Phineas Legodi vs. The Citizen


Mon, Mar 18, 2019

Particulars

Date of article: 4 December 2018

Headline: Mokonyane made me do it, says official in dodgy Giyani water project

Author of article: Alex Matlala

Respondent: Earl Coetzee, news editor

Complaint                                            

Northern Water CEO Phineas Legodi complains the story falsely stated that Matlala had interviewed him.

This implies that he complains about all the quotes ascribed to him – including that he had carried out illegal instructions from the then Minister of Water and Sanitation, Nomvula Mokonyane.

He emphasises that he has never received any unlawful instructions from the Minister, and adds that the journalist was well-informed about the issue at hand (which made his reportage of this matter even worse, he argues).

Legodi adds that the reportage has unnecessarily damaged his dignity and reputation, as well as those of Mokonyane.

The text

The story quoted Legodi as saying he had proof “beyond any shadow of a doubt” that he merely implemented instructions from Mokonyane to illegally appoint a company on the Giyani Bulk Water project, which saw a waste of R2.2-billion of taxpayers’ money.

Northern Water is a state-owned water utility responsible for bulk water supply in Limpopo.

The special investigating unit (SIU) reportedly revealed that the process of appointing a new service provider (LTE Consulting) was flawed and questionable, contravening Lepelle Northern Water’s policy and Treasury regulations.

The journalist quoted Legodi as saying: “I have not done anything out of the ordinary. All I did was to implement a directive from my boss… I am sitting here with a directive from my boss. I am an employee here and Mokonyane is my superior. Had I ignored her directives, I would have been charged with insubordination. I am not just bluffing. I have proof beyond any shadow of a doubt that all I did was implement instructions from above… I am not scared. Soon, I will be making my presentation to the standing committee on public accounts in Cape Town. When the time is right, everyone will see that I am innocent.”

The arguments

Coetzee says on December 1 last year, Matlala phoned Legodi to solicit comment from him about the findings of the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) on the Giyani Emergency Water Intervention project. “This after media reports claimed part of what the SIU found in its investigations to the project was that the appointment of the service provider delivering the project by the Lepelle Northern Water was flawed and questionable,” he explains.

The calls went unanswered. However reverted the call after a few hours, proof of which could be traced from Vodacom.

Later, he says he told Legodi that he was doing a story about the project (Giyani Water Project). Legodi indicated he was prepared to give the reporter an interview after he shall have presented his case before the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) the following week. However, he says he told Legodi that the story was expected to be diarised the following day.

Legodi then replied that he:

·         was innocent and maybe the reportage would help him clear his name; and

·         only followed instructions when appointing a service provider (adding that he had proof thereof).

The journalist says he asked Legodi if he was not scared to spill the beans as that could cause a wedge between him and the minister, to which he replied: “I am tired of shielding people and I want everyone to know that I am innocent in all this.

He adds that, after the interview, Legodi sent him two text messages emphasising some of the points he deemed important in the interview.

 

According to Matlala, Legodi’s only concern afterwards was the use of the word “illegal” to refer to the order he was given. “He asked that we rectify that, which we did in the following story in which we quoted him as saying he was simply ordering a directive, and that he did not believe it at the time to have been illegal,” Coetzee says.                            

Analysis

One screenshot recorded Legodi as writing: “Lepelle acted on the basis of an emergency directive from minister mokonyane. The scope and costs of the work was determined by the department. Lepelle simply implemented the project and oversaw the execution.”

I have evidence of a second screenshot in which Legodi again communicates with the reporter regarding this matter.

Even more convincing is a copy of the journalist’s notes, that recorded nearly word for word as presented in the article.

I have seen quite a number of fake notes during my term as Ombud, which spanned over nearly a decade – and I am willing to give the journalist the benefit of the doubt on this issue. Although he could have fabricated the notes afterwards, I guess – hence some doubt – it looks more probable to me that that was not the case.

It follows I cannot uphold the complaint that Matlala never interviewed Legodi in this regard – the correspondence, as well as the notes, show there was quite a few times some form of interaction between the two on this matter.

I therefore also believe that the quotes are genuine, and that the newspaper did not unnecessarily tarnish Legodi’s reputation and dignity.

Finding

The complaint is dismissed.

Appeal

The 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