by Adv Boitumelo Babuseng, MPL – DA Provincial Spokesperson for Economic Development
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Date: 13 August 2018
Note to editors: The following remarks were made by Adv. Boitumelo Babuseng MPL, the Provincial Spokesperson for Finance, Economic Development & Tourism, during a press conference held earlier today to announce the DA’s way forward with the Kimberley Diamond Cup. He was joined by the Northern Cape Provincial Leader, Andrew Louw MPL.
In recent days, serious allegations have been made of wrongdoing and downright criminal conduct by the Northern Cape provincial government in relation to its management of the Kimberley Diamond Cup. The allegations, posted on the Facebook page of African Skate Project, paints an alarming picture of corrupt practices and attempts at extortion that implicates a number of officials and public representatives, specifically at the Northern Cape Department of Economic Development & Tourism and the Northern Cape Tourism Authority.
For the sake of future economic development and growth in the province, the allegations have to be addressed. No developer with any integrity whatsoever would want to become involved with a provincial government portrayed in this way.
In light of these allegations, I have reached out to the CEO of World Skateboarding Grand Prix, Tim McFerran, to ask that he provide us with information to assist with the laying of criminal charges to bring the culprits to justice. He has since responded to say that he will be happy to assist us. We look forward to laying charges soon.
The severity of the allegations simply cannot be ignored, and include:
• Serious allegations of misconduct on the part of the CFO of the Department of Economic Development & Tourism, Kuberin Packirasamy, who would reportedly attempt to extort money on a number of occasions from World Skateboarding Grand Prix and who would brag about the money he has received in kickbacks from previous government tenders. The allegations also refer to attempts by Mr. Packirasamy to avoid scrutiny from the Hawks, who are currently investigating him as part of a number of ongoing investigations;
• The allegations also state that Mr. Packirisamy and the CEO of the Northern Cape Tourism Authority, Sharron Lewis, introduced vendors to World Skateboarding Grand Prix. They would then exert significant pressure on the service provider to use these vendors, even though their bids would be significantly higher than other vendors’ and the quality of their work inferior. One example includes the use of Jamcorp for tents and marquees in the first year of hosting – when the skateboarding competition was known as the Maloof Money Cup. Due to the poor quality of their services, the event organisers wanted a partial refund, although Mr. Packirisamy told them not to pursue this avenue. This example supports the theory that the vendors introduced by Mr. Packirisamy and Ms. Lewis inflated their bids to accommodate extra funds which would be channeled to someone;
• In addition, the allegations describe a patronage network established around Mr. Packirisamy. As the departmental policy allows for him to be the chairperson of the bid adjudication committee, he does have significant influence in the awarding of government tenders. It is alarming to note that a number of the mega-projects undertaken by the department in the past years are now linked to Mr. Packirisamy, especially if one considers his reported bragging to World Skateboarding Grand Prix about the money he has received in past government tenders;
• Furthermore, the current MEC for Finance, Economic Development & Tourism, Mac Jack, is accused of changing the circumstances of a meeting in such a way that he could ask for money from World Skateboarding Grand Prix. After the organisers’ refusal to pay him money under the table, the department defaulted on payments to the organisers. The MEC then announced as part of his budget speech in 2016 that the scale of the event would be reduced, although he attributed this decision to financial constraints and a lack of sponsorship. This is also the justification offered by the department on a number of meetings held with the Portfolio Committee on Finance, Economic Development & Tourism since the announcement;
• It is also alleged that Ms. Drinie Sampson, the current head of Department for Social Development, would be creative in her financial reporting. At the time when she was the project manager for the event, she would supposedly report smaller amounts and then re-appropriate funds from other programmes at the end of the financial year. One wonders if this is why an additional R11 million was allocated for the Kimberley Diamond Cup in the 2015/16 financial year. Other allegations levelled against Ms. Sampson include the use of her son as a third party to extort money from the event organisers. Instead of giving her son money to fund a drifting business, the organiser gave him advice “on how to turn his hobby into a business”. The following day, both Ms. Sampson and Ms. Lewis confronted the organiser and told him that he was “rude”;
• The allegations also describe how exorbitant amounts were spent on travel for bloated delegations from the Northern Cape to attend planning meetings overseas, where very little work would get done as many of the provincial delegates “were either drinking, shopping or trying to buy prostitutes”. The trips include one to New York, where 20 delegates from the province flew business class on Emirates Airlines and yet nobody attended any of the meetings.
Clearly, we cannot ignore these allegations. Since the provincial government hosted the first event as part of the Maloof Money Cup, significant amounts of public funds have been devoted to developing the skateboarding competition. The people of the province deserve to know whether or not their taxes have been used correctly or if any of these allegations of corruption, extortion and criminality is true.
In light of the seriousness of the matter, we also call on Mr. Packirisamy to recuse himself from the bid adjudication process in the appointment of a new organiser for the event. We know the department’s supply chain policy states a preference for the CFO of the department to be the chairperson of the bid adjudication committee and this practice would indeed be desirable if the integrity of the CFO was not in question. As a dark cloud hangs over the appointment of the new service provider, in light of these allegations and the various other investigations against Mr. Packirisamy, we ask him to do what is best and to step away from the awarding of this tender.
It is also shown, again, that the MEC for Finance, Economic Development & Tourism is irredeemably corrupt. He should therefore be removed from the position that he holds, as he cannot be allowed to abuse public funds in this way. We ask that the premier, Sylvia Lucas, treats the allegations with the seriousness that it warrants and therefore removes the MEC from his position. Since the whole of the department appears to be implicated in the allegations, we also urge the premier to start a comprehensive internal investigation to ensure that those who abused the public funds are brought to book. The terms of reference and results of such an investigation must be made public.
Pending the investigation, Ms. Lewis should be removed from her position at the Northern Cape Tourism Authority. The tourism sector is significant for the future growth of the province and any corruption that can eat away at this growth must be stopped.
Considering the severity of the allegations against Ms. Sampson, we also call for her removal as head of department at Social Development. She holds a position of trust there and cannot be allowed to abuse this position to benefit any person unduly.
We are not surprised by the extent of the rot revealed by the allegations, as the department has long been mired in controversy about its use of public funds. The former MEC for Finance, Economic Development & Tourism, John Block, is already on his way to jail for his criminal conduct. In light of these allegations, it seems almost inevitable that more public representatives and officials will follow.
It is clear that the department needs a change in leadership, change that can only be provided by the DA-led administration.