20 April 2024 | 08:48 AM

Stressed lawyers ‘massage’ figures

Key Takeaways

The Gauteng department of education forked out more than R8 000 for “stress management” and a “corporate massage” as part of a whopping R20-million paid to lawyers for a failed project to convert the Gauteng City Region Academy into a public entity.

The little-known academy manages human resource development and training programmes for Gauteng and falls under the education department.

In 2008 its management hit on the idea of hiving it off as a semi-independent provincial agency and law firm Kunene Ramapala Botha was contracted to provide legal advice and help manage the project.

The fact that Kunene Ramapala was on a panel of pre-approved firms registered with the Gauteng Shared Services Centre (GSSC) appears to have been used as an excuse not to call for tenders.

The service centre manages procurement and other services for the provincial government.

However, the Mail & Guardian understands that while the academy could source service providers from it, they need to be rotated and the service put out to tender if valued at more than R500 000.

According to documents seen by the M&G Kunene Ramapala was appointed in July 2007 to advise the shared services centre on its own plan to become an agency.

Partner Walter Ramapala quoted R5-million for that 11-month project.In October 2008 Kunene Ramapala quoted R13-million for virtually the same project scope — but involving the vastly less complicated academy.

The project was estimated to last seven months.

Documents show that the law firm invoiced the department for more than R20-million — yet the conversion of the academy into a public entity was never finalised.

The current head of the Gauteng education department, Boy Ngobeni, then chief executive of the academy, played a central role in appointing Kunene Ramapala.

In correspondence seen by the M&G academy chief executive Ngobeni wrote to Mike Maile, chief executive of the GSSC on September 22 asking to use the law firm for the restructuring of the academy.

Ngobeni had worked as general manager recruitment at the shared services centre before being appointed to the institution.

On October 6 2008 Ngobeni wrote to Kunene Ramapala informing them that the academy had decided to use their services and requesting hourly charges and estimated professional rates for the project.

On October 22 Ngobeni again wrote to Ramapala, stating that the R13-million quoted by the law firm had been approved.

Among the juicy bills presented by legal firm were:

    • An R8 000 massage bill, paid to a service provider;

 

    • R20 000 for ‘organising the -corporate massage”;

 

    • R200 000 for time spent on overseas trips to Dubai and Portugal; and

 

  • R235 000 for paper, phone calls, photocopies, printing and related items.

A R400 000 trip to Dubai for four delegates was presented as a way “to enhance the capability of the GCR academy to realise its objective of developing the capacity and organisation of the state”.

Ngobeni, Ramapala and two other officials flew business class at a cost of R48 990 per person.

They booked into the five-star Crown Plaza Festival City hotel for six nights from January 31 to February 6 2009.

Accommodation totalled R111 999, with three standard rooms costing R4 300 a night and one executive room R5 765 a night.

Ramapala billed for the time spent on this junket and for preparing report-back documents.

The letter of engagement signed by Ngobeni stated that the law firm’s services would run from October 2008 to end-May 2009, but the firm invoiced the department until -October that year.

Also in May, Ngobeni signed a confidential disclosure form — also seen by the M&G — in which he declared a R4 000 gift voucher from the law firm.

Under new Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane, who swept aside many plans of her predecessor Paul Mashatile and his “Alex mafia”, which included Maile, the idea of transforming the academy into a public entity was apparently abandoned.

The education department said that, except for some overspending blamed on Ngobeni’s former subordinate at the academy, all expenses were above board.

Education department spokesperson Charles Phahlane said a Grant Thornton report commissioned by Education Minister Barbara Creecy had cleared the appointment of Kunene Ramapala as being “fair, equitable and transparent”.

He said the audit would not be made public because it was internal.

Phahlane failed to respond to emailed questions last week.

Kunene Ramapala also failed to respond to questions.

However, the firm’s website shows that it has secured work from numerous other Gauteng government departments and entities, including the Gauteng Liqour Board, the Gauteng Online Project, the department of economic affairs and the department of housing.

This article was produced by amaBhungane, investigators of the M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism, a nonprofit initiative to enhance capacity for investigative journalism in the public interest. www.amabhungane.co.za.

 

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amaBhungane

Before joining the amaBhungane team in 2017, Micah was the national coordinator for media freedom and diversity at the Right2Know Campaign. He holds a Masters in African Studies from Oxford University and a BA Honours in History from Wits University.

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