Sipho Mabena

By Sipho Mabena

Premium Journalist

Real estate regulator staff went to Ghana to ‘learn to please God’ at taxpayer expense

An independent investigation found the public servants learnt about the '12 gates of the soul', among other things, but picked up nothing about the property industry.

The Estate Agency Affairs Board (EAAB) paid more than R80,000 for a manager and a board member to attend a conference to learn “to please God” in Accra, Ghana, with a further R363,000 paid to lawyers for disciplinary proceedings that led to no action against the perpetrators.

The EAAB regulates the estate agency profession through ensuring that all persons carrying out the activities of an estate agent as a service to the public are registered with the EAAB.

An independent investigation into the Ghana trip, which was not approved by the board and taken despite a moratorium on international travel, concluded it had no benefit for the entity but ended up costing the taxpayer nearly R450,000.

This included advocates’ fees for the disciplinary proceedings, including that of the entity’s then acting boss, Nikita Sigaba, who was fired last year for irregularly approving the trip.

Disgruntled staff have questioned the lack of action against chair of the transformation committee and board member Eugenia Kula-Ameyaw for attending a conference hosted by a “Christian-based” institution in Ghana between 12 and 17 March 2018.

This despite the board’s recommendation to then human settlements minister Nomaindia Mfeketo that action be taken against Kula-Ameyaw and that she pay back the money for the trip.

Accompanying her was the entity’s transformation manager, Mandisa Shirries.

According to the report of an independent investigation into the trip, the objective of the course attended by the duo was for a “Kingdom Mindset”, with presentations on topics including “12 gates of the soul” and “pillars that govern self-belief system”.

The report further read that a Kingdom Mindset was “absolutely necessary if we want to live a life pleasing to God”.

The investigation concluded that the conference had no benefit to the EAAB, and that no report of the trip had been tabled and discussed at the transformation committee.

“We could not identify specific elements in the conference that were directly linked to the real estate industry … the objective of the course and (terms of reference) of the transformation committee indicates that it is difficult to draw direct parallels … We thus conclude that the expenditure incurred also meets the definition of fruitless and wasteful expenditure,” the report said.

A senior staff member, who did not want to be named, said nothing had been done, though the matter was finalised last year, with clear recommendations.

“This report was submitted to the department [of human settlements] in April last year … nine months later and no action, no pay back the money. Why is there no action, though so much money has been paid?” the staffer asked.

Kula-Ameyaw defended the trip, saying it was not illegal and was condoned by the board as per the 2018/19 audited financial statements in the annual report.

She said bringing this matter up was part of a strategy by the current chief executive officer, Mamodupi Mohlala-Mulaudzi, which she claimed included suing her for defamation of character to derail the board and Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu’s investigation.

She said she had her own ticket to attend but arrangements were made by the EAAB for them to attend the “Transformation and Nation Building” since it was aligned to her function as the transformation chair.

“Is it not strange that the board tried to use the same issues to remove me because I wrote to the minister on 5 October 2019 about the CEO violations? There is a document exposing that secret plan by the CEO using the board to remove [me] from the board, so when they realise they don’t have power now, [the] media court is used,” she replied in a series of WhatsApp messages.

The action taken so far

The EAAB confirmed the investigation into the Ghana trip in April last year concluded the trip was unauthorised as there was a moratorium on international travel at the time and no permission was sought.

Spokesperson Bongani Mlangeni said this was corroborated by the internal auditors, as well as the auditor-general.

“[The board] instituted disciplinary action against the former CEO [Nikita Sigaba] for irregularly authorising the trip. It further issued a demand to Kula-Ameyaw to repay the funds. The funds have to date not been repaid, which constitutes a further violation by Kula-Ameyaw,” he said.

Mlangeni said this was being followed up as it was a matter flagged in the auditor-general’s report and classified as irregular expenditure.

He said the board had submitted a detailed report to the then minister of human settlements Nomaindia Mfeketo as the relevant authority that appoints board members and that it was the minister’s prerogative to take action against Kula-Ameyaw.

Human settlements department spokesperson Xolani Xundu did not respond to a question about the delay in taking action against Kula-Ameyaw, only that then CEO Sigaba was found to have had no authority to approve the trip.


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