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Dina Pule speaks out

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The public protector's investigation into the mismanagement of ICT Indaba funds, and communications minister Dina Pule's alleged conflict of interest pertaining to the event, may potentially be derailed, if it can be proven that the probe is based on tainted evidence.

In an exclusive interview with ITWeb on Sunday, Pule for the first time spoke out about the media storm that has engulfed her since the allegations were levelled against her by a Sunday paper, a few weeks back.

Pule is undermining the case of her accusers, bringing into question the ethics of those who have made the allegations, based on a recent high-profile case that was also investigated by the public protector.

The minister points out that the evidence submitted to the public protector may be inaccurate and unreliable, as the source is the same Sunday Times investigative team that recently sparked a probe into allegations of bribery and sanctions-busting, involving Gugu Mtshali, the partner of deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe.

Public protector Thuli Madonsela has yet to release her final report into the Mtshali matter. However, this past weekend, the Sunday Times wrote that an interim report is understood to have cleared Mtshali of any wrongdoing relating to a R104 million bribe and an attempt to secure government support for a sanction-busting deal with Iran.

Transcript

The public protector's probe was spurred by a transcript of a recorded meeting between Mtshali, 360 Aviation MD Barry Oberholzer, and several other key government and business figures. At the meeting, Oberholzer - a self-confessed FBI informant - agreed to pay a total of R104 million in cash and shares in his company in return for a letter of support from government to clinch a deal with the Iranian air force to service and maintain its fleet of helicopters.

One of the key pieces of evidence in this probe was the transcript supplied by the Sunday Times to the public protector, based on a recording made by Oberholzer. It subsequently came to light that the transcript was also supplied to the newspaper by Oberholzer and that the Sunday Times' reporters had relied solely on this as evidence against Mtshali (as stated in the Sunday Times article, date 16 September), without comparing the original recording with the transcript. Both are in the possession of ITWeb.

The recording and transcript, supplied by Oberholzer, differ substantially. In the recording, Mtshali distances herself more vehemently from the conversation with Oberholzer than in the transcript that was supplied to the public protector.

It is this point that Pule and her team plan to leverage to undermine the evidence presented to Madonsela in regard to the alleged conflict of interest surrounding the ICT Indaba. Pule says it is of utmost importance that, in light of the Mtshali recording, any evidence submitted by the Sunday Times to the public protector needs to be critically scrutinised.

In the interview with ITWeb, Pule stated that, should questions about the indaba funds, shoe purchases, romantic links and conflicts of interest have come from a different source, she may have been inclined to answer. However, she feels that based on the publication's conduct in the Mtshali case, the allegations have no merit.

Other than an alleged money trail uncovered by the Sunday Times, which has already been debunked by an auditor-general's (AG's) probe, and an alleged romantic link between her and a subcontractor to the ICT Indaba, as claimed by the newspaper, there is no evidence of wrongdoing on her part, Pule states.

The Sunday Times did not respond to ITWeb's questions by the time of publication.

Sponsorship fees

In June, the Department of Communications (DOC) hosted the inaugural ICT Indaba, in Cape Town, which promptly gave rise to media reports that millions in sponsorship fees were drawn from the account of the indaba's event organiser by a man alleged to be romantically linked to Pule. This is after the minister allegedly lobbied telecoms companies to sponsor R25 million for the event.

The allegations initially surfaced as a result of a Sunday Times investigation, which claimed to have uncovered that millions of rands paid in sponsorships by Telkom, MTN and Vodacom were withdrawn within days by Phosane Mngqibisa, whose company, Khemano, was subcontracted for the indaba by Carol Bouwer Productions (CBP).

Media reports also say Khemano only landed the contract due to Phosane's personal links to Pule, and CBP was forced to make him a joint signatory on its account. Reports also emerged this month saying Phosane used sponsorship money to buy designer shoes for Pule.

Following the allegations, the AG conducted an investigation into the R10 million committed to the indaba by the department and last month determined there had been no improper conduct.

However, Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow communications minister Marian Shinn has been calling for the public protector to supplement the AG's inquiry into the matter, claiming the initial probe was insufficient. Shinn says the AG's investigation did not cover Pule's alleged conflict of interest regarding her romantic link to a sub-contractor - Mngqibisa - for the indaba.

Shinn wrote to the public protector in July and Madonsela said this was only forwarded to her recently. Madonsela added that she met with the AG's office last Friday and, based on the briefing she received, which included the scope and limitations of the audit process, has decided to proceed with the investigation.

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

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13 Aug
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