The acting manager of the Roodeplaat Dam Nature Reserve outside Pretoria has been suspended by the Gauteng Department of Infrastructure Development (GDID) for using government land to run a private business without authorisation.

Roodeplaat is a well-known destination for bird watching, game viewing and a range of water sports including fresh water angling.

In the suspension letter seen by Corruption Watch, the GDID said their employee Debbie Joubert erected shacks at the nature reserve, rented them out to her employees and competed directly with the department by channelling visitors to a private resort called Angling Grounds, which is run by her husband’s company.

The nature reserve has two demarcations, a northern and southern side which fall under Debbie as the GDID’s acting manager of the entire reserve.

The southern side of the reserve caters for birding and wildlife enthusiasts while the northern side caters for recreational activities such as camping and fishing.

The department said on 10 March that it is conducting a forensic investigation into various activities at Roodeplaat Dam Nature Reserve, and has suspended the employee who is facing charges for abusing her position as a public official for private gain.

GDID spokesperson Ramona Baijnath said on finalisation of the investigation, the employee would face a disciplinary hearing.

Not guilty

When Corruption Watch met with the Jouberts in early April, Debbie denied that she was involved in the running of the private resort, which she said was run by Angling Grounds – according to her, a company solely owned by Gideon Joubert, her husband.

She said her husband had a valid lease agreement with the department of public works – the original caretaker of the nature reserve before it moved under the GDID – to rent the land and use it for private business purposes.

“I work for the department on a full-time basis so where would I find the time to run a business?” she said.

The charges against her were not valid, she said, because she never erected shacks or hired people to work at the nature reserve. “My husband pays the workers of his company out of his own pocket. He runs and manages the business.”

However, a Corruption Watch investigation, started after an anonymous tip-off, casts doubt over Debbie’s version.

Our investigation revealed that:

  • Debbie Joubert’s name appears on Angling Grounds salary payslips to the workers of this private company;
  • Her cell phone number appears on the private company’s advertising board;
  • Angling Grounds is not registered as a business entity with the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission;
  • Angling Grounds employs seven workers, five on a full-time basis and the other two as temporary workers;
  • The Angling Grounds workers are paid a monthly wage of less than R3 000 in cash;
  • The Jouberts appear to deduct money from the workers’ salaries for the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) and accommodation. However, these UIF contributions are not paid to the Department of Labour.

Corruption Watch wrote a letter on 12 March 2014 to the GDID to alert the department to the apparent exploitation of public resources for private gain.

Corruption Watch and the GDID were set to meet to discuss the matter on 11 April, but on 2 April the GDID suspended Debbie through a formal letter, a result Corruption Watch welcomes.

We will continue to follow up with the GDID on the status of the disciplinary process, as well as any criminal processes that may be initiated.

Busted by their employees

When Corruption Watch visited Roodeplaat Dam, we spoke to several workers who confirmed that they were employed by the Jouberts to do various tasks around the premises, including collecting entrance fees from visitors and providing security.

They told Corruption Watch that the resort is fully functional with visitors going there on a daily basis to fish or camp with their families and friends.

“Customers who come to the resort for fishing purposes are being re-directed from the official GDID entrance to the side where Debbie and her husband are operating,” said one of the workers.

Another worker who has been working for the couple since 2008 said all the money collected at the gate is handed over to Debbie and Gideon at the end of each day. “They come around in the afternoons to collect the money,” he said.

This case illustrates a clear violation of the Code of Conduct for Public Servants, which prohibits a public official from engaging in any transaction or action that conflicts with or infringes on the execution of his or her official duties.

The Roodeplaat Dam case in pictures:

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Excerpt
A senior public official at the Gauteng Department of Infrastructure Development, managing the Roodeplaat Dam Nature Reserve, north of Pretoria, was suspended after a Corruption Watch investigation found she was using government land to run a private resort without authorisation.