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ANC’s chaplain accused of pressuring officials to invest R80m in VBS

2019-10-08 01:06

The ANC’s controversial chaplain general Reverend Vukile Mehana has been accused of putting pressure on officials of a government’s statutory body to invest money in the now defunct VBS.

While chairperson of the board of the Community Schemes Ombudsman Services (CSOS), Mehana and his then deputy advocate Nomazotsho Memani allegedly put pressure on the body’s suspended chief financial officer Themba Mabuya to invest R80 million with the bank.

The body derives its funding from levies paid by community schemes – those who manage townhouse and flat complexes – and fees charged for dispute resolutions and gifts approved by the minister of human settlements.

In an urgent high court application in Joburg last month to stop the department from filling the vacancy of chief ombud of the CSOC, suspended acting chief ombud advocate Seeng Letele blamed Mehana and Memani for the investment.

In November 2017 the CSOS invested R50 million and R30 million in January last year in a VBS account held at FNB.

Letele alleges that Mabuya told her that Mehana and Memani had put pressure on him to make the investment.

“Mabuya then told me that the chairperson of the board, Reverend Vukile Mehana and the deputy chairperson, advocate Nomazotsho Memani, were putting him under pressure to invest in VBS. I started being concerned after Mabuya told me that the chairperson and the deputy chairperson were behind a proposal to invest the surplus funds with VBS.”

Mabuya, who was suspended along with Letele in August last year, told City Press last week that Mehana and Memani had exerted pressure on him to invest in VBS.

“It is true. They did put pressure on me to invest in VBS. That is why we invested there.”

He claimed that Memani kept demanding to know how much in levies the CSOS had collected from body corporates.

“She demanded information about finances. She wanted to know when we were investing, in VBS in particular. One day she summoned me to her house and introduced me to a VBS agent. She stressed why it was important that we invest at VBS.”

I never pressured the former CFO to invest in VBS. All I can say is that Mabuya was always shifting blame whenever he was cornered with questions.
Nomazotsho Memani

Memani denied the claim, saying that the VBS agent was introduced to her by Mabuya.

“It is unfortunate that I was the chairperson of the finance committee. Mabuya must just tell the truth. Why did he deposit the money into an FNB account?

“I never pressured the former CFO to invest in VBS. All I can say is that Mabuya was always shifting blame whenever he was cornered with questions.”

Approached with the allegations, Mehana said: “That is total nonsense. Why did she [Letele] keep quiet all along. They [Letele and Mabuya] have made statements. What evidence do they have that I pressurised Themba [Mabuya]. Do they have an email or something to that effect?”

Documents seen by City Press show that Mabuya first made the allegation that Memani put him under pressure to invest in VBS in November last year when the probe into the bank started.

Memani had responded by threatening to sue Mabuya if he did not withdraw the allegation.

Mabuya did not withdraw the allegation. Memani said her term ended and she left CSOS.

The court ruled that the application was not urgent.

Letele and Mabuya were subjected to a disciplinary hearing in March. Letele said the hearing found that the CSOS did not have powers to discipline them as they were appointed by the department, and not its board.

Mabuya’s contract lapsed at the end of March and he is now challenging his former employer at the Commission for Conciliation Mediation and Arbitration.

In response to her court challenge, human settlements director general Mbulelo Tshangana accused Letele of employing delaying tactics which saved her from “facing disciplinary inquiry and a finding of guilt”.

“It [the court application] is a continuation of Letele’s frolics, which has seen her taking opportunistic technical points to ward off the attempts to discipline her. Her intention is to force the [department’s] hand … to offer her the position of chief ombud, despite her misconduct and her failure to perform her duties with diligence while acting in that position. This has to be rejected.”

THE COVER-UP

A status update report published by the CSOS in July, reveals that R80 million was withdrawn from the FNB account between August and December last year.

But Anoosh Rooplal, appointed by the Reserve Bank to take care of business when VBS was placed under curatorship in March last year, disputed this.

Rooplal’s spokesperson, Louise Brugman, said records show that the money was withdrawn from the FNB account a few hours after being deposited – on both occasions.

“The funds were transferred out of the accounts well before VBS was placed under curatorship,” Brugman said.

In January, the CSOS lodged an urgent court application to compel FNB to freeze the VBS account.

The court dismissed the application, saying it was not urgent since the money was no longer in the account.

A source close to the matter told City Press that the CSOS was aware that the money was no longer in the account when it lodged the application.

“It was a grandstanding exercise aimed at fooling the public into thinking that the CSOS was concerned about the loss. That money was stolen with the full knowledge of a few people in the former board.”

The report shows that in March, the CSOS laid a criminal charge against “the persons concerned”.

The CSOS’ acting head Ndivhuo Rabuli said they had taken various steps to recover the money.

“The board has taken various steps to locate and recover the monies and hold those persons found to have been culpable accountable,” Rabuli said.

Letele, according to Tshangana’s papers, also sought a condonation of the irregular and unlawful investments from the department.

FIGHT FOR TOP JOB

In her application, Letele argues that the department of human settlement’s decision to re-advertise her post is wrong as she still occupies the position.

In February last year, in a post-Cabinet briefing, government announced that Letele had been appointed as CSOS’ chief ombud.

Following the VBS scandal, in June last year former human settlements minister Nomaindia Mfeketo froze Letele’s appointment, pending an investigation by SizweNtsalubaGobodo Grant Thornton, into financial irregularities, including the VBS investments.

In July this year the CSOS’s chairperson Mthobi Tyamzashe, wrote to new Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, asking for permission to appoint a new ombud.

He said Letele had been implicated in financial irregularities by two forensic reports – one by SNG Grant Thornton and another by Knowles Hussain Lindsey attorneys, which had been appointed by Mehana’s board following the VBS investments.

However, in October last year Mfeketo raised concerns about the probe instituted by Mehana and his board. She appointed SNG Grant Thornton to conduct another probe, the findings of which have not been released to the public.

In her court papers, Letele argues that Mfeketo did not have the powers to place her appointment on hold.

In his replying affidavit, Tshangana argues that while Cabinet may have announced Letele’s appointment, only the minister had the powers to make the appointment and sign the contract.

This did not happen.

He also argued that Letele’s contract with the department, from where she had been seconded to the CSOS in March 2017, expired in April this year.


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November 10 2019