Concern over alleged mismanagement of public funds in the Northern Cape Department of Sport, Arts and Culture following renewed allegations made against the head of department, Ruth Palm
THE DA in the Northern Cape said on Tuesday it is “deeply concerned” about the mismanagement of public funds in the provincial Department of Sport, Arts and Culture following renewed allegations made against the head of department (HOD), Ruth Palm.
The party’s concerns follow allegations that Palm was again connected to making a payment for an event that never took place.
The National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu), during a protest at the Northern Cape Premier’s Office, meanwhile called on Premier Zamani Saul to take action against what it called the “continuous corrupt activities” by Palm after she allegedly paid R1.3 million for a Human’s Rights Day event to be held in Colesberg during the lockdown period.
The DA’s provincial spokesperson for Sport, Arts and Culture, Ofentse Mokae, said that the alleged payments were made for an event in March.
“The DA is questioning the validity of these payments, as this financial year commenced with the country being placed under hard lockdown from mid-March, when the coronavirus pandemic took hold of the country,” said Mokae.
He also pointed out that no action was taken against Palm after she was found guilty by the public protector of approving a payment of R1 million in 2016 for an event that also never took place.
“A report by the public protector last year found Palm guilty of approving a payment of R1 million in 2016, to the Traffic Events Company for one of a series of three events that never took place in 2017. We called on the former MEC for this department, Bernice Sinxeve, to ensure that state funds are accounted for and that previously fingered suspects, including Palm, are dealt with accordingly to avoid further maladministration. To date we see no action. Instead, this is now the third very serious claim made against Palm in her capacity as a senior departmental official. In 2012, Palm was implicated in a case involving the defrauding the Department of Roads and Public Works of more than R47 million,” said Mokae.
He said the party will take up the matter with the current MEC.
“The DA is concerned that Palm is still occupying her office, albeit virtually, after all these serious allegations made against her.
“We will submit a letter to the current MEC for this department, Desiree Fienies, to remind her that PFMA (Public Finance Management Act) Section 83 (4) states that financial misconduct is grounds for dismissal or suspension.
“The DA further demands to know why this department has become a free-for-all institution, where it is so easy to steal public funds with zero accountability and nobody standing up to stop the high-level thieving that persists at the expense of service delivery. This department needs a complete overhaul to ensure that all rotten apples are removed. Public funds need to be protected at all times, especially while we are all trying to cope under the demands of the coronavirus and further ramped-up corruption,” he said.
The provincial Office of the Public Protector confirmed that it is investigating the matter, while the Hawks both confirmed that a case had been opened against the department.
Hawks provincial spokesperson Nomthandazo Mnisi said no suspect has been identified in the case yet.
The provincial manager at the public protector, Mlungisi Khanya, said the case is currently against the department and not against an individual in the department.
“We did receive a complaint and we are investigating it. The complaint is against the department.
“According to the complaint, there was an event that was supposed to take place on Human Rights Day, March 21, 2020. The department appointed a service provider to organise the event and payments were made to the service provider. The complaint stated that this event was organised against the Covid-19 regulations which stated that all commemorative events must be cancelled. There were two payments made to the service provider, the last payment was made in May 2020. Normally when we conduct an investigation it would be against the accounting officer. We normally raise our matters with the accounting officer and as the investigation proceeds we would then reveal who was at fault,”said Khanya.
Northern Cape Department of Sport, Arts and Culture spokesperson Conrad Fortune disputed the allegations.
He did, however, admit that an investigation was launched by the public protector as well as the Hawks.
Fortune said that planning for the event was already in motion before the national lockdown was announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa.
“The Human Rights Day event was scheduled to take place in Colesberg this year. There were several communications and planning that took place for the event that had already commenced late January or early February 2020. There were several consultations and discussions made with the national office as well about the planning of the event. The service provider, after he was appointed to organise the event, subsequently appointed sub-contractors to assist in organising the event. By March 13, 2020 the service provider was informed that no further costs should be incurred on the planning of the event. This was when the president announced that events should be cancelled and that some be limited to a number of 100 people,” said Fortune.
He said that the only payments made were for the costs the service provider suffered.
“The service provider halted the organising of the event after he was instructed by the department. The service provider was reimbursed for payment of more than R1 million for the cost he carried up until March 13. He was reimbursed before March 13 based on the documentation he submitted to the department to prove any expenses he suffered,” Fortune said.