The sprawling New York City skyline. File picture: Leonhard Niederwimmer/Pixabay
The sprawling New York City skyline. File picture: Leonhard Niederwimmer/Pixabay

Heads must roll over Dirco’s R118m payment for non-existent New York land - DA

By Baldwin Ndaba Time of article published Feb 16, 2021

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Johannesburg - The Democratic Alliance wants more officials of the Department of International Relations and Cooperation’s (Dirco) to face the music over the controversial R118 million New York Pilot Project.

The call came after Minister Naledi Pandor confirmed on Sunday that Dirco’s director-general (DG) Kgabo Mahoai was placed on precautionary suspension following the alleged purchase of non-existent land worth R118 million rand in the US.

In 2019, Parliament's international relations and co-operation portfolio committee discovered that taxpayers’ money was spent on the piece of land in New York. The committee went to New York to inspect the land only to find an old, dilapidated building.

The wasteful purchase was reportedly made to accommodate South Africa's diplomats.

In the meantime, ambassador Nonceba Losi has been appointed acting director-general.

Dirco spokesperson Lunga Ngqengelele confirmed that Mahoai was placed on suspension since Thursday last week to allow the investigation regarding the land purchase that took place in New York.

But the DA’s spokesperson on International Relations and Cooperation Mergan Chetty has described Mahoai’s suspension as “merely a smokescreen to protect other high-ranking officials within the Department who have been closely associated with the highly controversial R118 million New York Pilot Project.

The auditor-general in its 2017/2018 Financial Year Report, identified Dirco’s procurement process of property in New York as being in contravention of Treasury Regulations when it was revealed that the South African Diplomatic Mission in Manhattan had bought a rundown, dilapidated building and not vacant land as originally stipulated.

“A report by Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on International Relations and Cooperation, found that Ambassador Jerry Matjila, who was the accounting officer when the procurement for the New York Pilot Project was approved in 2016/2017, and the Dirco Chief Financial Officer, Caiphus Ramashau, who would jet into New York to engage in private discussions with real estate agents, should be among those placed under suspension immediately.

“The DA, therefore, calls for the immediate suspension of Matjila and Ramashau as they clearly have a case to answer for. We will also be writing to Minister Pandor demanding an explanation as to why Matjila and Ramashau have not been placed on suspension together with the DG,” Chetty said.

She said Mohoai’s suspension only scratches the surface and reinforces the belief that there were officials within the Department, who seem to have the protection of their senior leaders/ handlers and therefore believe they are untouchable.

“It is of serious concern that Minister Pandor, who has been informed by the Portfolio Committee since its first sitting with her about the shenanigans that had surrounded the New York Pilot Project, has only now decided to take action,” Chetty said.

She said it was clear that this was yet another example of the ANC government’s cadre deployment and one would not be surprised that the protection that these officials seem to be enjoying, emanates from President Ramaphosa’s cadre deployment committee.

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Political Bureau

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