The Special Investigating Unit (SIU) - a state agency whose mandate it is to conduct forensic investigations into maladministration and corruption - has been accused of spending at least R300000 of taxpayers’ money on an “intimacy workshop” in which its female employees were given sex toys as gifts.

Sources within the unit, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of victimisation, said that during the workshops, which were held on different dates in all SIU’s eight regions across the country, the service provider displayed various sex toys which were then given to female staff members as gifts.

SIU spokesperson Nazreen Pandor defended the workshops, saying they were “part of our employee wellness initiative; the SIU ran a women’s health awareness programme in all its offices for its female employees”.

However, Pandor denied any money was spent on sex toys, saying the successful service provider, “as a value-add opted to provide a wide range of gifts related to the theme of the programme at no additional cost to the SIU”.

“The gifts that staff could choose from, as advised by the coach during individual consultations, were a heart massager, lipsticks, body dew lotion, sensation lotion, educational books and playing cards,” said Pandor.

But female employees say they were offended and embarrassed by what was said to be a wellness programme that turned out to be a sex workshop targeting women only and was a waste of taxpayers’ money.

“As a mother and a married woman, I found this sex workshop disguised as a wellness programme highly insulting,” said an SIU staffer.

“Many of the women who attended the workshop were scared to take them home.

“Some even threw them away while others have kept them in their offices.

“Sex is a very private matter and issues related to it such as sex toys are matters of an individual’s personal choice. For us as women to be showered with such gifts at our workplace is highly offensive.”

“This is blatant abuse of public funds at a time when every government department and state-owned enterprise are being told to cut costs.

“What I find unacceptable is the fact that senior managers of a state agency, whose mandate is to fight corruption and wastage of public resources, are the guilty parties. This is so embarrassing,” said another female employee.

Meanwhile a senior SIU member who wrote to the auditor general, blowing the whistle on SIU management whom he accused of wasting public funds on the sex toys, is now facing a disciplinary hearing.

In his email to Auditor General Kimi Makwetu, SIU’s internal integrity officer Bongani Mpungose asked Makwetu to investigate “the expenditure on sex toys paid by the SIU amounts to wasteful expenditure”. Mpungose added: “I fail to see how National Treasury and the auditor general can see this expenditure as fruitful.”

In his email, Mpungose also asked Makwetu to probe the recruitment of Andre Gernandt as SIU’s chief financial officer.

Independent Media understands that Gernandt was allegedly recruited from the Road Accident Fund (RAF) to Medscheme by Jan Mothibi - current head of SIU - who was then Medscheme’s executive director for legal, governance, risk and compliance.

In his curriculum vitae, Gernandt lists as one of his achievements “successfully outsourcing a tender for Medscheme to process claims lodged against RAF in 2013”.

He left Medscheme to join Mothibi after he was appointment to his position as SIU head in May last year.

It is this history between the two men that Mpungose said helped Gernandt “to avoid proper recruitment processes”.

But Pandor denied any impropriety in hiring Gernandt, saying the process “was done in accordance with established SIU practice, which was applied, consistently to previous CFO’s, which allows for headhunting”.

Mpungose had also written a scathing email to Mothibi expressing his dismay in his leadership and accusing him of turning a blind eye to corruption within the SIU.

He said had he asked for the auditor general’s help after all his internal pleas, including to Mothibi himself, all fell on deaf ears.

However disaster struck after an auditor general staff member sent the auditor general’s response to Mpungose to another SIU official, who then sent it to the unit’s senior staff including Mothibi.

Mpungose, who is being charged with “gross misconduct”, is convinced the leaked response to his email is the source of all his troubles.

“I feel betrayed by the Office of the Auditor General, which dismally failed to protect a whistleblower.

“I’m being charged because of this letter that I sent to the AG’s office, which in turn did not respond to me as the complainant but to someone else who then tipped off SIU management.”

Independent Media has seen an email from Jan van Schalkwyk, executive in the audito general’s office addressed to Mpungose in which he defended the leak.

“The letter you sent to us gave no indication of this being a personal or whistleblower matter. Your letter was written on an official SIU letterhead and you signed it off in your official capacity. We therefore took it as an official request,” Van Schalkwyk wrote.

Despite Independent Media being provided with evidence showing Mpungose has been served with disciplinary charges, the SIU denied any of its senior staffers was facing charges.

“There is no employee who is being charged for being a whistleblower.

“On an ongoing basis the SIU receives whistle-blowing reports/tip offs and handles them in accordance with the Protected Disclosures Act,” said Pandor.