Public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane is reportedly considering whether to investigate Western Cape premier Helen Zille following allegations that she put pressure on officials to kick-start her son Paul Maree’s business.
Emails seen by the Sunday Times show the provincial government allegedly rushed to ensure that Maree and his business partner, Chris Mills, had the use of 150 new tablets in their business, Paper Video, which offers video lessons in science subjects.
Her son reportedly approached the Western Cape government to run holiday workshops for matric students in 2014.
In one of the emails to Brent Gerber, director-general in the premier’s office Augi de Freitas reportedly said the request for information for the tablets was issued with the shortest advertising time frame possible and would be evaluated as “a matter of urgency”.
The email was reportedly forwarded to Zille, who thanked Gerber for “all the efforts to this ready by the holidays, to the benefit of students”.
“That is what Paul and Chris were aiming for and worked day and night for eight weeks to be ready in time. I am keen to encourage that level of dedication wherever it raises its head,” Zille was quoted as saying in the email.
However, Zille and Schafer reportedly insisted this week that nothing “untoward” happened as the tablets were issued to Maree in his capacity as a teacher at the Centre of Science and Technology in Khayelitsha.
She further said her son had not started his company at that point and was offering his services for free.
A report reportedly prepared by the directors of the company, registered in February 2015, said the aim of the workshop was “to jointly test the viability of the Paper Video platform and the use of tablets, provided by the Western Cape education department, in an educational context.”
“I addition, the workshops were also used as a showcase to create awareness around Paper Video’s products and services,” Sunday Times quoted the report as saying.
In an interview this week, Maree’s business partner reportedly said the duo realised they needed ” a lot of students” to use the resource but could not remember how they went about applying for the department’s help.
Schafer also said he did not recall who Maree and his business partner approached and in what manner.
However, ANC MPL Cameron Dugmore is having none of it as he has reportedly laid a complaint with the public protector, saying it was clear Zille’s conduct and that of her senior “boosted” her son’s business, denying other service providers an opportunity.
“While there is no evidence at this stage that Paper Video received payment from the government, they gained unfair advantage because of nepotism and abuse of normal procurement procedures,” he was quoted as saying.
The public protector’s office had not yet made a decision to investigate the matter.