‘Theft of funds’ for conference warranted NC reshuffle

Compelling evidence and witness testimony of apparent rampant government corruption and looting prompted Northern Cape Premier Sylvia Lucas to reshuffle the provincial cabinet on Wednesday — provoking dismay from the ANC in the province, as well as Luthuli House.

City Press has established that officials from the Hawks unit in the province met Lucas on the same day as the reshuffle, where she handed them documents supporting corruption allegations involving R26 million against officials in the department of finance, economic development and tourism, the Northern Cape Economic Development Agency, as well as some well-known local ANC figures.

Hawks spokesperson Hangwani Mulaudzi confirmed the meeting and said: “We have opened an inquiry into those allegations and the matter is receiving the necessary attention.”

As a result of the case, Lucas removed finance MEC Mac Jack and replaced him with Gail Parker.

At least two highly placed government insiders and two ANC provincial leaders told City Press that the suspicious funds were set to bankroll the ANC’s provincial conference.

“The money was for the campaign and conference,” said a leader close to Lucas. He said they had calculated that “at least R26 million” was used to pay for infrastructure at the conference, to book accommodation for delegates, as well as to buy them T-shirts.

He said Lucas had been reluctant to release funds because she was among the group that was of the view that ANC branch processes were being manipulated to benefit those who backed her rival – now the new ANC provincial chairperson, Zamani Saul.

“The conference had been postponed a number of times and their businesspeople who provided funding were taking strain. So, they managed to get this money,” City Press was told.

The money was allegedly transferred from the finance department to the Northern Cape Economic Development Agency, which provided financing to local small businesspeople through, among others, the economic growth and development fund project.

However, some among those funded were surprised to find that the Northern Cape Economic Development Agency had paid out almost double the funds they had applied for.

Another source said Lucas had met with at least two of the recipients of the extra money.

“They were being harassed [to pay] back the extra money in SMS messages, which they showed her.” Others had already paid back the extra money to the department, he said.

In a document seen by City Press, which contains a record of payments from the economic growth and development fund project at the end of March, at least 15 companies had been paid a total of R11 million. At least one company is recorded to have requested R767 742, but received R2 million.

Soon after the funds cleared, two designated “runners” or collectors started calling the recipients, indicating that the extra funds had to be diverted to certain bank accounts.

On Tuesday, concerned recipients approached Lucas to seek assistance and advice.

On Wednesday, Lucas confronted the chief financial officer and head of the finance department and requested all documents related to the suspicious transactions, sources said. The documents were handed to the Hawks. At around 3pm, she announced the cabinet reshuffle, but the news was rejected by Saul, who described it as “grossly irresponsible, reckless and self-serving”.

Saul’s backers accused Lucas of purging her opponents ahead of the conference and appointing loyalists.

Commenting on whether the ANC was consulted, ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe said “the reality of the matter is that Sylvia did not inform me of the reshuffle and I read about it on News24”.

“She then phoned me much later after she was advised by [Jessie Duarte] to inform me.”

He said the criminal case was “mitigation”.

“I do not want Sylvia to mitigate her case. She must talk to the organisation and not as an after-event. If you tell the organisation after the event, I will take your story with a pinch of salt,” he said.

“But we will still listen to her when she thinks it is important to inform us,” said Mantashe.