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The Sunday Times responds

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Following comments made by communications minister Dina Pule, in ITWeb's article Dina Pule speaks out, the Sunday Times investigation team responds:

On the relationship between Dina Pule and Phosane Mngqibisa

We first heard about this relationship from a well-placed source. Obviously, given the fact that Mr Mngqibisa had signing rights to Carol Bouwer's account that handled the ICT Indaba money, this was serious. We verified this relationship with a number of other sources, including senior ANC sources, government sources and business sources, who all said this was indeed the case. We obviously then put this claim to Pule, who dodged the question. In fact, she has never answered this question. Equally, Mr Mngqibisa also refused to discuss this, saying "I prefer to keep my private personal life private".

Now, the easiest thing to do, if there was no relationship, would be for them to say "there is no relationship" - but they have both pointedly refused to do so, despite repeated e-mails and calls to get them to clarify this. In fact, if ITWeb have actually managed to get Dina Pule on record actually denying this relationship, it would be something of a scoop, as she has point blank refused to discuss it. From what you said, Pule only denied that there was a "conflict of interest" based on this relationship - but did she actually deny a relationship existed?

All along, we've said to her, please deny it if it isn't true, but neither she nor Mngqibisa have denied it. Besides the numerous eyewitness accounts, and the claim that he was registered on the DOC database as her travel partner (a claim she did not respond to, when we put it to her), we also published a story last week showing that they went on 19 trips together overseas in the last four years. Pule herself is being investigated by Parliament's ethics committee, and if you speak to members of that committee, you'll see that she has given unsatisfactory answers about her relationship to Mngqibisa. So, if you now have some clear denial of the relationship, it would clearly advance the story.

The Louboutin shoes

I'm not sure if you saw the story a few weeks ago - but it is not our claim that the Christian Louboutin shoes were bought using sponsor's money, it is the testimony of Carol Bouwer, who ran the indaba and whose account was used to pay for it. She said - as detailed in the story two weeks ago - that Mngqibisa had withdrawn R100 000 from her account to travel to Barcelona, where the shoes were bought. The invoice was then submitted to her to pay.

She said: “I am not sure why the shoes were bought but I recall an incident where I was told the wrong invoices were submitted.” ITWeb, subsequently, quoted Victor Dlamini as saying this wasn't true, but as you might have seen, Bouwer herself confirmed she said this, and asked it be attributed to Dlamini. Dlamini is no longer working with Bouwer. Mngqibisa said the shoes were for him, but couldn't provide the invoice despite us giving him a number of weeks to do this. So the fact that shoes were bought has in fact been confirmed by a number of people.

The money trail

You mentioned that no wrongdoing was found on Pule's behalf by the AG. This is a line credulously printed by other publications, but the truth is, as you would have seen if you looked at the AG's own documents, [auditor-general Terence] Nombembe never looked at either the relationship between her and Mngqibisa, nor what happened to the sponsors' cash after being deposited in Bouwer's account. His letter clearly said “a review of the role of the minister, the spending of funds by the event organiser, and the basis on which money was contributed by other institutions was explicitly excluded from the scope”.

Instead, the AG only looked at whether the right procedures were followed in the department's own R10 million contribution. So to say this “clears” her is just fanciful.

Secondly, the money trail is something we have elaborated on in the stories, and plan to do more so in future. As you might have seen, the full audited financials have not been released by anyone, so not only should that contain the full story, but to say anyone has been “cleared” before the full financial reconciliation looks suspect at best, or a desperate attempt to spin the story.

Ethics

Please could you explain how we did not act ethically, so we can respond to that? It is unclear, from what Pule apparently said, how this could be so?

Is it that we published a story saying that Gugu Mtshali was implicated in a bid to solicit a R104 million bribe, when the PP [public protector] said she wasn't guilty? If so, as we clearly stated, she was implicated, because she was at the meeting when the bribe was discussed. So if that's Pule's claim, it very evidently holds no water.

Secondly, there is no “huge disparity” between the two transcripts. In the first version that we relied on, Joe Boweni tells the meeting that he is an advisor to Mtshali, and she says, “no, Joe will be instructing”. In the accurate version, she says “no, hey man Joe, come on”. Both are efforts to distance herself, and Joe then reiterates, in both versions, that he “will take instructions from her (Mtshali)” and also “what my leader says... I will do”.

So, as for this huge disparity, it doesn't change the fact that Mtshali was at the meeting, it doesn't change the fact she tries to distance herself, and it doesn't change the fact that Boweni reiterates that he is acting for her. Anyway, we acknowledged that the initial transcript we relied on was incorrect on this score, so how does this translate into an ethical breach?

The only way this can be so, is if Pule believes we actively colluded to present the wrong version, and that somehow the sources in the Mtshali story are the same ones in her story. Which they weren't. So that particular conspiracy story is botched logic, at best.

The bottom line is that we are not the “source” on this story, we are the messenger. It is not “us versus Dina”. As you know, the job of journalists is to act as a watchdog against abuses of power. In contrast, it's the easiest thing to just print some politician's bald denial. But where claims of abuses are put forward by sources and whistle-blowers who witnessed it, it is our job to ventilate this and get to the truth.

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13 Aug
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