Some of the suspects involved in the Free State asbestos project appear in the Bloemfontein Magistrate’s Court. Picture: Timothy Bernard/African News Agency (ANA)
Some of the suspects involved in the Free State asbestos project appear in the Bloemfontein Magistrate’s Court. Picture: Timothy Bernard/African News Agency (ANA)

R10m payment made despite Auditor-General declaring Free State asbestos audit contract irregular

By Loyiso Sidimba Time of article published Feb 21, 2021

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Johannesburg - One of the three senior government officials charged with fraud, corruption and money laundering alongside ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule approved a R10 million payment despite the Auditor-General declaring the R255m asbestos audit contract irregular.

The payment was authorised by Nozipho Molikoe, the chief financial officer of the Free State human settlements department, to controversial businessman Edwin Sodi's company Blackhead Consulting.

She was arrested on Thursday with the department’s chief engineer Thabiso Makepe and Albertus Venter, an attorney who was a senior official in Magashule’s office during his tenure as Free State premier.

Molikoe, Makepe and Venter were all granted R50 000 bail by magistrate Mxolisi Saliwa on Friday.

According to the charge sheet, the department processed a R10m payment to Blackhead Consulting in January 2016 after Molikoe authorised it in December 2015.

Sodi’s Blackhead Consulting was awarded the R255m contract to audit houses with asbestos roofs across the Free State.

The Molikoe-authorised payment and others were done despite the Office of the Auditor-General in the Free State finding that the asbestos contract was irregular in July 2015.

According to the charge sheet, Molikoe is responsible for ensuring that financial procedures are adhered to, and for the proper, effective and efficient use of resources within the law.

The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) treasury regulations, which were flouted, are applicable to and binding on Molikoe, including effective financial management, the exercise of sound budgeting and budgetary control practices, the operation of internal controls and the timely production of financial reports.

Venter, headed the legal department in Magashule’s office when he was premier, and prosecutors believe he had intimate knowledge of all procurement contracts in accordance with directives issued by the office.

”He had knowledge of the notice of possible court action against the Free State Department of Human Settlements and subsequent court action in the Free State High Court,” reads the charge sheet.

The NPA said serious allegations were made by the applicants in the matter, the DA, amounting to dishonesty, irregularity and illegality in the procurement process and appointment of Sodi and his company, murder of businessman Igo Mpambani and his company, Diamond Hill Trading 71’s dealings, Abel Manyeki and his ORI Group as well as Sello Radebe and his company Mastertrade 232.

Sodi and Mpambani’s companies set up a joint venture and later subcontracted work to the others.

”There exists a legal duty on accused 16 (Venter) to report the possibility and/or suspicion of corrupt/illegal activities and/or fraud and/or theft to the relevant unit of the SA Police Service,” the NPA stated.

The DA tried to interdict payments to the Blackhead-Diamond Hill joint venture in July 2015 but the official opposition was unsuccessful at the Free State High Court.

Makepe, according to the NPA, should have ensured the management of resources efficiently, economically and in accordance with the principles of fairness and equality as outlined in the government’s policy including the effective utilisation of staff, the maintenance of discipline, the promotion of sound labour relations and employment equity and the proper use and care of state property.

Magashule, Sodi, Manyeki, Radebe, Free State human settlements department head, Nthimotse Mokhesi, its supply chain management director, Mahlomola Matlakala, the national department of human settlements former director-general Thabane Zulu and Olly Mlamleli, formerly the province’s human settlements MEC and erstwhile Mangaung mayor return to the high court on August 11 for a pre-trial conference after the matter was transferred from the Bloemfontein Magistrate’s Court.

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