Free State Govt website saga deepens

Patricia Kopane, DA Leader in the Free State, has accused Free State Premier Ace Magashule of using government marketing contracts to channel millions of public funds to the company who was contracted to build the R140 million Free State provincial government website.

“In exchange for this enrichment, the Letlaka Group, headed by businessman Tumi Ntsele, is selling the Premier’s image to the public during a time of service delivery collapse in the Free State,” Kopane said in a statement on Monday (11 March).

It was reported last week that the Free State provincial government spent R140 million on its website. However, the department claimed it was actually R40 million for a total of 38 websites, and not only one.

The DA alleged that, over the past three years, Premier Magashule and his Director General, Elzabe Rockman, have awarded several lucrative government advertising contracts to Mr Ntsele under irregular circumstances.

The political party noted how Ntsele’s wealth has been created overnight in the process, transforming his company from a small start-up to a group with several communications arms:

  • R2.6 million was paid to Letlaka for event management of the Premier’s 2009 State of the Province address.
  • A R4.175 million advertising contract was awarded to Letlaka-run The Weekly newspaper without going to tender. The DG, Me Elzabe Rockman signed the deal in June 2010 while she was still the Secretary of the Legislature.
  • All government advertising was centralized to the Premier’s Office in November 2010, with Letlaka Communications being awarded a R300k,000 per month contract for printing and distribution of government marketing material.
  • In the past 3 months, the Free State government spent an estimated R1.6 million on adverts in Letlaka-owned The Weekly. Standard rates were used for this estimate. During the period 30 November 2012 to 8 March 2013, the Free State government placed 88 adverts in just 10 editions of The Weekly.
  • R12 million a year is spent on Letlaka-managed Hlasela TV, which is broadcast to 100 public buildings in the province.
  • The massively inflated R140 million website tender was awarded to Letlaka as part of a consortium, even though there were cheaper bidders .

According to the DA, besides this enrichment of Letlaka, the Premier’s Office is looking to build an expensive propaganda media network in the Free State including:

  • A R12 million annual spend on Hlasela TV, the Premier’s propaganda channel.
  • Three new propaganda newspapers to be launched by the Premier’s Office.
  • Community radio stations that are due to be launched soon.
  • Six existing community stations that benefited from the R140 million website tender, suggesting their independence could be compromised.
  • Massive amounts of government advertising spend is being used to prop up Letlaka-run The Weekly, a propaganda newspaper supportive of the Premier.

The DA said it has asked Public Protector Thuli Madonsela to investigate ethics violations committed by Premier Magashule in his enrichment of Tumi Ntsele and the Letlaka Group.

“We trust that the Public Protector will see justice done on this matter within the 30 day time period specified for ethics investigations,” Kopane said.

More on the Fress State government

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Controversial govt website to be probed

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Free State Govt website saga deepens