Four years later and school furniture case is still in limbo. Why?
Former education head Mthunywa Ngonzo has still not appeared in court over an 'irregular' R46m tender
Four years after being suspended for allegedly awarding a school furniture tender irregularly and allegedly accepting gifts from a company that was awarded the work, former education head Mthunywa Ngonzo has still not had his day in court.
This week, the Hawks and the National Prosecuting Authority confirmed the case against Ngonzo is still ongoing and nearly finalised. Ngonzo was suspended in June 2014 on charges related to allegations of mismanagement of a R46m school furniture tender.
The tender was awarded to a number of companies but the Bhisho High Court set it aside in March 2014 after it ruled the tender had been awarded irregularly and unlawfully. Ngonzo challenged his suspension in court and won, but subsequently resigned after a settlement was reached between him and premier Phumulo Masualle.
This week, NPA regional spokesperson Tsepo Ndwalaza said the regional head of the Specialised Commercial Crime Unit (SCCU) of the NPA in the Eastern Cape confirmed there is a case being investigated by the Hawks against Ngonzo.
“The docket was submitted to the prosecutor to whom the case is assigned and he worked on the matter and in turn submitted the information to the regional head of the SCCU.”
Ndwalaza and Hawks national spokesperson Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi confirmed that the investigating officer and prosecutor would be meeting soon to finalise the charge sheet.
According to a Hawks officer with knowledge of the case, Ngonzo allegedly received R1.2m towards buying a R2.5m house in Vincent, East London, and one of Milani Furniture’s directors also allegedly bought him an Audi A5 worth more than R460,000, which he later sold for R365,000. The money from the sale was allegedly transferred into Ngonzo’s bank account.
However, Mthunzi Deliwe of Milani Furniture disputed the allegations.
He confirmed being interviewed by Hawks investigators, and said he had told them everything he knew.
“It’s been four years and I actually thought this case was done. We were awarded the tender through the correct processes,” Deliwe said.
According to one of the Hawks investigators, on February 12 2014, R1.2m was transferred from a company to Smith Tabata attorneys.
The law firm then transferred the same amount to other attorneys, who were attending to the conveyance of erf 9076 (Western Avenue, Vincent) in East London on behalf of Ngonzo.
This week, Ngonzo denied any impropriety in any of his transactions while he was education head. He also denied ever receiving any bribe.
Asked whether he had given a statement to the Hawks, Ngonzo said: “I haven’t been contacted by the Hawks. I do not know what you are talking about. I am not commenting on things I do not know about.”
Mike Smith of Smith Tabata refused to discuss the transaction this week.
“The Hawks investigators did come to our offices and went through our financials,” he said.
Asked to confirm the transaction, Smith said: “That is privileged information between attorney and client. We cannot disclose such. You can, however, go talk to the Hawks and if they feel like giving you that it’s up to them.”
Spokesperson for the premier’s office Sonwabo Mbananga said: “The premier is the employer of all heads of department; employee matters are not discussed with the media.”
Late in 2018, the Hawks presented a status report to the office of the premier’s portfolio committee, where they were outlining the update on a number of cases being investigated by the Hawks in the province.
The report seen by the Sunday Times states that the Hawks are still investigating the multimillion-rand tender to supply thousands of Eastern Cape schools with furniture.
The report to the committee says the Hawks are investigating 19 cases of fraud, theft, money laundering and corruption worth R398m against six municipalities and six Eastern Cape provincial government departments.
Office of the premier portfolio committee chairman Sicelo Gqobana confirmed the report and said it was happy with the progress made by the Hawks and the NPA to get the cases to court.
“We had meetings with Hawks, NPA and Special Investigations Unit in order to discuss these cases. They told us they have human resource shortages but are working on ensuring that these cases are sped up. The majority of these cases are ready for court and we are about to complete them. We are happy with progress,” Gqobana said.