Noluvo Maki vs Daily Dispatch


Wed, Feb 15, 2017

Ruling by the Press Ombud

15 February 2017

This ruling is based on the written submissions of Ms Noluvo Maki, Senior Manager: Supply Chain Management (SCM) at the Department of Cooperative Governance & Traditional Affairs (Cogta) in the Eastern Cape, and those of Sibusiso Ngalwa, editor of the Daily Dispatch newspaper.

Maki is complaining about a story in Daily Dispatch of 9 November 2016, headlined Storm over R4.5 million digital smartpens – 320 devices gather dust amidst forensic investigation.

(The Public Advocate has accepted her late complaint because she had written a letter to the newspaper on 19 December last year, but says she did not get a response from the publication.)

Complaint                                            

Maki complains the story falsely stated that:

·         digital pens had remained unused and were gathering dust at the Department’s head office in Bisho;

·         she and Ms Weziwe Tikana (then Cogta Director: Municipal Public Participation) were responsible for requesting digital pens without following the proper procurement processes;

·         she had resigned; and

·         she could not be reached for comment.

She also complains that the newspaper did not give her a right of reply prior to publication, and concludes that the report has damaged her reputation and dignity.

The text

The article, written by Asanda Nini, said that ANC Women’s League national executive committee member and Eastern Cape Transport MEC Weziwe Tikana was at the centre of a controversy involving the purchase of digital smartpens to the tune of R4.5-million. “This took place while Tikana was still an official at … Cogta,” he reported.

The journalist wrote that the department had entered a 36-month contract with a private company from March 2013 for the provision and maintenance of the pens, “[b]ut they remained unused and are still gathering dust at the department’s head office in Bisho”.

Part of the investigation reportedly concerned an amount of R109 000 which was used for digital forms without following procurement processes. “This amount has been categorised as fruitless and wasteful by the auditor-general,” the reporter wrote.

Nini reported that Cogta’s acting head of department, Ngaka Mosehana, revealed this information to members of the standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) at the provincial legislature. He said the purchase of the smartpens was the subject of a forensic investigation which was expected to be completed by December.

According to Mosehana, Tikana “[t]ogether with former senior manager of the supply chain Noluvo Maki, were responsible for ‘requesting this service’…”

The reporter also stated that Maki could not be reached for comment.

The complaint in more detail

Maki denies that she was a “former” senior manager of the Supply Chain Department and says she certainly did not resign – she had been suspended, but the suspension had been lifted (on 28 September 2016). She adds that she received notification of the lifting on October 3. “Since then I have been reinstated while the forensic investigation is ongoing,” she attests.

According to her, the bid in question had been audited for two consecutive years, and no irregularities were found with regards to the procurement of smartpens.

She adds that she did not initiate the project, as stated in the article – she acted on a request from the project owner. “Nowhere is there any documentation or evidence that I requested a service in partnership with … Tikana,” she states.

Explaining the process, Maki says as Senior Manager: SCM she facilitated procurement, based on the Accounting Officer’s approval – she did not have the power to approve bids on her own volition.

She adds that the terms of reference for the bid in question were recommended by the Acting Senior Manager: SCM on 14 December 2012. She was notified of her successful application for the post on 19 November 2012, and she started working on 3 January 2013. The terms of reference were approved on 7 January 2013. She says she was not present when the recommendation was made, nor when the request to procure the digital pens was put forward by the project owner (Tikana).

Maki says the only true statement in the story was that she had been suspended.

Daily Dispatch responds

Ngalwa replies that the story did not suggest or state that Maki had resigned from the department – the only reference to her was in the section covering Mosehana’s statement to Scopa (namely that she and Tikana “were responsible for requesting this service”).

The editor adds the newspaper tried to contact Maki several times on her work landline number, but to no avail. He says the reporter did not call her on her cellphone as he did not have that number.

Maki replies

Maki points out that the story called her a “former” senior manager; she also argues that the word “resigned” later in the story referred to her.

She adds that her cell number was readily available at the department, and Nini could have left a message for her with her personal assistant, or contacted her on social media.

Analysis

Digital pens gathering dust

Maki does not make much of this part of the complaint (other than merely saying that the statement is false), and Ngalwa does not refer to it.

I am not in a position to decide whether this statement is correct or not, and neither do I think that it is germane to the gist of Maki’s complaint.

