Fuming MPs question Naledi Pandor's suspension of Dirco director-general

Andisiwe Makinana Political correspondent
International relations and co-operation minister Naledi Pandor.
International relations and co-operation minister Naledi Pandor.
Image: Sunday Times / Simphiwe Nkwali

Angry MPs have accused international relations and co-operation minister Naledi Pandor of abusing a parliamentary report on irregular spending for her own interests in the suspension of her director-general Kgabo Mahoai, who is not implicated in the scandal.

The National Assembly's portfolio committee on international relations wants Pandor to explain her reasons for putting Mahoai on precautionary suspension. They have also accused her of singling out Mahoai and being lenient on officials who were identified for wrongdoing by the auditor-general.

MPs accused Pandor of running the department as a spaza shop, which was also how she treated the committee to which her department accounts.

In her opening remarks to a meeting of the committee on Wednesday, committee chairperson Tandi Mahambehlala said it was not acceptable for the committee to hear through media reports of Mahoai's precautionary suspension, especially when it was claimed that such action was taken as a result of the committee's recommendations.

The committee drafted a report last March after its December 2019 oversight visit to New York, where it found that Dirco had paid R118m for an abandoned dilapidated building instead of a vacant piece of land which was meant to be used to build office and residential accommodation for SA officials there.

The report was adopted by the National Assembly in November 2020.

In the report, the committee questioned the role played by former Dirco DG Jerry Matjila in the acquisition of the New York property, a tender which the auditor-general found to have been irregularly awarded in 2016 when Matjila was in the position.

The committee recommended that Matjila, who was by then SA's permanent representative to the UN in New York, be recalled from his position and be brought to SA to answer for irregularities identified by the AG in the New York matter.

Mahambehlala said the AG had also identified Dirco's CFO and other members of the bid adjudication committee among those who should be held responsible for irregularities in the awarding of tender. The committee in its report recommended that action be taken against the same officials.

“It is not clear why the actual suspects have not been suspended,” said Mahambehlala on Wednesday. “Why can't the department suspend all those implicated and let the law take its course and implement consequence management?”

Mahambehlala repeatedly suggested that Matjila was being protected from accountability.

She asked why was it difficult for the department to ask both Matjila and Mahaoi to account for their different roles in the procurement processes of the New York project.

MPs from across political parties agreed with Mahambehlala's sentiments.

They said Mahaoi's suspension should not be associated with their report as he had nothing to do with the New York saga. Even if he was implicated, MPs wondered why he was single out for suspension while other implicated parties have not been brought to book.

MPs demanded a copy of the letter Pandor wrote to President Cyril Ramaphosa which convinced the president to delegate authority which made it possible for the minister to put the DG on a precautionary suspension.

MPs also did not did not take kindly to Pandor's absence from Wednesday's meeting, accusing the minister of refusing to account.

“There is some level of arrogance in the authority,” said ANC MP Xola Nqola in reference to lack of comprehensive response in the progress made by the department on implementing committee recommendations.

Pandor was invited to the meeting, but in a letter to Mahambehlala, she said she was not available to brief the committee at its proposed time.

The DA's Mergan Chetty agreed with Mahambehlala's remarks and accused Pandor of disrespecting the committee and treating it as if it was a spaza shop.

“She didn't use, but abused, the committee’s report to benefit her own interests by suspending the director-general which was not a recommendation of the report,” he said.

Chetty said he too was astounded that Pandor didn't take action to suspend the CFO, the former DG but those officials seemed to be protected.

Another ANC MP Desmond Moela said Pandor's department was run like a spaza shop.

“That thing called Dirco is a spaza shop, it's not a department. That spaza shop is falling each and every day under our noses,” he said.

The news of Mahoai's suspension broke last Friday after Pandor informed departmental staff that their boss had been placed on precautionary suspension. Media has widely reported that Mahoai's suspension was linked to the department spending R118m of  taxpayers' money on a piece of land in New York that did not exist.

Pandor's spokesperson Lunga Ngqengelele did not respond to a text about the reasons for Mahoai's suspension.

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