Patricia de Lille. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
Patricia de Lille. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

Public works and infrastructure minister Patricia de Lille has suspended her director-general Sam Vukela, who is accused of awarding irregular contracts for state funerals, including that of struggle stalwart Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.

Vukela has a contentious relationship with the department, having being fired as acting DG and accounting officer in 2013 for the irregular leasing of office space for the police in Pretoria. That deal, and subsequent investigations, resulted in the removal of Bheki Cele as national police commissioner. Vukela was reinstated following a controversial arbitration award in 2017, and was given R2m in back pay. 

In March‚ President Cyril Ramaphosa‚ whose prerogative it is to hire and fire DGs‚ gave De Lille the go-ahead to take action against Vukela.

“I confirm that on Tuesday July 28‚ I placed the DG of the department of public works and infrastructure‚ advocate Sam Vukela‚ on precautionary suspension — effective Wednesday July 29 — pending the finalisation of the disciplinary processes instituted against the DG‚” De Lille said in a statement.

She said the action followed reports she received over two investigations.

One was by PwC into allegations of irregularities related to the provision of movable infrastructure for official funerals — namely those of Madikizela-Mandela, former minister Zola Skweyiya and ambassador Billy Modise.

The funerals cost taxpayers R76m, and deputy DG responsible for governance and risk, Imtiaz Fazel, told MPs in March that the procurement processes for the three official funerals were fundamentally flawed, and that created a platform for “major” transgressions.

He said the over-payment by the department was due to officials approving invoices without the necessary application to ensure they were valid and accurate. The investigation by PwC found this happened due to negligence on the part of individuals and management involved in overseeing the funerals in question.

The other report used by De Lille was by the Public Service Commission into allegations of irregular appointments within the senior management service of the department.

De Lille said an internal disciplinary process chaired by a senior advocate will be constituted in due course, adding that “to protect the integrity of the process‚ no further comment will be made to the media until the process has been concluded.” 

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