By Chantelle Benjamin

Over the months we’ve been bringing you updates on the investigations into Gauteng Local Government and Housing MEC Humphrey Mmemezi and Speaker Lindiwe Maseko, who both came under fire for alleged misuse of public funds.

The latest is that the province’s integrity commissioner Ralph Mgijima and the provincial privileges and ethics committee have made their findings known, with reports issued on both their cases.

• Read the report on Humphrey Mmemezi here.

• Read the report on Lindiwe Maseko here.

Overhaul of the 23-year-old ministerial handbook and updating members’ interest forms have been urgently recommended by the integrity commissioner and its ethics committee – a warning to other provinces whose MECs might find themselves facing similar inquiries.

Mmemezi resigned as MEC, but retained his seat in the legislature shortly before Mgijima’s findings were made public.

Both the commissioner and the privileges and ethics committee found him guilty of contraventions in terms of the ministerial code of conduct.

Maseko, however, was found not guilty of contravening the ministerial code and of exorbitant or frivolous spending, but poor record-keeping and supply-chain management contraventions were revealed. This led to recommendations that both need to be addressed and overhauled.

The finding regarding Maseko follow Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan’s  warning in his 2012/13 budget speech in February, that sweeping changes were needed in how provinces are run to boost delivery and effective financial management.

Among the issues Gordhan identified was improving financial management capability across national and provincial departments, and the need for stricter oversight of supply chain management processes.

The minister said this lesson had been learnt from government intervention in cash-strapped provinces.

‘Premier must take action’

In their findings on Mmemezi and Maseko, the commissioner and committee chairperson Steward Ngwenya said that the 1989 ministerial handbook needed to be updated to bring it in line with the code of conduct and ethics.

It was also suggested that “unambiguous guidelines” on the usage of state-sponsored credit cards be introduced to bring the code in line with ethics rules and the “intent and spirit” of the Public Finances Management Act.

The privileges and ethics committee has recommended Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane take “appropriate action” to ensure this is done.

Committee chair Ngwenya said that when he presented the report to the legislature in July, “it was not clear who had been allocated sole responsibility to monitor and issue a directive on the usage of a department-issued corporate card”.

It was unclear whether the responsibility fell on the department, or the cardholder.

Both Ngwenya and Mgijima found Mmemezi’s use of the card to be negligent. Among a range of purchases on the MEC’s card was a R10 000 painting for Gauteng’s housing and local government offices.

Mmemezi, in his resignation letter, said that the rules surrounding the use of the card were “ambiguous”. Mmemezi also said he was under the belief he could make use of the card for personal purchases, provided he paid the money back.

This is, in fact, not allowed.

‘Undefined crisis’

The outdated ministerial handbook, and failure to revise the forms for declaring members’ interests, had particular significance for Maseko’s inquiry.

The committee found that updated forms would have avoided the impression that Maseko had failed to declare her directorship of eight companies – at least seven of which were deregistered.

When it came to the charges around exorbitant and frivolous spending on groceries, the committee found that an undefined “crisis” in the Gauteng finance department had led to six months’ worth of stock being bought.

The crisis had to do with no petty cash allocation “for some time in the future”.

Alcohol, while on the original list sent to procurement, was never actually purchased.

The privileges and ethics committee was critical of the record-keeping process, saying “minutes and or decisions made by the project teams during the requisition process should be recorded … where deviations have been applied. It is in instances where deviations have occurred, where there is likelihood for it to come under scrutiny at a later stage”.

It went on to warn that the “supply chain management policy and procedures manual was in need of revision to ensure that they are more specific, unambiguous and clear”.

The committee was unable to find any direct influence by Maseko in the selection of the company to cater for the Gauteng legislature’s opening dinner at the Northgate Dome.

Maseko’s daughter is a director of the catering company.

‘Compliance lax’

Collette Schulz-Herzenberg, a senior Institute of Security Studies researcher working on the conflicts of interest project, found that compliance is lax when it comes to keeping forms updated.

Schulz-Herzenberg also helps maintain a members’ interest list.

She says the only way to improve compliance would be if “the public official knows that he or she faces disciplinary measures for non-compliance”.

“However, in reality, this rarely occurs,” she said.

“Serial offenders are not being dealt with harshly, despite the range of penalties that exist. Registrars and integrity commissioners lament their inability to enforce penalties, which is usually the responsibility of senior political figures such as speakers of parliament, or ethics committee members.”

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Excerpt
The months of waiting are over for news on the “spending sprees” of Gauteng MEC Humphrey Mmemezi and Speaker Lindiwe Maseko. Mmemezi has resigned and was found guilty, while Maseko’s been cleared. And there’s been a stern warning issued on what needs doing to prevent such cases cropping up again.
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