State-paid wed­ding plan blows up

Ac­cord­ing to emails, a hous­ing agency spin doc­tor al­legedly at­tempted to use the cost of a bo­gus con­fer­ence to help to pay for her big day

Mail & Guardian - - News - Sa­belo Sk­iti & Paddy Harper

Crim­i­nal charges hang over a govern­ment spin doc­tor who al­legedly tried to use funds from her em­ployer, the cri­sis-stricken Hous­ing Devel­op­ment Agency (HDA), to pay for her wed­ding in De­cem­ber. The agency said this week it would press crim­i­nal charges against its for­mer com­mu­ni­ca­tions man­ager, Zin­gaphi Martin (for­merly Matanz­ima), who re­signed while her al­leged fraud­u­lent ac­tiv­ity was be­ing in­ves­ti­gated.

The HDA falls un­der the hu­man set­tle­ments depart­ment and works with prov­inces and mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties to pro­vide so­cial hous­ing.

Martin re­signed from the HDA in De­cem­ber while on sus­pen­sion pend­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion af­ter al­le­ga­tions emerged that she used her del­e­gated au­thor­ity as a man­ager to au­tho­rise govern­ment funds to cover a R43300 short­fall on her wed­ding.

In De­cem­ber, the Mail & Guardian re­ported that fi­nan­cial mis­man­age­ment at the HDA, which had an R11-mil­lion cash-flow deficit, led to de­mands from the trea­sury for the re­turn of more than R2.3-bil­lion that was meant to be dis­trib­uted to prov­inces for the de­liv­ery of houses to the poor.

In ad­di­tion, be­cause of al­le­ga­tions of ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties and fi­nan­cial mis­man­age­ment as well as sex-for-jobs claims, four ex­ec­u­tives and the then chief ex­ec­u­tive, Pas­cal Moloi, were sus­pended by the board.

Martin was so des­per­ate for a Bloem­fontein guest­house, Fever Tree Venue and Guest­house, to host her func­tion that she sought quo­ta­tions di­rectly from the venue and then had the quo­ta­tion for­warded to At­lantis Travel Group, the HDA’S travel agency, which sent it back to her for ap­proval so that pay­ment could be made.

In cor­re­spon­dence be­tween her and the HDA’S em­ploy­ees, Martin claimed that a hu­man set­tle­ments com­mu­ni­ca­tors fo­rum con­fer­ence was to be held at the venue. But there was no planned con­fer­ence, and the venue had al­ready told At­lantis that they could not ac­cept book­ings for De­cem­ber 10, the date Martin wanted for the al­leged con­fer­ence.

It could also not be es­tab­lished whether Martin de­clared that she was us­ing the venue for her wed­ding. She mar­ried her beau, Mocumi Martin, at the venue on De­cem­ber 15 in a wed­ding to which 120 guests had been in­vited.

On Wednesday, Martin said she and her hus­band had paid for their own wed­ding and that she had ev­i­dence to prove this.

“I re­signed from the HDA as stated in my res- ig­na­tion let­ter due to changes in my per­sonal life cir­cum­stances,” she said.

She did not re­spond to ques­tions about al­le­ga­tions of her in­volve­ment in the con­fer­ence, which is de­tailed in a se­ries of in­ter­nal HDA emails that the M&G has seen.

The emails show how, on Novem­ber 6, she ini­ti­ated a req­ui­si­tion for the con­fer­ence to be held on De­cem­ber 10 to her­self (as the del­e­gated au­thor­ity), which was ap­proved by her and for­warded by HDA’S travel desk to At­lantis in less than 30 min­utes.

A day later At­lantis travel con­sul­tant Pat Nt­lamba re­sponded, say­ing the venue was un­avail­able and ask­ing whether he should pro­cure an­other venue.

This prompted Martin, who by then had se­cured the venue for her wed­ding and paid R47 900 to­wards it, to re­spond: “Can they [At­lantis] just al­low me to call the venue and get back to them. I called around and spoke to the reser­va­tions per­son there they said they are avail­able. Let [m]e just fol­low up.”

What she did not re­veal to her sub­or­di­nates or At­lantis is that, on Novem­ber 6, be­fore sub­mit­ting her req­ui­si­tion, she had al­ready mailed the venue re­quest­ing a quo­ta­tion for the con­fer­ence of 20 peo­ple with break­fast, a buf­fet lunch, soft drinks, a screen pro­jec­tor and a PA sys­tem. No con­fer­ence was planned and she had told the venue the bal­ance of what she owed on her wed­ding would be paid by At­lantis.

On Novem­ber 20 she fol­lowed up on her ear­lier email to the venue, say­ing the event could be moved to the fol­low­ing year, but she still re­quired a quote and in­creased the num­ber to 40 peo­ple.

Gerda Har­ris of Fever Tree Venue and Guest­house re­sponded on the af­ter­noon of Novem­ber 20 with a quo­ta­tion for R15600 and Martin for­warded this in­ter­nally — with the quo­ta­tion in­creased to R44 200 — ask­ing that it be given to At­lantis for them ei­ther to pay or to send back to her for ap­proval.

Fur­ther emails show Martin wanted it signed off and paid within three work­ing days, say­ing the rea­son At­lantis was told there was no space was be­cause the owner did not trust the travel agency. She wanted the venue for the con­fer­ence, she told a col­league, be­cause it was close to a so­cial hous­ing project the depart­ment was go­ing to visit at about the same time.

HDA act­ing chief ex­ec­u­tive Jo­han Min­nie said: “The HDA dis­cov­ered a pos­si­ble fraud­u­lent ac­tiv­ity and im­me­di­ately sus­pended Ms Matanz­ima [Martin], which was fol­lowed by a foren­sic in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“Ms Matanz­ima re­signed prior to the fi­nal­i­sa­tion of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion re­port. The re­port has been fi­nalised and the HDA will be start­ing the crim­i­nal charges in ac­cor­dance with the PFMA [Pub­lic Fi­nance Man­age­ment Act]. All the funds were re­cov­ered from Ms Matanz­ima.”

The M&G un­der­stands that Martin was tripped up by an email from Har­ris to Nt­lamba, in which she wrote: “I see that you have made the voucher for a con­fer­ence on the 10th De­cem­ber, for 40 peo­ple. For our book­keep­ing I just need the right in­for­ma­tion for the voucher — It is for 15th for a wed­ding for Zin­gaphi Matanz­ima.”

A source said Har­ris had been told by Martin to ex­pect the re­main­ing R43300 from a third party, At­lantis. Once the dis­cov­ery was made, the HDA funds were re­turned by the venue and Martin made the out­stand­ing pay­ment for her wed­ding her­self.

O An­other source in the HDA told the M&G this week that the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual abuse of staff mem­bers had been com­pleted.

The re­port, he said, had rec­om­mended ac­tion against three mem­bers of the agency’s ex­ec­u­tive for sex­ual harassment of em­ploy­ees. It also rec­om­mended that Moloi be charged for neg­li­gence for fail­ing to act against them.

“For our book­keep­ing I just need the right in­for­ma­tion for the voucher — it is for 15th for a wed­ding for Zin­gaphi Matanz­ima”

Per­fect day: Zin­gaphi Martin (née Matanz­ima) dances with her hus­band Mocumi at Bloem­fontein’s Fever Tree Venue and Guest­house

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