A Tshimbupfe community member, Mr Ntoleni Booi, shows the stab wounds he sustained. Mr Booi was very critical about what had happened at the NPO. Uncertainty exists, however, whether his stabbing had anything to do with the current investigation into the NLC grant. Photo supplied.

SIU questions ANC councillor over dodgy R10-m Lottery grant

 

The Special Investigating Unit (SIU) has interviewed ANC ward councillor Solly Mudau as part of an investigation into a multi-million-rand lottery grant to a Vhembe-based drop-in centre for destitute children.

The SIU included this project in their investigation after Limpopo Mirror and GroundUp reported last month that an NPO, Tshimbupfe Drop-in Centre, had received a total of R10 million - but members of the non-profit’s board knew very little about the funding.

Members of the SIU visited Tshimbupfe earlier this month to investigate the grant and interviewed several people about it.

When Mudau was initially asked about the grant, he said that the NPO had merely been used as a facilitator for a borehole-drilling and water-provision project in the nearby Hanani village. He then asked for questions to be sent to him but failed to respond or answer them. No trace of such a borehole project could be found at Hanani village and the local traditional leadership was also unaware of the project.

Mudau, a ward councillor at the Collins Chabane municipality, is chairman of the drop-in centre’s board. He is also a cousin of National Lotteries Commission (NLC) board member Dr Muthuhadini Madzivhandila. Madzivhandila is on a shortlist of three people to become chairman of the NLC’s board.

More questions than answers

Four weeks after the stories about the Tshimbupfe grant were published, more questions than answers as to what had happened to the R10 million still exist, including questions about which bank account the money was paid into. Although the grant was to the Tshimbupfe Drop-In Centre, according to the NLC’s annual reports, the money was never received in the NPO’s original bank account.

The NLC’s records indicate that a R4 million payment was made to the drop-in centre in 2018/19. On 25 September 2019, a further R6 million was paid to the NPO, according to the NLC beneficiaries list for that year.

Soon after the story appeared, Mudau was summoned to appear before the area's traditional council to explain how and where the money was utilised, but he is yet to do so.

When she was contacted for comment on the initial story, the drop-in centre’s coordinator, Ms Sylvia Mashila, denied any knowledge of the grant. She said that they had on two previous occasions applied for NLC funding but had been turned down. They asked for R500 000 but were told that they did not qualify for funding as they were unable to produce two years’ financial statements.

But when reporters visited the village three days later, Mashila changed tack and said the grant had been for another project.

The drop-in centre falls under the jurisdiction of traditional leader Chief Nkhetheni Nemuvhalani. He said that when the tribal council had become aware of the R10 million grant channelled through the local NPO, the chairperson had been summoned to explain how the money had been utilised. A few days before the councillor was supposed to appear before the council, he said he would be unable to attend as his brother had passed away.

The tribal council allowed him time to mourn the death of his brother, but he will be summoned again to explain the situation, Nemuvhalani said.

SIU investigation

After the reports about the centre appeared, the SIU included the project in their investigation into fraud and corruption at the NLC, and investigators visited the area on 6 September. Captain Saul Nkosi from the SIU confirmed that Mudau was one of the people interviewed to try and determine how the grant money had been spent.

The SIU began investigating the NLC after a special proclamation was signed by President Cyril Ramaphosa in October 2020. A special task team, which includes the SIU, the Hawks and independent investigators appointed by the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition, was also set up.

Chief Nemuvhalani said that they had been informed of the SIU’s visit to the area, but the traditional council members had not been interviewed.

One of the community members who was very outspoken and critical about the activities at the drop-in centre, Mr Ntoleni Booi, was attacked and stabbed a few days after the Limpopo Mirror’s story was published. Booi, who was quoted in the story, had accused the leaders of the project of using the money for their own benefit.

Booi, who was attacked on 22 August, said his assailant had attacked him from behind as he was walking home at 02:00. He suffered three stab wounds to his neck and right shoulder and was taken to hospital for treatment. A suspect was arrested after the stabbing.

NLC and water projects

The NLC refused to respond to questions requesting more clarity on the borehole project. Spokesperson Ndivhuho Mafela issued the NLC’s now-standard reply that they were unable to comment because of the SIU investigation.

“It is for this reason that we refrain from commenting on any matters that fall within this time frame [covered by the presidential proclamation.]. It is only fair that we allow the investigations to take their own course and be concluded instead of running parallel commentary,” he said.

