By Lorraine Louw
Three days after launch, on 29 January, an anonymous whistleblower from the North West Education Department sent a tip off, rife with allegations of corruption and nepotism.
Corruption Watch followed up the story and sent the information to The Sowetan newspaper, which also investigated. Read the article here.
We can now report that the official at the centre of the scandal has been suspended pending an investigation, and his wife has been placed in temporary employment. The education MEC, Louisa Mabe, confirmed the suspension of the acting superintendent, Dr Abe Seakamela, who was put on precautionary suspension pending allegations of, among others, nepotism, on 30 August.
Bayanda Zenzile, the acting departmental spokesperson, said the investigation was ongoing. It was being conducted “by an appointed service provider”, she said, and its completion would depend on the investigation itself. “The department cannot pre-empt the next steps [of] the investigation as it is subjected on the outcome of the findings, only then can recommendations be made. Regarding his wife, Mphoentle Mogotsi, the case of salary hikes is part what is being investigated and she is now placed in another office, yet at the same position.”
It is not the only investigation into the matter. Oupa Segalwe, the manager: outreach, education and communication in the Office of the Public Protector, said: “I confirm that the investigation is ongoing and the public protector, with the assistance of her North West office, is investigating. It is difficult to tell when it is likely to be completed and we cannot pre-empt the investigation by pronouncing prematurely on steps to be taken.”
How the story unfolded
Mphoentle Mogotsi-Seakamela was earning R92 190 as a schoolteacher in 2005 when her lover, Abe Seakamela, employed her as his personal assistant. As the acting superintendent, he promoted her five months later, raising her salary to R174,981. It was one of several irregular promotions, with Mogotsi-Seakamela eventually earning R454 356 as deputy director. She was also paid a supervisor’s bonus of R26 461 in 2006. The Seakamelas were married in 2009.
When she was appointed MEC, Mabe started an investigation. Seakamela initially dismissed the allegations of maladministration and nepotism, saying they were a witch-hunt. “All matters relating to salary adjustments and other remuneration were in accordance with the prescripts of the law,” he said.
The matter was investigated internally in 2005 and externally by the then MEC, Johannes Tselapedi. Mabe’s predecessor, Raymond Elisha, then ordered an investigation. It found:
• There was no supervisor post in the deputy director-general’s office – Seakamela’s office – where Mogotsi-Seakamela was based. Given this, her appointment and the payment of the acting allowance were irregular.
• Mogotsi-Seakamela moved to line function and support in 2006, where she has remained. Her salary rose from R175 981 to R454 356, placing her at the deputy director’s level. There were numerous extraordinary adjustments to her salary.
• Despite a policy directive that relatives of employees may not be employed in posts under direct supervision of their relative, whether by blood or marriage, Mogotsi-Seakamela was in a post under direct supervision of her husband.
After the story surfaced, Seakamela moved his wife to a different post in June. But Mabe reinstated her. In July the Education Department spokesperson, Gershwin Chuenyane, explained the move, saying: “The MEC has ordered her back to her position because she is still studying all the allegations of impropriety in the department.”
Mabe added: “Instead of giving me the opportunity to deal with the matter, he [Seakamela] then transferred his wife to another position that would further benefit her and this was done without my approval … I was forced to reverse the decision.”
Seakamela said Tselapedi’s external report was submitted to the Office of the Public Protector, “who laid the matter to rest”. But this appears not to be the case, with Segalwe confirming an investigation was ongoing.
A rotten department
Meanwhile, Tselapedi and four other people appeared in court for alleged tender fraud, it was reported on 19 August. Tselapedi, former provincial education department head Nathanzima Mweli, his successor Charles Raseala, doctor-turned-motivational speaker John Tibane and his wife Ruth, appeared on 17 August and would be back in the Molopo Regional Court on 12 October.
A decision on whether they would face an additional charge of racketeering would be made before then, North West National Prosecuting Authority spokesperson Frank Lesenyego said. The charges relate to several tenders worth R13m, allegedly awarded without proper procedure having been followed. They initially appeared in court on 20 December, and were granted bail – Tselapedi of R250 000.
A probe started after a report from one of our first whistleblowers has led to the suspension of an education department superintendent pending an official investigation.