Useless Board, useless Minister and useless CEO

A little over a month ago The Bridge published corruption details at the eSwatini Tourism Authority (ETA). We reported at the time that ETA had not submitted Audited Financial Statements for years now and that the organisation was in a financial sinkhole.

The Auditor General had also found a number of financial irregularities and misappropriation of taxpayers' funds at the organisation. A few months later, the Chief Executive Officer, Linda Nxumalo, has found new scapegoats by suspending junior staff while the board that has presided over an organization beset by financial scandals sits pretty.

Worse still, Minister of Tourism and Environmental Affairs  Moses Vilakati refuses to take action and ducks questions from this publication on what he is going to do to enforce accountability at the organisation. Surely, someone more senior than junior staff must take responsibility for the mess that is ETA.

Even more shocking is that the board has refused to appoint a forensic audit to thoroughly investigate the organization and on the basis of the foresnic audit then suspend staff or lay charges. Board Chairperson Nomsa Mabila refused to comment to this publication when asked about measures that the board will take against the CEO who has, through either commission or omission, allowed the organization to be in such financial paralysis.

Instead of starting with a full forensic audit, Nxumalo roped in the police and Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) officials to investigate junior staff and is now using them as a scapegoat for her own failings. Already there are accusations that Nxumalo is being treated with kid gloves because her husband is Nhlanhla Nxumalo, the Principal Secretary at the Home Affairs Ministry while Sizakele Dlamini, the Principal Secretary at the Ministry of Finance, is her sister.

The Bridge has now discovered that there is a high level of cover up being orchestrated by some government officials hence Minister Vilakati’s muted response to the crisis at ETA. It is not fair to claim that Nhlanhla and Sizakele have played any role in the cover up at ETA but tongues are already wagging why such a well publicised scandal has seen neither board nor CEO face any consequences.

The Bridge investigations have unearthed more scandals. For example, executive managers at the organisation contribute to pension fund without that money being taxed and that such pension is not in their contracts.

We have also discovered that when ETA moved from Dlanubeka to its current offices the board approved a budget of E270 000 but the organization ended up paying more than half a million. The board has not demanded answers from the CEO about this. The late former Chief Financial Officer, Gcinithemba Fakudze, was making illegal payments to known accounts complete with the CEO’s signature yet all blame is now apportioned to him and no one is asking the CEO why she was signing these cheques.

In December 2020, the current CEO and the former CFO gave each other a loan of E15 000 without following any procedures. Investigations by this publication is that ETA paid an undisclosed amount to a company trading as Treasure Island without following procurement procedures.

Between November 2019 to December 2020 the former CFO transacted about E1.8m to just one account. Even more shocking is that last year December ETA spent E500 000 as advertisement on DSTV in South Africa. Even more controversial is that this was at the height of the coronavirus pandemic and most countries on lockdown.

The question Minister Vilakati and board Chairperson Mabila refused to answer is what exactly was ETA advertising when everyone was on lockdown? 

We would have expected Nxumalo to act on the findings of a forensic audit and not to rush to bring police and ACC officials to target junior officials at ETA. What about the person on top of the organization who has allowed a whole public enterprise to be implicated in such scandals? Why is the Board not acting on a CEO?” wondered a highly placed source.

It is indeed interesting why the Minister of Tourism has refused to act on the ETA board or the CEO. Several calls were made to him and he refused to pick his phones while messages were left on his WhatsApp and he did not answer. This was the same stance taken by Mabila. Meanwhile, at least two junior staff members have been suspended and no forensic investigations initiated despite a damning Auditor General report.