Former Free State HOD questioned over property investment deal with businessman Edwin Sodi, Newsline

Johannesburg – A former head of department at the Free State human settlements department faced tough questions regarding a R60 000 home investment deal he entered into with Edwin Sodi, a businessman who had a contract with the provincial government at the time.

Nthimotse Mokhesi, a former official at the Free State department of human settlements, took the stand at the Zondo commission on Monday.

He headed the department in 2014 when a controversial asbestos tender worth over R250m was awarded to a joint-venture between Blackhead Consulting and Diamond Hill Investments.

Blackhead Consulting is owned by Sodi, who appeared before the inquiry in August. Diamond Hill was owned by now-deceased businessman Ignatius Mpambani, who was gunned down in Sandton in 2017.

The awarding of the contract has been deemed questionable on various grounds.

Evidence heard at the inquiry showed that the two companies were appointed through an extension of a Gauteng asbestos tender which Blackhead Consulting was part of.

At the time, Blackhead was one of eight companies that were appointed to assess asbestos roofing in government houses in Gauteng. The company was paid over R200m to assess 250 000 housing units for asbestos.

The Free State department of human settlements used this panel appointment of Blackhead Consulting in Gauteng to seek an “extension” of the contract for use in the Free State.

When Sodi appeared at the inquiry he admitted that he never disclosed to the department that his company was not certified to handle asbestos.

He also admitted that he never disclosed that the tender would eventually be subcontracted twice.

The original work for the project was completed by a second sub-contractor for R21m compared to the R255m payment received by Blackhead and Diamond Hill.

Mokhesi told the commission on Monday, that in hindsight the department did not entirely get value for money on the project.

He also admitted that he could have done more as the head of the department to ensure that background checks on the certification of Blackhead were above board.

He also conceded that Blackhead would have never been appointed if the issue of certification had been placed up front.

“I have made an introspection. I accept that I could have done better. There is a level of responsibility that I take. I am not completely saying it is on me, I am stating the facts and I have not denied that what was happening was irregular,” Mokhesi said.

Mokhesi also faced tough questions regarding a R600 000 investment deal between himself and Sodi. The deal enabled Mokhesi to purchase a R1.6m house in Bloemfontein.

The former official could only afford R1m towards the home and the other portion of the funds were supplied by Sodi.

This transaction took place through a trust fund of which Mokhesi is a trustee. He told the inquiry that he has been residing in the house since 2015 and that the deal was an investment in the property between him and Sodi.

This investment deal took place while Sodi’s company was still receiving payments from the Free State provincial government related to the asbestos tender.

Mokhesi said he saw the partnership on the property as a “commercial agreement” between himself and Sodi.

When asked, by the evidence leader advocate Paul Pretorius, whether he had publicly disclosed the deal Mokhesi said he did not, but he had disclosed his membership as a trustee of the trust fund the property was registered under.

Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo questioned Mokhesi on the ethical implications such investment between him and Sodi would have.

Advocate Dali Mpofu, for Mokhesi, interjected at various times during proceedings fearing that Mokhesi would incriminate himself.

Following Mpofu’s objections, Mokhesi provided an answer which did not deal with the ethical implications. He insisted that at the time he had only seen the transaction as commercial.

“This was a commercial transaction, inviting someone to invest with you on commercial terms. It was purely commercial,” he testified.

Political Bureau