Suspended staff in KZN premier's office implicated in tender fraud fight to get jobs back

CFO at the office of the KwaZulu-Natal premier, Ziphathe Cibane, outside the Durban magistrate's court in July. Behind him businesswoman Gugu Kheswa covers her face. They have been implicated in a R24m catering tender investigation, together with seven others.
CFO at the office of the KwaZulu-Natal premier, Ziphathe Cibane, outside the Durban magistrate's court in July. Behind him businesswoman Gugu Kheswa covers her face. They have been implicated in a R24m catering tender investigation, together with seven others.
Image: Sandile Ndlovu

As the Asset Forfeiture Unit swooped to attach property and cars from those allegedly involved in a R24m tender fraud plot — who include officials in the KwaZulu-Natal office of the premier (OTP) — two senior suspended staffers launched a high court bid to get their jobs back.

The premier’s CFO, Zipathe Cibane, and Nonhlanla Hlongwa, senior supply chain manager, are fighting back.

They want the findings of a damning forensic report — which implicates them and others in the alleged scam — set aside.

Their and their co-accused’s assets, among them luxury cars, a Harley Davidson and properties, including an Umhlanga boutique hotel, were attached as potentially being proceeds of crime. They are presently under restraint pending further court proceedings in March next year.

The challenge to their suspension was to be heard in the Pietermaritzburg high court on Thursday, but it was adjourned to allow the respondents — among them the premier and Integrated Forensic Solutions (IFS) — to file opposing papers.

In their affidavits Cibane and Hlongwa say they were both suspended in January this year and the suspensions were “purportedly extended” in March.

They say the forensic investigation, which began in May 2016, was sparked by an anonymous “whistle-blower”, who alleged corruption and collusion in the award of catering contracts.

Their main gripe is that they were never interviewed by IFS, had never been given a chance to tell their side of the story, nor had they been given an opportunity to make representations ahead of their suspensions, even though this had been promised by the director-general.

Their suspensions had come “out  of the blue”.

Cibane said he was informed that his case “was not too serious” but the case against Hlongwa was strong “because her personal assistant had stripped her naked”.

He said the law stated that they had to face disciplinary proceedings within 60 days of being suspended, and this had not been done.

He said the investigator had not taken into account circumstances where the office of the premier would have to make last-minute decisions regarding functions where it was “simply not possible to follow the normal prescripts of the supply chain management policy”.

“We deny emphatically that we have been guilty of tender fraud or benefited personally,” Cibane said.

He also said there were “credibility issues” with the report, alleging that a senior Treasury official was, at the time, involved in a business conflict with one of the implicated caterers and had threatened to “cause trouble for her”.

The National Prosecution Authority confirmed that Cibane and three other OTP staff members, Nomusa Zakwe, Thobelani Makhathini and Sithembiso Msomi, had appeared in the Durban Specialised Commercial Crimes Court along with Gugu Kheswa of Phumalanga Communications, charged with tender fraud and corruption in July this year.

In October,  Pamela Hlongwa, Ashley Rose, Ntombimpela Mabel Majozi and Sybil Mataung, along with their businesses — Roren Engineering, Nto’s Catering CC, I Dot Q, Set Apart Group, Isidleke Enterprises Pty Ltd and Inala Business Consortium — were also charged.

“The state’s case is that the OTP staff, who worked in the supply chain management section, colluded and unlawfully co-operated with these service providers to manipulate the tender process.”

According to the charge sheet the accused are alleged to have “cover quoted”, in that they colluded with one another, along with premier's office officials, and submitted quotes in the names of suppliers that were not in fact trading as separate entities to ensure that in each instance the procurement process was manipulated so that work was granted to Phumalanga Communications, Roren Engineering and Nto's Catering.

The NPA said: “The properties restrained today, have a cumulative estimated value of R23.3m. These include 20 immovable assets including a boutique hotel and 40 motor vehicles. The items will be held under curatorship pending the outcome of the criminal trial.”

The court order reflects that Cibane and his wife own nine properties and six vehicles.

Ntombimpela Majozi, of Nto’s catering, owns the Harley Davidson Dyna.

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