Disgraced former Mpumalanga head of the Department of Education, Mahlasedi Mhlabane, has found a safe haven in Limpopo after being suspended for awarding tenders irregularly and lying about the delivery of textbooks.
Despite her track record, Mhlabane landed a cushy job as the Limpopo Department of Public Works, Roads, and Infrastructure Chief Financial Officer (CFO).
After disappearing from the public eye for years, Mhlabane surfaced in Limpopo recently when MEC Nkakareng Rakgoale and her officials appeared before the provincial standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) during the public hearings in Polokwane.
At the hearings, Mhlabane, Rakgoale and head of department (HOD) Dikgole Seroka were grilled about tender irregularities, irregular expenditure and maladministration, including the awarding of a R179 million contract to a company whose directors did not comply with tax requirements.
When asked why the Limpopo Department of Public Works, Roads and Infrastructure hired Mhlabane when she had a cloud over her head, spokesperson Witness Tiva said nothing odd was picked up when she was subjected to a vetting process after she was appointed CFO in December 2021.
“As part of further screening Ms. Mhlabane as a successful candidate, she was vetted by the State Security Agency (SSA), the highest vetting body in the country that provides the government with intelligence on domestic and foreign threats or potential threats to national stability, constitutional order and the safety and well-being of our people.
“This body found she was suitable to be cleared for Top Secret. The Top-Secret Security Clearance processes entail full record checks on databases, interviews with the applicant, two interviews with references, one work enquiry, and a polygraph examination, evaluation, etc,” Tiva said.
Despite the high-level scrutiny by the State Security Agency (SSA), Tiva said the department was not aware that Mhlabane was suspended on allegations of maladministration in the Mpumalanga provincial government before she moved to work in Limpopo.
“Due diligence was done to ensure that the position of the CFO is occupied by a suitable and capable person. The Department is not aware of any allegations of mismanagement as raised by the publication; however, the Department will further interrogate the matter,” Tiva said.
Through the department’s spokesperson, Mhlabane declined to be interviewed. However, the public works, roads, and infrastructure department’s finances are in tatters under her leadership.
Recently, the standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) in Limpopo strongly reprimanded the department for various Public Finance Management Act violations. Among others, Scopa found irregular expenditure and tender irregularities involving millions of rand in the department.
As an accounting officer at the Mpumalanga education department, Mhlabane oversaw the administration of more than R20 billion per year.
In 2017, a group of aggrieved business owners took the department to court following revelations that Mhlabane issued tenders to 17 companies without following proper procedures.
The contracts, which run into hundreds of millions per year, involved food supply within the highly-contested school nutrition scheme in the Mpumalanga province.
The court action led to Mhlabane being investigated and eventually suspended over the irregular contracts.
In the same year, the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) launched an investigation into the provincial education department’s shortage of textbooks.
When the office of the Auditor-General stepped in to investigate the matter, it found that Mhlababe had lied in an official report claiming that 63% of learners in the province had sufficient textbooks when the correct figure was 36%.
In 2019, Mpumalanga Premier Refiloe Mtshweni-Tsipane announced that she would not renew the employment contract for the suspended education HOD.
The premier’s decision was based on a damning report from the Integrity Unit in her office.