Public protector finds ‘grossly irresponsible’ Fikile Mbalula breached ethics code

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Fikile Mbalula speaks at the Tshwane Training Academy during the re-launch of the SAPS Tactical Response and Tracking Teams, 29 September 2017, Pretoria. Photo: Jacques Nelles

Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane has released her findings on her investigation into former sports minister Fikile Mbalula’s 2016 family holiday to Dubai.

She has found that he was irresponsible and had indeed breached the executive ethics code for cabinet members with conduct that was “grossly at odds” with the provisions of the constitution. He apparently had not known how much his holiday would cost, whether he could afford it and who would ultimately pay for it.

He also changed his story on whether he was aware that a certain “Mr Siweya” had made the bookings for the trip through Munlin Travel.

Mbalula is now the ANC’s head of elections and does not hold a government job.

It was reported  in 2017 that his trip two years ago was allegedly at least partly paid for by sporting goods supplier Sedgars Sports.

EWN reported last year that the company paid at least R300,000 and possibly as much as R680,000 for the trip. The matter was criticised for possibly representing a conflict of interest since Sedgars was doing business with the SA Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee for more than a decade, supplying among other things clothing for South Africa’s Olympic team.

Sedgars Sports allegedly channelled they money through an apparently inactive company called Reimon Uniforms.

Mbalula, his wife and three children holidayed in Dubai from 28 December 2016 to 3 January 2017 at the flashy Atlantis, The Palm Hotel, which was developed by Sol Kerzner’s international company.

Mbalula issued a statement last year saying the trip was paid for using “private family financial resources”. He denied any involvement with the sports brand.

However, Mkhwebane found that the trip’s costs had escalated beyond R600,000 because the family had needed to travel first class due to a date change after initially being booked into business class. There were also no-show costs at the hotel due to the date change.

The final bill came to R684,620.39.

Mbalula had submitted to Mkhwebane that he expected to pay for the trip from selling a property and using family reserves. She said she found the need to sell a property to pay for a five-day holiday “odd” reasoning that was “quite concerning”.

She said Mbalula had been irresponsible in going on holiday without first paying for it and then needing to be hounded by the travel agent and debt collectors in the months that followed.

She said that Mbalula had been forced to approach his acquaintance Yusuf Dockrat, a director of Sedgars, to pay for the trip, as he did not have enough money. She found a “loan agreement” with Dockrat was inappropriate. She called it “peculiar” in that it came so long after the trip actually happened.

She found it was true that Dockrat paid R300,000 for Mbalula, who claimed to have then repaid the money.

Mkhwebane, however, agreed that there had been a conflict of interest and Mbalula should have declared it. She rejected Mbalula’s argument that he did not know Sedgars, since he’d known Dockrat for years.

She rejected the explanation that they had entered into a valid loan agreement. She said he would not have repaid the money without the matter being reported in the media.

Parliament’s member’s code of conduct requires parliamentarians to declare foreign travel, except “personal visits paid by the Member, business visits unrelated to the Member’s role as a public representative, and official and formal visits paid for by an organ of State or the Member’s party”.

Mkhwebane found that the public interest had been undermined.

She did not recommend remedial action against Mbalula, as he’s no longer in cabinet, but directed President Cyril Ramaphosa to share the findings with cabinet to ensure they guard against similar conduct in future.

She also wants better training to take place among ministers and their deputies on the code they are subject to.

Mkhwebane also wants the source of R150,000 paid to the travel agency that arranged the trip, Munlin Travel, to be investigated. She also wants the source of the funds to be investigated by the National Prosecuting Authority as possibly being from money laundering.

Charles Cilliers / The Citizen