South Africa: NLC Commissioner Misleads Parliament - Again

Dodgy lawyer paid millions in Lottery grants while also doing legal work for NLC

Last year Thabang Mampane, the Commissioner of the National Lotteries Commission (NLC), told Parliament that lawyer Lesley Ramulifho had last rendered services to the NLC in about 2014.

But in March she gave an answer to Parliament indicating his firm has been paid over R5 million much more recently.

This period coincides with the time that Ramulifho's organisations received tens of millions of rands in dodgy NLC grants.

The Commissioner of the NLC has misled Parliament once again, this time in a written reply to questions that contradicted her earlier response about a controversial lawyer who has received at least R60 million in dodgy Lottery grants.

In July last year, Commissioner Thabang Mampane said in her response to a question posed by DA MP Mat Cuthbert: "Ramulifho Inc. or Lesley Ramulifho is not on the NLC panel of attorneys. Ramulifho Inc. has rendered legal services for labour related issues to the then National Lotteries Board now the NLC. This was approximately around 2014, prior to the advent of the panel of legal service providers."

But Mampane contradicts herself in a response in March this year to a second series of questions posed by Cuthbert. His questions included requesting details of all lawyers and legal firms, and payments they received, for work done for the NLC in the 2016/17, 2017/18, 2018/19 and 2019/20 financial years.

Included in the list she provided is Ramulifho Inc, Ramulifho's law firm, which Mampane says was paid R5,402,346 during this period.

The payments also all fall in the period that the organisations associated with Ramulifho were funded.

In her latest response to Parliament, Mampane also revealed that the NLC's legal costs had risen dramatically between the 2016/17 financial year, when it spent almost R13.4 million, to over R30.5 million spent in 2019/20.

In addition, Mampane revealed that audit firm SkX, which was hired by the NLC board to investigate alleged corruption involving Lottery grants, was paid R36.5 million in the 2020-21 financial year. The outcome of this investigation has never been made public.

"The Legal and investigations budget was reviewed to take into account [the] Special InvestigationsUnit [that is] underway as well as the SkX Investigation commissioned by the NLC Board," Mampane said in her answer.

Mampane also revealed that Ndobela Lamola Inc - which had earlier been commissioned by the NLC to investigate the Denzhe Primary Care grant - had been paid over R19 million over the past four financial years. It is not clear how much of this was for the Denzhe investigation.

Ramulifho and the NLC

A dossier involving several Lottery-funded organisations associated with Ramulifho, compiled by independent investigators appointed by Trade and Industry minister Ebrahim Patel, was handed to the Hawks in September last year. Ramulifho's office was also raided by the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) late last year as part of an investigation into NLC corruption.

The funded organisations include Denzhe Primary Care, a hijacked NPO used to apply for Lottery funding for a drug rehabilitation centre near Pretoria. Despite receiving R27.5 million, the rehab facility has never been completed.

I Am Made For God's Glory, another NPO controlled by Ramulifho, received a R11.4 million grant for a new sports stadium in Limpopo. But only minor renovations to an existing stadium were done, in spite of the multi-million rand grant.

GroundUp has also previously revealed how Ramulifho used Denzhe as his personal ATM and also used R5 million of the funding intended for the rehab to help pay for a luxury home in a gated "country estate" near Pretoria.

A joint investigation by amaBhungane and GroundUp revealed how, in 2014, Ramulifho was given a "watching brief" by the then National Lotteries Board - now NLC - after chief risk officer Bathabile Kapumha was sidelined.

Ramulifho's role - which included liaising with the Hawks and making decisions on investigations into alleged corruption involving Lottery funding - was revealed after Kapuma laid a grievance against Mampane and former NLC board chairman Alfred Nevhutanda.

The details were revealed in a report compiled by attorney Trevor Bailey after he was asked by the board to conduct an investigation into Kapuma's allegations. At the heart of Kapumha's grievances were allegations that Nevhutanda, Mampane and others interfered in the functioning and independence of her risk unit, whose job it was to check the applications of potential beneficiaries of lottery money.

The report sets out how in 2013 Kapumha found major irregularities in applications for funds for arts, culture, heritage and environment projects. According to Bailey's report, there were certain investigations, some of which involved grants to nonprofits involving senior ANC politicians, which Kapumha believed ultimately led to her being first rebuked and then suspended.

Kapumha, subsequently suspended, left the NLC.

The report, delivered in October 2015, was subjected to fierce attack by Nevhutanda, largely on procedural grounds, resulting in its effective neutralisation.

Ramulifho failed to respond to a request for comment sent via WhatsApp and to two different email addresses he uses.

Previously mislead Parliament

We previously reported how Mampane had told Parliament in January 2020 that a Minstrel Museum, which received R13 million in Lottery funding, had officially opened on 24 September 2016. But as recently as three months ago it was yet to open its doors.

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