THE recent allegation of cronyism against Communications Minister Dina Pule is yet another example of poor judgment being exercised by a member of President Jacob Zuma's Cabinet. The Sunday Times reported at the weekend that concern has been raised that a man closely linked to the minister benefited financially from the government-sponsored ICT Indaba that was held in Cape Town.
Ms Pule's department appointed Carol Bouwer - who is reportedly close to Mr Zuma - to put the Indaba together. She in turn hired Phosane Mngqibisa's company, Khemano, to handle the event management part of the indaba. It is alleged that Mr Mngqibisa, who has been romantically linked to Ms Pule, was given access to a bank account containing some of the R25m contributed by sponsoring companies.
On the face of it, there seems insufficient evidence to show any material wrongdoing in awarding the contracts; it is not a criminal act for someone who has a personal relationship with either the president or a minister to do business with the government. Nor has there been any complaint about the quality of the services rendered by either Ms Bouwer or Mr Mngqibisa.
That said, for a man alleged to be romantically linked to the minister to be appointed to such a position sends out the completely wrong message. Ms Pule has asked the auditor-general to investigate, but this is a bit of a cop-out that avoids the real issue. As a minister, she shouldn't put herself in a position where suspicion is raised regarding how or with whom her department does business.
While Ms Pule's actions are certainly questionable, the judgment of the sponsors is equally worrying. From the nature of the paper trail, it appears as if they were just as negligent in failing to foresee a potentially damaging controversy.
Both Telkom and Vodacom paid more than R5m into a First National Bank account in the name of Carol Bouwer Designs, while MTN paid R15m into the account of a company called ABR Consulting after balking at the casualness of the transaction that was initially proposed. However, these companies should know better than to hand over sponsorship funds of this magnitude without ensuring that systems are in place to ensure accountability.
If this is how large companies routinely conduct business with the government, they cannot complain when questions are raised about their motives and what they expect in return.