Responsible for request without proper procurement processes

The story did not state the allegation in question as fact, but quoted Mosehana in this regard. Given the latter’s (senior) position, I do not blame the newspaper for reporting what he said.

Verification with the subject of this reportage is a different matter, though – one which I’ll address below.

I note that Ngalwa does not contest Maki’s statements regarding resignation; I therefore take it he accepts that she has indeed not resigned. He also does not contest that she has been reinstated since September / October 2016.

The problem, then, is the use of the word “former”.

According to her testimony, which the editor does not contest, she is still in her post. As such, she cannot be the “former” senior manager.

The complaint about her “resignation”, however, is arbitrary. A person who is said to be a “former” employee has not necessarily resigned.

True, the story did use the word “resigned” lower down, but from the context it is clear that the resignation did not refer to Maki.

Not reached for comment; right of reply

It is strange that the reporter, who wrote that Maki was a “former” senior manager, phoned her office – where, according to the journalist, she had no longer been working. Did he really expect to find her there?

I am also not convinced that Nini tried hard enough to get hold of Maki – surely, it would not have been difficult to find her cell number. The editor’s excuse that the reporter did not have her number is too glib.

I therefore believe that, even though Nini did phone Maki’s office, he should have done more to get hold of her – and that the journalist all too easily reported that she could not be reached for comment.

Meanwhile, it was important to get hold of her – especially to verify Mosehana’s statement (namely that she was jointly responsible for requesting the project). Her version of this issue should have been published.

Reputation, dignity

I do not believe that the use of the word “former” has harmed Maki’s dignity and reputation to such an extent that it has breached the SA Code of Conduct. It is, however, inaccurate.

The publication of Mosehana’s statement, as cited above, was also justified.

However, the publication of that statement without giving Maki an opportunity to state her side of the story must have been damaging to her reputation and dignity – as the issue at stake in the controversy surely impacted negatively on her.

Finding

Digital pens gathering dust

There is no finding on this part of the complaint.

Responsible for request without proper procurement processes

The complaint about the reporting of Mosehana’s statement is dismissed.

The use of the word “former” in connection with Maki’s position is inaccurate and in breach of Section 1.1 of the SA Code of Ethics and Conduct which states, “The media shall take care to report news … accurately…”

Not reached for comment; right of reply

Even though I accept that Nini did phone Maki’s office, I do not believe that he has done enough to secure her comment. This is in breach of Section 1.8 of the Code: “The media shall seek the views of the subject of critical reportage in advance of publication…”

Reputation, dignity

Getting Maki’s side of the story with regards to Mosehana’s statement (that she was jointly responsible for requesting the project) would have been an honest attempt to verify that allegation. The absence thereof represents a failure to take her reputation and dignity seriously enough. This is in breach of Section 3.3 of the Code: “The media shall exercise care and consideration in matters involving dignity and reputation.”

Seriousness of breaches

Under the headline Hierarchy of sanctions, Section 8 of the Complaints Procedures distinguishes between minor breaches (Tier 1), serious breaches (Tier 2) and serious misconduct (Tier 3).                                                                                        

The breaches of the Code of Ethics and Conduct as indicated above are all Tier 2 offences.

Sanction

Daily Dispatch is:

·         directed to apologise to Maki for publishing Mosehana’s statement (that she was jointly responsible for requesting the project) without reporting her side of the story on this issue – and in doing so failing to take her dignity and reputation seriously enough;

·         reprimanded for:

o   stating she was a former senior manager of supply chain management;

o   not taking enough trouble to contact her for comment; and

·         asked to publish Maki’s version of her “role” in the procurement of the material.

The text should:

·         be published:

o   on the top part of the same page as that used for the offending article;

o   online as well, if the offending article was carried on the newspaper’s website;

  • start with the apology;
  • refer to the complaint lodged with this office;
  • end with the sentence, “Visit www.presscouncil.org.za for the full finding”; and
  • be approved by me.

The headlines should contain the words “apology” or “apologises”, and “Maki”.

Appeal

Our Complaints Procedures lay down that within seven working days of receipt of this decision, either party may apply for leave to appeal to the Chairperson of the SA Press Appeals Panel, Judge Bernard Ngoepe, fully setting out the grounds of appeal. He can be contacted at Khanyim@ombudsman.org.za.

Johan Retief

Press Ombud