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A Merc for a bribe

2019-02-05 00:01

The board of Lepelle Northern Water is investigating allegations that its chairperson received a Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG and a R1.4 million payment from a contractor.

Early last month, the board recommended that Water and Sanitation Minister Gugile Nkwinti suspend Kennedy Tshivhase, following allegations that he received a car and R1.4 million as “gratification” from LTE Consulting boss Thulani Majola.

Tshivhase, an ANC MPL in Limpopo, is also Umgeni Water’s deputy chairperson.

Last month, President Cyril Ramaphosa proclaimed a Special Investigating Unit (SIU) probe into corruption and maladministration at Umgeni.

In 2014, Lepelle awarded LTE a R100 million emergency tender to fix Giyani’s water problems.

The value of the work was later controversially increased to R3 billion.

The allegations about Tshivhase’s luxury G-Class SUV and the R1.4 million are detailed in a founding affidavit by Lepelle’s chief executive officer (CEO) Phineas Legodi, who is opposing Tshivhase’s urgent court bid to overturn his suspension.

Legodi’s affidavit reveals that the board suspended Tshivhase after receiving questions from a journalist who asked if it knew about his SUV, 11 houses and 12 other luxury cars.

“It would have been remiss of this board not to have taken steps in the face of these serious allegations against its own chairperson,” Legodi wrote, adding that “an investigation is to be conducted immediately”.

Tshivhase, he said, should “not preside over and perform any functions related to the chairperson as member of the board because to do so would be to undermine the confidence of the public in this institution”.

Legodi said they had received information that Majola bought Tshivhase the “Mercedes-Benz G63 worth R3.2 million” on February 24 2017.

“Surprisingly, the car was transferred, obligation free, from Majola to Tshivhase on March 16 2017. Tshivhase has stayed away from responding to these allegations,” he said.

“Tshivhase does not dispute, nor does he shed light [on] whether he owns 12 luxury vehicles and 11 immovable properties – and if so, how did he acquire them and where did he get the money?”

Legodi also alleges that Tshivhase continued to receive “huge sums” of money from two other service providers contracted to Lepelle.

The two companies could not be reached for comment.

But Tshivhase, who did not address the allegations against him, hit back, accusing Legodi of ganging up against him with other board members.

In his founding affidavit, he said: “I submit that the issue of inquiry over the allegations levelled against me is nothing but a ruse by the CEO, Phineas Legodi, to distract me in the disciplinary action I intend to make against him on allegations of collusion, fraud and forgery involving over R1 billion of public funds.”

In November last year, the SIU completed its investigation into how LTE landed the R3 billion tender.

It found that Legodi could be guilty of misconduct and negligence, and should be disciplined for the role he played in awarding the contract.

Tshivhase said in court papers that the SIU’s findings were presented to the board in November and that the board had resolved to appoint a law firm to institute disciplinary action against Legodi. He said he was disappointed that Lepelle’s legal adviser did not appoint the law firm, and the disciplinary action did not proceed.

“It is clear that Legodi is spending sleepless nights to ensure that I must be out of the picture, so his alleged corrupt activities will then disappear as there will be no one who will pursue disciplinary action against him.

“I further submit that my removal was well planned by Legodi, who initially intended to unduly influence me, and I refused,” said Tshivhase.

The matter was argued in the Polokwane High Court in Limpopo on Tuesday and judgment was reserved.

Tshivhase’s lawyer, Dalton Rapetsoa, declined to comment.

Lepelle’s acting chair, Harold Matsepe, confirmed to City Press that the board resolved to investigate the allegations against Tshivhase, but declined to comment further.

City Press obtained information that Tshivhase does indeed own a blue G-Class.

But Majola denied he bought it.

“I never presented Tshivhase with a Mercedes-Benz G-Class and there are no records that I ever bought such a car. I asked three media houses to produce documents and none have brought proof,” said Majola.

Regarding the R1.4 million, Majola denied ever having deposited money into Tshivhase’s personal account. He acknowledged donating money for a traditional ceremony hosted by the Tshivhase Royal Council.

Nkwinti sanctioned Tshivhase’s suspension in a letter dated January 16. “Due to the serious nature of the allegations, it would be prudent of me to support the decision of the board ... On the basis of the outcome of the forensic investigation, a decision will be taken on his future with the board.”

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November 17 2019