Johannesburg - The Special Investigating Unit (SIU) has raided the offices of the Department of Communications and seized computers of the director general and eight other officials in a high-level probe into a publicity tender worth R756 million.
The unannounced raid on the Hatfield offices, in Pretoria, occurred at 9.30am on Monday after the unit obtained a court order to confiscate the laptops and desktop computers of director-general Rosey Sekese, her two deputy director generals Themba Phiri and Sam Vilakazi, the director of supply chain management Lindiwe Nkwe and several junior staffers in the department.
The Sunday Independent understands that the investigators also went into the department’s server and downloaded e-mails that would form part of the investigation.
Neither SIU spokesman Boy Ndala nor Communications spokesman Siya Qoza would respond to queries on the raid.
Qoza said: “The minister requested the SIU proclamation and so we welcome the investigation. It is ongoing and the department officials affected are required to co-operate.”
Three independent sources in the department confirmed the raid.
It was the second raid in two weeks. In the first raid, the investigators confiscated files linked to the tender.
This week Sekese’s personal assistant called the eight officials into her boss’s boardroom, where they were met by nine investigators from the SIU.
Each official was assigned an investigator who accompanied them to their desk and confiscated their laptops and desktop computers.
Vilakazi and Nkwe, who it was established had two laptops, were sent home to fetch the equipment.
Their computers were returned on Wednesday around lunchtime.
On Saturday Sekese initially denied the confiscation but later referred queries to Qoza.
The raid came as details of the deal, which saw the department pay Media Corner a R900 000 monthly retainer despite no completed work, emerged this week in the Joburg Labour Court, where an employee unsuccessfully sought indemnity from disciplinary action.
Wisani Ngobeni, former communications minister Dina Pule’s spokesman, claimed that the disciplinary charges levelled against him came as a result of him disclosing details of the alleged crooked deal with Media Corner.
But on Thursday Judge Edwin Tlhotlhalemaje found that despite Ngobeni making a protected disclosure in good faith, he still had to answer for irregularities linked to him.
The deal has been a subject of SIU investigation for just over a month when President Jacob Zuma proclaimed it.
At the centre of the questionable contract is how the department forked out R60m for work that was not done.
Vilakazi, according to the court papers, had irregularly authorised the payments to Media Corner, who were supposed to run a publicity awareness campaign around the department’s broadcasting digital migration. The contract was signed in 2012 for three years.
According to the court papers, between October 2012 and November last year, Media Corner had submitted 15 invoices for an amount totalling in excess of R60.9m.
From April last yearto January 2014, R40.7m was paid to Media Corner for the campaign.
Vilakazi and his personal assistant are alleged to have facilitated the irregular payments by authorising the issuing of a series of purchase orders.
Sekese had signed a number of contracts with Media Corner and its sister company, which did not go through a proper bidding process. The department also did not have the money that she approved.
Ngobeni, as chief director marketing and communications, first red-flagged the contract in July last year when he received a copy of an expenditure statement for his directorate.
When he discussed the matter with Nkwe as the director of the supply chain unit and contract management, she told him that the department was obliged to pay to Media Corner an annual retainer of over R11.8m for three years.
The payments were to be made monthly despite Media Corner not rendering any service to the department.
Ngobeni discovered that Media Corner was billing the department for a monthly retainer of R983 335 67 without any billable activities, the court papers claim.
The invoices were addressed directly to Vilakazi even though he was not involved in the day-to-day functions of the chief directorate.
The court papers detail how Ngobeni approached Nkwe and informed her of his findings that irregular payments had been made and later approached Vilakazi and new minister Yunus Carrim, who instituted the SIU investigation.
Neither Nkwe nor Vilakazi provided Ngobeni with documents supporting payments to Media Corner.
Ngobeni approached the Joburg Labour Court to stop the minister and director general from taking disciplinary action against him on charges of misconduct.
He argued that the action was based on him making the disclosures and that he should be protected in terms of the Protected Disclosures Act.
Ngobeni alleged that the charges were “occupational detriment” contravening the Protected Disclosures Act.
The charges are linked to discrepancies in an invoice submitted by a service provider for an event held by former minister Dina Pule in Limpopo in June last year.
Judge Tlhotlhalemaje, however, said Ngobeni has not established what irreparable harm he would suffer, and further that he has alternative remedies.
However, he hailed Ngobeni as a brave South African who took it upon himself, at great cost, to expose malfeasance in his department.
“It needs to be stated that there can be no doubt in this case that the applicant has indeed made a disclosure regarding allegations of impropriety on the part of senior officials in the department.”
The judge said allegations and disclosures made by Ngobeni could not “simply be brushed aside for the purposes of a proper determination of the application”.
On Friday, Ngobeni said he was studying the judgment and welcomed it to the extent that it had vindicated him.
“I do have some concerns with regard to the interpretation of the Public Disclosures Act.
“As a result of these concerns I am considering approaching the court for leave to appeal the parts in relation to the interpretation,” he said.
Qoza said that in light of the judgment, the department was consulting its lawyers to decide what action was legally appropriate. The investigation into the allegations against Ngobeni was completed, he said.
Media Corner director Nonhlanhla Dakile did not wish to comment.
Phiri referred queries to Sekese.
Vilakazi and Nkwe did not respond to queries at the time of going to print.