information and extremely circumstantial evidence,” Henderson says. “At the forefront of our determination was the objective of establishing whether any allegations or evidence could satisfy the burden of proof to sustain either a civil or criminal case. It is our collective view that fortunately or unfortunately, depending on which side you stand, the evidence such as that which exists will not satisfy the burden required in either a civil or criminal case.
“In fact, it is our view that the ‘evidence’ presented and the manner in which it was constructed is appalling.” — (c) 2012 NewsCentral Media