Over the past five years, the NLC has given grants amounting to tens of millions for water projects supposedly run by local NPOs with very little knowledge or experience of running big infrastructure projects. These include more than R50 million channelled via the Vhembe-based Konani Pfunzo Learning Centre, a private school in rural Limpopo. The majority of these projects were outside Limpopo but, according to a 2018 NLC press release, 18 early childhood development (ECD) centres in Limpopo were equipped with boreholes.

“A conduit relationship existed between Konani Pfunzo and the Tshikovha Graduate Academy, but the direct beneficiaries were the communities for which the boreholes were created. 200 boreholes were indeed constructed for the benefit of the intended beneficiaries,” the NLC responded when an article about Konani Pfunzo appeared in the Sunday Times in January 2018.

Spreadsheets with the supposed details of the boreholes and their locations, supplied by the NLC in 2018, reflect far fewer than 200 boreholes and are riddled with duplicates. Although the NLC said that some of the boreholes were in Limpopo, no boreholes in the province were included in the spreadsheets.

Local authorities not consulted

While consulting the local authorities tasked with managing Limpopo’s scarce water resources prior to the start of these multi-million-rand projects would make sense, this does not seem to be the case with the project supposedly funded via the Tshimbupfe Drop-In Centre. The Lottery-funded project does not appear in the integrated development plans (IDP) of any of the Vhembe municipalities.

Mr Matodzi Ralushai, spokesperson for the Vhembe District Municipality (VDM), said that they were not aware of any water project at Hanani village. The VDM is the only water-services provider in the region. But Ralushai said he was unaware of pipelines and water taps that Cllr Mudau said would be installed as part of the project.

Any project to supply water to villages such as Tshimbupfe or Hanani must first get approval from the local Water Services Authority, Ralushai said. Any such project must first be evaluated by the relevant officials within the VDM before being implemented. If the project meets the necessary requirements, it would be considered and submitted for approval by the council for implementation, Ralushai said. 

He warned that listing projects in the VDM’s IDP would be “very difficult” if they were implemented without the knowledge and approval of the municipality. The IDP not only provides for the establishment of infrastructure but also for its maintenance. 

The municipality needed to include projects in its annual budget, Ralushai said. If a project has not gone through the official process, spending money on maintenance becomes difficult, as any such expenditure could be considered irregular and unauthorised expenditure by the auditor-general.

Mr George Sithole, communication manager for the Collins Chabane municipality, said that his municipality was also unaware of any water project at Hanani village. Cllr Mudau did not declare any details of his involvement in the NLC-funded R10 million project to the municipality, he said.

Cllr Mudau is a ward councillor at Collins Chabane municipality, where he also heads up the municipal public accounts committee (MPAC), a Section 79 committee that fulfils an oversight role at the municipality.

Still a candidate

The name of Cllr Mudau still appears on the list of candidates for the 1 November local elections, from what could be established. Mr Tshifhiwa Dali, the spokesperson of the ANC in the Vhembe Region, said that the organisation “takes note” of the serious allegations levelled against one of their councillors in the Vuwani area. “Our view towards corruption is clear. We are currently renewing the organisation. We, however, wish to reiterate that the principle of innocent until proven guilty should be observed,” he said. “We have also noted that the matter is under investigation by the SIU and therefore we will await the outcomes of such investigations,” he said.

More questions to obtain clarity on the R10 million lottery project were sent to Mudau earlier this week. When he was phoned and asked whether he had received the questions and whether he would respond, he ended the call. 

Questions were also sent to NLC board member Dr Muthuhadini Madzivhandila, asking him whether he had declared his relation to Mudau. He did not deny the direct family relation, but said he had made all the necessary declarations as required by the Lotteries Act. “The NLC is co-operating with the SIU investigation looking (into) projects funded between 1 January 2014 up to 30 November 2020, therefore I am not at liberty to comment on projects under the scope of investigation of the SIU,” he said.

 

 

 

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Date:24 September 2021 - By: Kaizer Nengovhela

Kaizer Nengovhela

Kaizer Nengovhela started writing stories for Limpopo Mirror more than a decade ago, in 2 000. Prior to that he had a five year stint at Phala-Phala FM as sports presenter. In 2005 Kaizer received an award from the province's premier as Best Sports Presenter. The same year he was also nominated as Best Sports Reporter by the Makhado Municipality. Kaizer was awarded the Mathatha Tsedu award in 2014.

Email: kaizerdo@webmail.co.za

 

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