Powerful people are using State money to silence us – whistleblower Lehloma Ramajoe

Powerful officials are abusing State funds to silence those who try to expose corruption. That has emerged from an interview with a member of a group of whistleblowers who have suffered five years of hell after they were targeted, had charges preferred against them – and ultimately lost their jobs. Speaking to BizNews, a former Senior Manager at the Services Sector Education and Training Authority (SSETA), Lehloma Ramajoe, details the corruption and irregularities they blew the whistle on; paints a grim picture of the current state of this SETA; and blames the inaction by Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande on his “questionable relationship” with the SETA and a particular official. While he is still fighting the government in the Labour Court, Ramajoe warns prospective whistleblowers to be ready for a “long battle with powerful people that are using State money to fight whistleblowers”. Still, he vows to keep exposing wrongdoing “because I don’t believe that any evil can ever prevail over good”. – Chris Steyn

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Highlights from the interview

Powerful officials are abusing State funds to silence those who try to expose corruption.

That has emerged from an interview with a member of a group of whistleblowers who have suffered five years of hell after they were targeted, had charges preferred against them – and ultimately lost their jobs.

Speaking to BizNews, a former Senior Manager at the Services Sector Education and Training Authority (SSETA), Lehloma Ramajoe, says: “we exposed a number of things: supply chain corruption, senior executives were appointed without proper qualifications, the building of skill centres that became white elephants, a number of other things that includes just financial irregularities…we were vocal about corruption, we could not be…corrupted.…

“Several times they tried to persuade me to sign invoices from people who had not done anything, who were contracted. I mean, in my department, for instance, I had two projects. One of them was 150 million and the other one was 157 million.

“During the implementation of those projects, they appointed several companies to do project management. On some of these things, managers could do those things. They are just administrative issues, but they had given those people those contracts. And when I refused to sign some of these invoices, I was then called several times by the former CEO to establish why I was refusing. But I then said, no, I’m not going to confirm things that I don’t have evidence on. I don’t want to be implicated in these things. And I think that’s when it started…”

He paints a grim picture of the current situation at the Services SETA. “… since I left there, that SETA has got – for five consecutive years – a qualified audit. 

“And the executives that we exposed were appointed without qualifications, are still there.  And the Public Protector was just misled because they just moved them in between posts, but at the same level. And one of those executives was recently appointed as acting CEO. 

“And I found that to just be a middle finger shown to either the Public Protector or the Portfolio Committee on Higher Education.

“That SETA should have been saved…but it has never survived since we left. In fact, it is in the worst state than it was before.”

Ramajoe also details the “questionable relationship” Minister Blade Nzimande has with that SETA and one official in particular – and blames that for the minister’s failure to step in. “And still now, we have not seen any action from the minister.”

Asked if he feels the sacrifices made by the group have been in vain, he says: “I honestly believe that whistle blowing in South Africa is a useless exercise. Whistle blowers are not protected. And I will tell you why. This whole thing that everyone is equal before the law that you find in the Constitution does not work for whistle blowers. Because once you are dismissed for whistle blowing, you are going to spend your money, you’re going to spend your pensions to fight these powerful people who are using State money against you. I mean, Services SETA has spent, I can safely say, more than 7 million rand on my case. And I’ve spent a lot of money on my case. And still now there’s nothing that has happened.”

However, he adds: “I can tell you, the wheels will turn very slow because external media and people who hate corruption like all of us are fighting. And I can tell you, our time is spent fighting left, right and centre, exposing these things. We are not going to stop exposing these things ourselves because I don’t believe that any evil can ever prevail over good.”

Meanwhile, Ramajoe has this advice for prospective whistleblowers: “I wouldn’t say people must stop exposing corruption. But my advice is that when you do that, you must be sure and get ready for a long battle of powerful people that are using State money to fight whistleblowers. That you must be ready for…I cannot lie to you and say that it will work for you. It might work for the bigger good, but you are going to struggle as a whistleblower.”

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