PUT UP or shut up.
This was the challenge by The Star’s deputy editor, Kevin Ritchie, in an interview on Talk Radio 702 yesterday – a day after Gauteng Local Government and Housing MEC Humphrey Mmemezi went on air to deny allegations of fraud, nepotism and bad management.
Ritchie and journalist Baldwin Ndaba, who is behind the investigation of Mmemezi’s allegedly corrupt activities, were invited to put forward their side of the story on air after Mmemezi’s interview, when the MEC threatened to sue The Star, claiming reports were a “smear campaign” against him.
The Star’s investigation has spanned six months, but has been published over the past six weeks.
Mmemezi denied allegations against him, including claims that he was about to be fired and that his personal assets had been audited after the release of reports claiming that he had used his state-issued credit card for personal purchases, misused his government credit card and had practised nepotism when he was employed as the human resources manager at the Mogale City Council.
Mmemezi said that despite a monthly allowance of R50 000, he had spent only R150 000 of his budget in the past 18 months.
He denied failing to submit an accident report after a recent car crash in his state-issued vehicle, denying again that his department had been forced to pay for repairs due to insurance issues.
He claims he filed the report “within 30 minutes of the crash”, and that the driver of the other vehicle had fled the scene because “he was drunk”.
Ndaba said he had evidence that the report had not been filed and that the car had been put up for auction soon after the accident.
Mmemezi denied receiving questions from The Star regarding reports about his alleged improper activities, claiming he had not been granted the right of reply.
However, Ndaba produced a list of e-mails, SMSes and other correspondence with Mmemezi’s office asking for comment.
Mmemezi rejected claims that he had hired his niece as a secretary in his department and had taken her on overseas trips while leaving his personal assistant behind. He also said he was not responsible for approving and backdating an unwarranted car allowance for his daughter.
Ritchie accused Mmemezi of being a liar and said he would welcome legal action against the paper.
Ritchie said The Star’s investigation was two-pronged – the first was about the MEC using the government credit card as his personal “piggy bank” and the second was about nepotism in Mogale City.
“He has ducked and dived. Us, the legislature, the opposition and his own administration.”
Ritchie said proof of irregularities was in The Star’s possession and he challenged Mmemezi to phone in to 702 for a head-to-head debate, which did not happen.