ICT Indaba probe vindicates Dina Pule

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Communications minister Dina Pule has welcomed a potential Parliamentary probe into the actions of journalists who levelled allegations against her, in relation to the ICT Indaba.
Communications minister Dina Pule has welcomed a potential Parliamentary probe into the actions of journalists who levelled allegations against her, in relation to the ICT Indaba.

An independent forensic investigation has finally put to rest months of controversy surrounding the communications minister, the supposed misuse of millions of rands, and suggestions of a salacious affair that overshadowed the country's inaugural ICT Indaba.

The probe into the actions of Dina Pule and a man alleged to be her lover has cleared both of any wrongdoing related to the indaba, and could also not find any evidence that the two were romantically linked.

The allegations, levelled by the Sunday Times newspaper, surfaced soon after the event, which was held in Cape Town, at the beginning of June.

As a result of the findings, which effectively show the allegations were baseless and even malicious, the forensic report's authors have submitted requests for an investigation into the paper's conduct to both the Public Protector and Parliament's Joint Committee on Ethics and Members' Interests. The latter has indicated the matter would be tabled for consideration at the joint committee's next meeting when Parliament reconvenes next year.

Speaking to ITWeb this week, Pule expressed anger over the entire saga, saying her integrity and good name had been dragged through the mud, while the outcomes of the indaba and work done by her department have been overshadowed and undermined by sensationalist headlines.

"On a personal level, I would love to take action against the Sunday Times, but the stories were written about me in my official capacity. I must, firstly, take into account my responsibilities [as a Cabinet minister] and, secondly, I want to respect the rights of the media to ask questions. It would not help to create animosity between myself and the media.

"However, it is not right for the media to use the Constitution [which protects the right to freedom of speech] to write whatever they want. Society needs to stand up against the abuses of the media, because anyone can become a victim. While the media has the right to freedom of speech, citizens have rights too."

However, Pule did welcome the matter being referred to the Ethics Committee for investigation, saying the Sunday Times' ethics must be questioned. "I would like to see how the Ethics Committee handles this. People must take responsibility for their actions and at some point they have to admit they are wrong."

Pule also expressed anger over the fallout that resulted from the claims, saying she had to defend herself in Parliament, and the media reports prompted the opposition, the Democratic Alliance, to call for an investigation into the matter by the Public Protector.

Shoes and airplanes

Among the claims published were that millions in sponsorship funds were withdrawn from the account of the indaba's event organisers - Carol Bower Productions (CBP) - by Phosane Mngqibisa, whose company, Khemano, was subcontracted for the event by CBP. The publication further alleged a romantic relationship between Mngqibisa and Pule, and that Khemano was subcontracted for the event only as a result of pressure applied by Pule.

In addition, the Sunday Times claimed Phosane used sponsorship money to purchase expensive designer shoes for Pule, while on a trip to Barcelona. The paper claimed that sponsors were "furious" their money had been abused, and subsequently published a photograph of Pule at the opening of the ICT Indaba, wearing red-soled shoes that it identified as the ill-gotten Christian Louboutins.

However, despite claiming that insiders and ICT Indaba organisers were the sources of the story, as well as alluding to a supposed "money trail" in its reports, the Sunday Times has, to date, not produced any evidence to back up the allegations against Pule and Mngqibisa.

Allegations of a romantic link between Pule and Mngqibisa, leading to a conflict of interest, were based on the two having shared 19 flights, over four years. This, the Sunday Times alleged, was indicative of the "closeness" of the two and their conduct in promoting and furthering their romantic aims.

'No evidence'

The "Khemano Report", compiled by independent risk management consultants Pedlar, Compion, Henderson and Associates, has subsequently undermined the Sunday Times' aspersions.

The authors of the report state their methodology was based on the perusal of all allegations, reports, findings and related documents, or information pertaining to the ICT Indaba. They further established the scope of their completed investigations and compared this to the allegations in totality.

In its finding, the report states: "There is no evidence of an improper and/or romantic relationship between Khemano's Phosane Mngqibisa and the minister of communications. On the contrary, evidence presented by the Sunday Times, the 19 flights allegedly shared, under close scrutiny indicates a strictly impersonal, professional history and interaction."

Dissecting the paper's claims of shared flights between the two, the report concludes that Pule and Mngqibisa shared no flights in three of the four years in question, and only shared flights in total spanning one-and-a-half years. These occurred in the six months leading up to the World Cup and in the six month-period during the planning and implementation phases of the ICT Indaba.

"There is no available material proof of any romantic link between the two. There is no material evidence of a conflict of interest," the report notes.

Furthermore, referring to the allegation that there was undue pressure brought to bear on CBP, the report finds that Carol Bower Productions disputed this "aggressively" in writing.

Addressing the allegation of whether Mngqibisa bought the controversial Christian Louboutin shoes using sponsor's money, the investigation found: "There is no physical evidence regarding this allegation. There is one receipt for this type of shoe, which we accept as bona fide, the date which corresponds with the dates mentioned in the Sunday Times; however, this receipt is not [from] Barcelona, it is Geneva and it clearly states men's shoes (homme)."

The Sunday Times initially quoted CBP spokesman Victor Dlamini as the source of the allegations that the shoes were bought by Mngqibisa with sponsors' money. However, Dlamini subsequently vehemently denied this, saying: "I don't know why they don't just say they're writing fiction. They just made it up. It's pure fiction. I don't know if he bought shoes with sponsorship money. He has his own personal money so how do we determine which money he used? I'm not a sangoma. I can't guess which money someone has used."

In regard to claims that millions of rand in sponsorship money went missing, the report concludes that "no substantive, factual material evidence could be found to support this allegation".

ITWeb can also confirm that, when questioned, none of the three sponsors stand by the allegations of fraud and embezzlement, and have indicated the money was used for services contractually agreed on.

An earlier investigation by the auditor-general also found no wrongdoing on the part of the minister, or any other DOC officials.

The Sunday Times defended its allegations in a detailed response to an ITWeb article that was published in September.

Disclaimer: ITWeb was one of several media partners for the ICT Indaba.

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15 Aug
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