Tshepo Motiki vs Mail & Guardian


Thu, May 21, 2020

Decision to Adjudicate

Complaint 4512

Tshepo Motiki vs Mail&Guardian

Headline: Mystery surrounding Free State website deepens

Date of article:  March 12, 2013

Author: Staff Reporter

Complaint

Mr Motiki complains that an article, published in 2013 in the M&G, mentions him in a negative manner in a way that has adversely affected his career.

He says although the article was some years ago, the mention of his name has been detrimental to his professional standing.

He had asked the M&G to remove his name from the online version of the article, but this it has refused to do.

The then Public Advocate engaged the M&G in late 2019, but the paper refused to accede to this request.

The Public Advocate explained that the complaint was out of time.

Mr Motiki then appealed to the Ombudsman to overrule the PA’s decision to dismiss the complaint.

The article

The article dealt with a tender awarded to an IT company, the Letlaka Group.

It quotes DA provincial leader Patricia Kopane saying: “We are in possession of proof dating back to 2009 showing blatant corruption between the premier’s office and this company.”

The company, which built the “contentious” website for R40 million, “was paid tens of millions of rands for work that was not properly put out to tender.”

This included the management of Free State premier Ace Magashule’s 2009 state of the province address; an advertising contract awarded to the Weekly newspaper, allegedly owned and run by Letlaka, without going to tender, a  R300 000 monthly contract for printing and distribution of government marketing material, and a R12 million annual amount for a local TV station managed by Letlaka that broadcasts to public buildings and institutions in the Free State.

Ms Kopane claimed that “99 percent” of Letlaka’s money comes from the Free State provincial government, and that the company was building a “propaganda” machine for Mr Magashule.

The article says: “Questions remained about who evaluated and approved the tenders for the website.”

It quotes an online publication, ITWeb, saying that “the Free State’s chief information officer Tshepo Motiki – the official assumed to have responsibility for providing ICT oversight in the department – was on sick leave since March 2012 but continued to receive his full salary.

According to the website, the Free State government earlier said Motiki was a member of the bid evaluation committee but Motiki denied that he was responsible for analysing the costs of the website.”

It records that when Mr Motiki was contacted for comment on the awarding of the tender, he “referred questions to Free State spokesperson Mondli Mvambi.”

The article also reports that minutes from the government information technology officer’s council of the Free State showed that the provincial government website was discussed extensively last year. (in 2012) “Despite the obvious questions about the cost, usability and security of the site raised by industry experts over the past week, minutes from January showed that the integrated website project was ‘considered as concluded and removed from the agenda’.”[1]

The article then goes on to examine the credentials of another company, Ikamva ICT, which won the bid to develop the Free State online website.

The arguments

Mr Motiki has appealed to the Ombudsman to adjudicate the complaint on the grounds that “My name is being referenced in the article and this is creating the impression that I had something to do with the awarding of the  Free State Provincial Government website tender. I formed part of the panel and only provided technical expertise. I didn't recommend any company for awarding nor suggested any company.”

He said the newspaper referenced the article from ITWeb which has since retracted its article. “It is only fair that M&G edit me out of their article as this has been retracted by the source ITWeb.

“I have dealt with Mail and Guardian before regarding this matter and they refuse to edit their article. This has resulted in a detrimental effect to my career as the article seems to read as though I had something to do with scandalous awarding of the tender.”

The Public Advocate tried to assist Mr Motiki by asking the M&G to remove the reference to his name from the article, as the ITWeb, which was its source, had done so.

However, the M&G refused to do this.

Complaints Procedure

The Complaints Procedure of the Press Code states, in section 1.3, that “a complaint shall be made as soon as possible, but not later than 20 working days after the date of publication giving rise to the complaint.

It adds that the Public Advocate “..may on reasonable grounds accept late complaints if, in his or her opinion, there is a good and satisfactory explanation for the delay.”

Section 1.8 of the Procedure states that a complainant, whose complaint has been declined by the Public Advocate, may “with full reasons, request the Ombud to adjudicate the complaint..

Decision

While I am sympathetic to Mr Motiki’s feeling that his professional standing may be adversely affected by being named in an article about possible tender corruption, I also feel he does not conclusively show that the article put him in particular in a bad light.

It mentions him only fleetingly to say that he had been on sick leave at the time, even though his department was tasked with oversight of ICT contracts for the department of the Premier.

It also describes him as the official “assumed” to have responsibility for ICT oversight but does not say this was indeed the case. (it cites this assumption on the basis of the article on ITWeb, but this article has since been removed.) [2]

The reporter also contacted him for comment, and he denied that he was responsible for the website, which comment was recorded.

He referred questions to the Free State spokesperson Mondli Mvambi.

Moreover, the minutes the M&G cite where the decision to award the tender was concluded show that he was absent from the meeting.

But more importantly, this complaint was filed six years after the article was published.

Although the Public Advocate and the Ombud have accepted late complaints before, those complaints are days or weeks late. To accept a complaint six years after the apparently offending article was published shows a lack of urgency on the part of the complainant. To accept such a late complaint, the reasoning would have to be very cogent that a person’s reputation had been injured egregiously and beyond repair.

I cannot find this to be the case here.

For those reasons, I must agree with the acting Public Advocate and decline to adjudicate this specific complaint.

Appeals Procedure

The Press Council’s Complaints Procedure, clause 1.8, stipulates that if either party is not satisfied with the Ombud’s decision to decline to adjudicate, they may appeal to the Chair of the Appeals panel, Judge Ngoepe within 7 working days. He can be reached at khanyim@ombudsman.org.za

Pippa Green

Press Ombudsman

May 20, 2020


[1] As a matter of interest, I checked the attendance register of the minutes from January 2013, and it records Mr Motiki as having tendered an apology: http://www.gitoc.fs.gov.za/restricted/minutes/attendance%20register/20130115%20Pgitoc%20attendance.pdf

[2] http://www.itwebafrica.com/ict-and-governance/267-south-africa/230708-year-long-paid-sick-leave-for-free-state-government-cio