The Lottery, the law firm and the minister: more questions than answers

We have uncovered hundreds of millions of rands worth of corruption and maladministration over three years, but no one has been brought to justice

By GroundUp Editors

27 July 2021

Minister of Justice Ronald Lamola. Source: Department of Correctional Services

We told the story last week of how law firm Ndobela Lamola Inc was commissioned to investigate corruption at the National Lotteries Commission (NLC) and how it failed to do its job – three times. We explained how the firm failed to spot obvious forgeries, failed to analyse financial statements properly, and failed to interview a key witness.

The firm submitted three incompetent reports. This is not just our view. It was the view of the Minister of Trade, Industry and Competition (at the time) Rob Davies and his successor Ebrahim Patel when they, in effect, rejected the reports.

When two of those reports were compiled, Minister of Justice Ronald Lamola was one of Ndobela Lamola Inc’s two directors.

In response to our article, the NLC and Ndobela Lamola Inc published a joint statement that starts off by defending Minister Lamola, saying that he had no role in the investigation. They then made irrelevant claims and accusations of factual inaccuracy about things we did not even say.

The statement raises more questions than it answers:

  1. Why has a public entity, the NLC, issued a joint statement — whose main purpose appears to be to defend a Cabinet minister — with a private law firm that it contracted to investigate it? Surely each of these three entities is responsible for explaining their own roles?
  2. The statement doesn’t refute anything we wrote. It excuses the failure to spot forged documents and faulty financial statements by stating that the investigation was not a “forensic” one. But Minister Davies and Minister Patel referred to it as a forensic investigation and this was never denied. The investigation included an analysis of a hard drive, which implies it was forensic. Besides, the word “forensic” merely indicates that the investigation was supposed to be meticulous and scientific.
  3. The statement says: “Furthermore, the amount of money that is alleged to have been paid to the law firm for the reported investigation is incorrect.”
    But we did not say how much the law firm was paid for the investigation. As we very clearly stated, the firm was paid R19 million over four years, some of which would have been for the investigation. Why won’t the NLC or Lamola Inc say how much the investigation cost?
  4. We and two ministers have shown how the investigation was badly bungled. Ndobela Lamola Inc presumably made money from the investigation. Will it return the money it was paid?

No justice

We have been publishing stories of corruption involving the NLC for three years. Not a single one of the people implicated has been arrested or charged. The NLC’s Chief Operating Officer Phillemon Letwaba, who is mired in allegations, was effectively suspended for 17 months on full pay but he is back at work. (The bungled Ndobela Lamola Inc investigation cleared Letwaba.)

What we have reported about corruption and maladministration involving the Lottery is the tip of the iceberg. It appears to us that the corruption at the NLC is many times more than the hundreds of millions of rands we have thus far reported on, and that this has been going on for a very long time, involving networks of patronage for people one or two steps removed from the highest echelons of power.

Why has the justice system failed to act against corrupt NLC actors? Are they being protected?

Since publishing our story we have been informed by several sources that Minister Lamola is a friend of Letwaba. In his own response to us, Lamola has confirmed that they are “acquaintances” but emphatically denies any wrongdoing or interference with investigations of the NLC while he has been minister.

We want to believe the minister. But why are there so many unanswered questions — about corruption at the NLC, the lack of progress bringing the lottery crooks to justice, how much the Ndobela Lamola Inc investigation cost and why it went so badly wrong?

Here is the response by the NLC and Ndobela Lamola Inc to our report.