By Kwazi Dlamini
A unique set of events played out in two Free State courts last week, with one local municipality right at the centre of it. The chief financial officer (CFO) of Nketoana Municipality, Xolani Malindi, made his first court appearance on 8 December, facing fraud charges, while former CFO Vincent Mkhefa was on the previous day sentenced to eight years in prison for fraud and money laundering.
Malindi appeared before the Reitz Magistrates Court, while Mkhefa and two co-accused appeared before the Bethlehem Commercial Crimes Court.
The charges against Mkhefa, former Nketoane mayor Mandla Mlaba and service provider Caroline Nketu emanate from 2011, when a whistle-blower reported allegations of tender corruption over a project that was to facilitate the installation of playground equipment at the municipality’s parks. As a result of the actions of the three, the municipality lost a total of R364 000, paid to Nketu for work not done. As CFO, Mkhefa made payments of R165 600 and R198 500 on separate occasions to Nketu, who then made two further payments to Mlaba of R1 000 each, also on separate occasions.
They were only arrested in 2019, and after Mkhefa had moved on from Nketoana and gone on to occupy the same position at two other municipalities, namely Westonaria in Gauteng and later Bitou in the Western Cape. His last stint as CFO was with the Knysna Municipality, also in the Western Cape.
Mkhefa first caught the interest of Corruption Watch (CW) through the whistle-blower report which alleged that he was involved in the awarding of tenders to friends whose companies were not even on the Bitou municipality database. The whistle-blower could not prove the allegations, but after some digging CW found that an investigation into a number of employees of Bitou had revealed that Mkhefa had failed to declare his private business interests upon being appointed.
The whistle-blower had further accused Mkhefa of awarding tenders to Sakhingomso, a company in which the latter is a director.
The same was found by CW to have been alleged during Mkhefa’s term at Westonaria, where, together with the municipal manager at the time, he was fingered in irregular expenditure incurred during the 2016/17 financial year. Westonaria’s Municipal Public Accounts Committee (MPAC) recommended that criminal charges be laid against Mkhefa for not disclosing his directorship of Sakhingomso, which was at the time doing business with the municipality. The MPAC report alleged that Sakhingomso pocketed over R500 000 in irregular contracts from Westonaria.
Allegations against Mkhefa at both Westonaria and Nketoana are public knowledge, but his former boss at Bitou, municipal manager Lonwabo Ngoqo, was reported to have told local newspaper Knysna-Plett Herald in August 2019 that he would only act against Mkhefa if he were to be found guilty by the court. According to a statement by the municipality, Mkhefa subsequently left the CFO position at Bitou in 2020 for another opportunity in Gauteng.
Malindi’s case, on the other hand, is that of qualification fraud. He had applied for the position of municipal manager at Nketoana, advertised in 2020, and it was discovered during the shortlisting phase that he may have attached a fraudulent qualification document. The matter was reported to the Hawks, and he made his first appearance before the Reitz Magistrates Court on 8 December.