Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abraham’s husband in Covid grant saga
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By Ayanda Mdluli and Sizwe Dlamini
Cape Town - Thato Abrahams, the businessman husband of Communications and Digital Technologies Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, is alleged to have played a vital behind-the-scenes role between Blue Label Telecoms, the SA Postbank and a former SA Post Office executive to benefit financially from the distribution of the R350 Covid-19 relief grant.
Information from a whistle-blower shows that a letter, with the SA Post Office letterhead on it, was sent to the National Treasury on July 1 this year requesting emergency procurement funds for a proposed partnership with Blue Label Telecoms to disburse the special Covid-19 social distress grant.
According to documents, the letter had been drafted without the approval of the board at the SA Post Office (Sapo) which is distributing the funds.
A case of fraud has now been opened at the SAPS in Olifantsfontein.
An affidavit filed by Sapo executive Refilwe Kekana reveals that the person who wrote the letter was not an employee of the Post Office.
A whistle-blower, who spoke to Independent Media on condition of anonymity, claimed that the letter was “an attempt to hoodwink the National Treasury to loot the Covid-19 relief funds”.
Independent Media has verified that the letter was written by an employee of Postbank - a member of the Post Office group - on a Sapo letterhead.
Postbank confirmed that a letter was sent to the National Treasury by a Postbank official seeking procedural guidance and/or approval and that the letter was in line with the National Treasury Supply Chain Management (SCM) Instruction Note 3 of 2016/17.
“By way of providing contextual clarity, the letter was sent on the Sapo letterhead as per prevailing operational standards between Postbank and Sapo in relation to all engagements with the National Treasury while Postbank is still engaged in the process of capacitating its own SCM capability, following the separation from Sapo on April 1, 2019.
“Therefore, any suspicions in relation to this letter are either a misconstruction or intentionally mischievous and Postbank has requested Sapo to withdraw the case,” Postbank said in a written response to questions.
A source at Blue Label Telecoms who was privy to a phone conversation between the Post Office top brass and staff said the Postbank official concerned had been instructed to write the letter on the Post Office’s letterhead.
The source neither confirmed nor denied the involvement of Abrahams or Bonolo Ramokhele, a former Post Office board member.
“One thing I can tell you for sure is that the person who wrote the letter to the National Treasury was instructed by the Post Office head honchos,” the source said.
Responding to questions, Abrahams strongly denied any wrongdoing, or having played a role with Blue Label Telecoms and Postbank “in trying to secure Covid-19 relief procurement to distribute the R350 grant during the pandemic.”
He also denied being involved in the crafting of the letter with Postbank and Blue Label.
As for claims of his relationship with Bonolo Ramokhele, a former Post Office board member, he said: “I do not have a relationship with him. As chairperson of South African Youth in Mining (Sayim), I have had occasion to engage with him as treasurer-general at (the) Black Business Council. As chairperson of Sayim I was once invited to speak at a Black Business Council event on mining and the participation of youth in the sector,” he said.
Ramokhele was apparently instructed by Ndabeni-Abrahams to resign from the Sapo board because of his business interests with her husband.
Colleen Makhubele, a former chairperson of the board who was also removed by the minister, claims in court papers at the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, that the board had not been involved in the approval of the deviation from normal supply chain processes when the agreement with Post Bank and Blue Label was discussed.
“Although the Post Office is currently the holding company of Postbank, Postbank is an autonomous and independent subsidiary with its own memorandum of incorporation, operating as a bank in terms of the Banks Act 94 of 1990,” she said.
She said Postbank was “entitled to enter commercial transactions independently of the Post Office. There was no basis for the usage of the letterhead of the Post Office for a transaction which ostensibly appears to be a Postbank transaction.”
According to the whistle-blower, “Ndabeni-Abrahams has been central in fuelling the tension between Postbank and the Post Office through her husband’s (alleged) interference and interests in trying to dip into the lucrative Sassa grants pie.”
Blue Label joint chief executive Mark Levy said it was Postbank that approached Blue Label.
Blue Label, he said, had one of the biggest distribution networks, which was one of the reasons why the concern was approached for the distribution of the R350 grants, made available for six months to those who are unemployed and receive no other income, social grant or UIF payment.
However, he said it had built the solution at its own expense and there was no contract in place to recover the costs incurred.
“I also need to state that the government is the one that dictates the distribution rates and not us as distributors.”
Postbank denied claims of fraudulent deals between Blue Label Telecoms and Postbank or that Postbank had concluded any contract with Blue Label in relation to the distribution of the special Covid-19 grants.
“Neither has there been any influence from the Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies, her husband or any board member regarding the possible use of Blue Label as a service provider. Postbank’s approach to Blue Label was not unduly influenced by any other party but was based on commercial interests,” it said in a statement.