Ngaka Modiri Molema District Municipality vs Sowetan

Complainant: Ngaka Modiri Molema District Municipality

Lodged by: Mokgele Mojaki

Article: “R2.4m for tents and chairs” in Sowetan, published on 20 June 2013. The story was carried on page 2, headlined R2.4m spent on short gig – Cash to pay for marquee, chairs, tables.

Author of article: Olebogeng Molatihwa

Date: 3 September 2013

Respondent: Sowetan

COMPLAINT

The municipality complains about a front page headline “R2.4m for tents and chairs” in Sowetan, published on 20 June 2013. The story was carried on page 2, headlined R2.4m spent on short gig – Cash to pay for marquee, chairs, tables.

He complains that the story inaccurately and misleadingly stated that:

  • the Ngaka Modiri Molema municipality was set to spend R2.4-million to pay for an event that would last only a few hours;
  • proper tender and procurement procedures were not followed; and
  • photograph of the tent was not the one that the municipality used for the event.

The first bullet mentioned above also goes for both headlines.

ANALYSIS

The story, written by Olebogeng Molatihwa, said that the municipality was going to spend R2.4-million “to pay for a marquee tent, chairs, tables and decorations for an event that will last only a few hours” for the delivery of the acting mayor’s state of the district address.

Paying millions, for a few hours

The story said that the municipality was set to spend R2.4-million to pay for an event that would last only a few hours.

The municipality complains that this information is false. In later correspondence with this office and in response to several questions, the municipality says that the event cost R1.3-million.

However, Sowetan did provide me with the document that it used as a basis for its story. This document is dated 3 June 2013 and headlined Submission for the proposed State of the District Address for IDP/Budget 2013/14 Financial Year. An amount of R2.376-million was submitted for approval by Ms Lehlohonolo Matsose, the communications manager. The budget was approved and signed by Mojaki himself on June 4.

I am slightly worried that the story reported R2.4-million, while the real amount was R2.376-million. Newspapers should be exact – if not, the word “approximately” would do. However, in this case I do not think that the difference between the two amounts is material enough for me to make a finding against the newspaper on this issue.

Procedures not followed

The story said that the municipality did not follow proper tender and procurement procedures in spending this money.

Mojaki complains that this is untrue. He says that the story tarnished the municipality’s good name and argues that the distorted story “can even reasonably and possibly spark an uninformed service delivery protest”.

Sowetan replies that Matsose sent an urgent request to Mojaki “for the release of the funds outside the normal tender processes”.

Mojaki denies that this is true, as Matsose was part of the committee established to arrange the meeting – and says that a draft budget from the steering committee was submitted to him for approval (which was later granted).

He adds that:

  • the Supply Chain Management Unit of the municipality was engaged to source quotations for the procurement of such goods and services – which they did; and
  • the quotations submitted by different service providers did not go beyond the threshold of R200 000 as stipulated in the Supply Chain Management Policy – which did not require the municipality to engage in any tendering process (as alleged by the story).

However, in the document mentioned above Matsose asked Mojaki to approve the “deviation from normal supply chain processes” and to allow closed tender processes. Mojaki approved this recommendation. The document also explicitly stated that the threshold of R200 000 will be exceeded.

Wrong tent

The story was accompanied by a picture of a large marquee tent. The caption read: “Expensive: Troubled Ngaka Modiri Molema district municipality in the North West has reportedly spent million on a marquee tent and decorations without following tender processes.”

Mojaki complains that this picture was misleading and says that he is in possession of pictures of the “original tent that was set up during that event”.

Sowetan says that the picture in question “showed a marquee for illustrative purposes, not the actual marquee of the event in question”. It adds that it has already published a clarification in this regard.

I agree with Mojaki – the picture and caption certainly left the reader with the misleading impression that this huge marquee tent was the one that was going to be used for the event.

However, I also appreciate the fact that the newspaper has already corrected this matter. Under these circumstances it would serve no purpose to ask the newspaper to correct this matter again.

Headlines

The headlines reflected the content of the story, as required by the Press Code.

FINDING

The complaint is dismissed in its entirety.

APPEAL

Our 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 Adjudication Panel, Judge Bernard Ngoepe, fully setting out the grounds of appeal. He can be contacted at Khanyim@ombudsman.org.za.

Johan Retief

Press Ombudsman