Pandor called on to explain multi-million rand procurement of land in New York

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The Chair of Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on International Relations and Cooperation has called on Minister Naledi Pandor to explain when she is going to implement the recommendations of an oversight report into the irregular expenditure of R118 million for a land parcel in New York that does not exist.

Tandi Mahambehlala was in conversation with the SABC’s Sherwin Bryce-Pease after revelations late last week of the precautionary suspension of current Director-General at DIRCO Kgabo Mohoai as it relates to this matter. The Portfolio chair also raised concerns that departmental officials named in the report have not received sanctions, including former Director-General in the Department Jerry Matjila who later became Ambassador to the United Nations in New York.

The oversight report says the amount of R118 million was paid on the basis of a misrepresentation to the department and that supply chain management challenges associated with the New York purchase posed both a representational and reputational risk to the image of the country.

Chairperson Tandi Mahambehlala says, “The portfolio committee picked up the announcement from media reports that the Minister has placed the current DG Mr Mohoai under precautionary suspension as part of the implementation of the recommendations of the committee’s oversight report in New York. This development came as a surprise because the committee was not aware of the facts relating to the suspension of the current DG. He did not feature in our oversight report. While the committee does not wish to interfere in the internal affairs of the department, it is however concerning that it had to learn through the media that a particular course of action has been taken especially when it was said to have been linked to the recommendations of Parliament.”

Evidenced in an Auditor-General’s report for 2017/18, the project initiated in 2016 under then DG Jerry Matjila raised red-flags and led to an oversight visit by the portfolio committee to New York in 2019 where they discovered a dilapidated building on the site in Manhattan rather than a parcel of land. The department essentially has ownership of neither the land nor the building despite the R118 million paid upfront.

“There’s a lot of questions that we have because if you are for instance a property management personnel in the department one – we expect you to have expertise and qualifications then we posed questions around the qualifications of certain personnel there and we requested that we get their qualifications and until to date, we have not received those qualifications. The ones we received showed the contrary and that alone put us in a predicament that begins to suggest that the department needs special attention. And then on the issue of irregular expenditures and accountability, financial accountability in any department lies with the finance personnel,” adds Mahambehlala.

These include DIRCO’s Chief Director of Property Management Bernice Africa, DIRCO’s Chief Financial Officer Caiphus Ramashau and former DG and UN Ambassador Jerry Matjila that the oversight report directly links to involvement in the New York purchase.

Chairperson Mahambehlala says, “Immediately after this was approved, Mr Jerry Matjila followed the money to New York because he went there and became an Ambassador and when we were on the oversight we thought that we were going to address this particular issue but he decided to run away and he was nowhere to be found when we were in New York so we could not deliberate on this particular matter and engage him.”

Efforts to reach Ambassador Matjila on this matter have been unsuccessful while the Spokesperson for the Department of International Relations has not responded to questions on the progress of their internal investigations. SABC News has subsequently learned of court processes that are under way and that certain matters are sub-judice.

“It dragged so long because there was no attention on this particular matter so when the report was adopted by Parliament last year in November, through the office of the Speaker, the report was sent to the department, so this year we were hoping that we were going to get the response on what has been done on the recommendations of the portfolio committee which are very explicit,” says Mahambehlala.

Reports suggest that the department has since canceled the procurement process to acquire new office space for both its Mission to the United Nations and Consulate in Manhattan.