It is to Limpopo we go for our zero of the week: former MEC for health and social services Miriam Segabutla is out on bail following her arrest in March by the Hawks for tender fraud amounting to R15-million.

It has been alleged that while she was MEC, Segabutla awarded department tenders to companies that were closely linked to her. Her arrest last month came after an investigation by the public protector into her dodgy dealings. For her unethical conduct and abuse of her position, Segabutla earns the title of Corruption Watch’s zero of the week.

In a report titled Befuddled Interests, Thuli Madonsela, the public protector, found that Segabutla exposed herself to situations involving the risk of a conflict between her official responsibilities and private interests and that the former MEC acted in an undesirable manner with respect to the position that she held and that it was not in the best interests of her department.

The complaint

In June 2010, the Forum of Limpopo Entrepreneurs (Fole) lodged a complaint with the Office of the Public Protector, stating that Segabutla had allegedly awarded a tender worth more than R7-million to her personal lawyer, Mr G Van der Merwe, without advertising the tender. It was also claimed that she awarded another department tender, worth more than R8-million to a “relative”, Jonny Lucas.

In a letter to Madonsela, Segabutla denied the allegations and any involvement with Lucas and Van der Merwe other than in her official capacity. She wrote:

“I hereby declare that I have not influenced the awarding of the two companies Tsepo Consulting (PTY) LTD and Trispen Solutions (PTY) LTD and the allegations by FOLE are false and misleading. According to my knowledge all procurement procedures were followed when awarding of the above mentioned contracts.”

But in her investigation, Madonsela found that Segabutla had become familiar with Lucas, of Tsepo Consulting, while he was rendering services for her department, and that she often asked Lucas to deliver packages to her daughter in Pretoria. She listed Lucas as “uncle” on her daughter’s school visitors’ form and confessed to the public protector that she trusted him.

Segabutla admitted that she had met Van der Merwe when he was rendering services to Trispen Solutions, which was at the time conducting forensic investigations at her department. Van der Merwe confirmed that he was also acting on behalf of the MEC in a personal capacity when he was requested by Segabutla to represent her in a divorce matter.

The findings

The public protector’s general findings:

  1. By virtue of her position as the Limpopo MEC for health and social development, it was expected of Segabutla to act in the best interests of her department and in an appropriate manner that is consistent with her position.
  2. By requesting Mr Lucas to visit her daughter at school and indicating to the school that he is a relative, Segabutla created the perception that Lucas is related to her or is a close family friend.
  3. As Lucas is the sole director of Tsepo Consulting, who was involved in a contract worth millions with the department at the time, Segabutla further created the perception that Lucas had been favoured in the selection process, due to his close relationship with her.
  4. The interaction between the MEC and Lucas in connection with her daughter, constituted a conflict between her official responsibilities as MEC and her personal interests.
  5. Segabutla briefed Van der Merwe to act as her attorney in a private divorce matter while she was fully aware that at the time he was also involved in a forensic investigation that was conducted for the department by Trispen Solutions.
  6. Under the circumstances, the MEC created the perception that Van der Merwe became involved in the contract between the department and Trispen Solutions because he was her attorney that he was therefore favoured in the selection process.
  7. Instructing Van der Merwe to represent her in a private matter at a time when he was also involved in providing a service to the department, created a conflict between the MEC’s personal interests and her official responsibilities.

The actions against Segabutla

In a controversial cabinet reshuffle in 2011, President Jacob Zuma appointed Segabutla as South Africa’s ambassador to Cuba. Because she was no longer a member of the Executive Council of Limpopo Province, no action could be taken against her by the premier or the provincial legislature following Madonsela’s report. But the public protector recommended that the president reprimand Segabutla for her unethical conduct and advise her how to conduct herself in the future.

At the ANC’s conference in Mangaung in December 2012, Segabutla was appointed to the party’s National Executive Committee. But following her arrest, ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu said that the ANC had called on Segabutla to not participate in any party structures. “Those who are facing serious criminal charges should on their own volition … step aside from participating in any ANC leadership positions and occupying public office pending the outcome of the court proceedings,” said Mthembu.

On Wednesday, 3 April, ANC secretary-general, Gwede Mantashe, said the ANC’s top leaders were still processing the information regarding charges of fraud against Segabutla and that the leaders were contemplating how to deal with the situation further.

The Hawks maintain that they will convict Segabutla and her co-accused. The case was postponed to July.

A former Limpopo MEC has been arrested for tender fraud stemming from her time as head of the province’s health and social services department. The public protector also found she had acted undesirably.
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