No answers in R1.5m tech probe

TIA board chairman Khugeka Njobe refused to divulge details of the allegations investigated during the forensic probe.
TIA board chairman Khugeka Njobe refused to divulge details of the allegations investigated during the forensic probe.

An investigation into allegations concerning procedural and governance matters at the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) has cost taxpayers an estimated R1.5 million, but answers as to the findings continue to be vague.

In a response to a Parliamentary question, science and technology minister Derek Hanekom on Friday said the investigation was initiated by the board "as part of its fiduciary responsibilities following the receipt of allegations pertaining to problems in respect of corporate governance processes". However, Hanekom said there are no plans to present the report to Parliament and refused to divulge details thereof, saying "it would be inappropriate to comment as this matter is being dealt with internally".

Meanwhile, other role-players are also in the dark on the details of the investigation.

On 18 October, TIA board chairman Khugeka Njobe confirmed to ITWeb that the investigation had been finalised and the findings considered by the board. She said it was decided that an action plan be put in place, but pointed out that the investigation report had not yet been considered by Hanekom.

Njobe also said TIA CEO Simphiwe Duma is still on special leave, pending "finalisation of internal processes". Duma elected to take special leave for the duration of the investigation in order "to give the investigation process space so as to eliminate any potential allegations that there is interference on his side". Njobe refused to divulge details of the allegations against Duma, saying only that the outcome of "a desktop fact-finding" process suggested several of the allegations required further investigation. Whether the investigation proved the allegations to be true, remains unclear.

Njobe could not immediately be reached for comment this morning.

However, Democratic Alliance (DA) MP and shadow minister of science and technology Junita Kloppers-Lourens says she was under the impression that the TIA probe is still ongoing. According to Kloppers-Lourens, when the annual performance plan was presented to the portfolio committee on 9 October, she was told by a representative of the TIA that the investigation will only be concluded by the end of the year. "I haven't been told about the findings being presented to the board or an action plan being implemented," she says.

She emphasised there needs to be clarity on the findings of the probe and the allegations against Duma. "Why did he go on leave? Was he encouraged to do so, was he suspended? The answers we are getting at the moment are very vague."

Agang leader and former TIA chairperson Mamphela Ramphele could also not provide clarity on the probe findings. Allegations against Ramphele reportedly form part of the TIA investigation, allegedly pertaining to a cattle-breeding project by the agency located in her family's village that took place during her tenure.

Ramphele's spokesperson, Adi Mistry-Frost, this morning said Ramphele is awaiting the publication of the investigation findings. "Dr Ramphele's comments regarding the use of taxpayers' money still stand." Ramphele previously questioned the investigation and whether it is an appropriate use of taxpayers' funds.

Agency performance

The latest Portfolio Committee on Science and Technology's budgetary review and recommendation report shows the TIA achieved 28 of its 33 targets (85%) over the last year. The targets not achieved include not opening a new regional office and developing three, instead of five, new technology-based enterprises.

According to the report, the latest auditor-general report noted that an investigation had been launched at the agency into "allegations of nepotism related to appointments and the procurement of goods and services, intimidation, gross violation of the investment decision process, failure of the corporate governance structure and mismanagement of funds and assets".

The report states that the investigation was still ongoing at the date of the audit report and the potential impact on the financial statements could not be determined.

"The committee noted the challenges stemming from the TIA review and subsequent forensic investigations, and resolved to monitor the implementation of the recommendations and follow up on the outcome of the forensic review."

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