E19.7 fraud scandal hobbles ETA, Delays CEO contract renewal

By Ntombi Mhlongo

The dragging investigation into the multimillion fraud at the Eswatini Tourism Authority (ETA) involving E19.7 million is haunting the incumbent Chief Executive Officer, Linda Nxumalo and threatening her job. The alleged fraud at the organization was discovered almost two years after she joined the ETA. Nxumalo was appointed to the position of CEO in December 2020.

ETA Chief Executive Officer, Linda Nxumalo

The Eswatini Financial Times has reliably gathered that a forensic audit of the company discovered that the fraud dated back six years and was masterminded by the deceased Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Gcinithemba Fakudze who died in 2020, the year on which the alleged fraudulent activities were unearthed. It was also discovered that the fraudulent acts had been going on for some years way before Nxumalo’s arrival at the institution.

According to our sources close to Nxumalo, the non-closer of the matter is making life difficult for the CEO regarding executing her duties because she is often dragged to inquiries to answer on the fraud matter. 

Most recently she was grilled by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) which wanted her to provide answers on the same fraud matter. The PAC bashed Nxumalo for failure to produce receipts of the E19.7 million expenditure and unaccounted-for petty cash amounting to E300 000. 

Another reliable source close to Nxumalo shared that the CEO was recently hauled before the ministry’s Disciplinary Tribunal to answer on allegations of suspected fraudulent financial statements, notwithstanding that the statements were accepted by all parties concerned. 

Due to the dragging of the fraud investigation which is currently in the hands of the police and the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), the Eswatini Financial Times has established that it is stifling the renewal of her contract. Nxumalo’s first three-year contract would be expiring in a couple of months and was supposed to have got a renewal as per the approval of Cabinet, but she has not.

Strikingly, Nxumalo is being tormented by the fraud despite her commitment to rid the organization of any fraudulent acts.   This publication has gathered that in an effort to get to the bottom of the alleged fraudulent activities committed under the watch of the deceased CFO, Nxumalo sought the assistance of both the police and ACC to launch a full investigation into how the money belonging to the public company was fraudulently stolen. 

 In May 2021, both the REPS and ACC reportedly acknowledged that the case was reported and was under investigation.

However, 17 months down the line, there has been no breakthrough and instead, the CEO is subjected to the torture of having to provide answers before relevant structures such as the PAC. 

The Eswatini Financial Times has established that Nxumalo arrived at the parastatal when it was facing serious challenges of over-expenditure and was receiving a backlash for not having conducted statutory audits.

To correct this, this publication has reliably learnt that Nxumalo conducted the statutory audits for six financial years and reports were compiled and submitted to the relevant parties

The CEO, the Eswatini Financial Times sources say she also acted promptly in requesting the Board to fill the position of the CFO after the demise of the incumbent.

Our investigations have uncovered that Nxumalo presented a request for approval to the Board for initiating the recruitment of a CFO, following Fakudze’s demise.

It has been reported that in February 2020, she raised the concern that this department was understaffed and had one person running the operation of the finance department something which she felt was 

not proper since there was no segregation of duties and exposed ETA to a lot of risks. 

The CEO also made a request for the appointment of a temporal staff member, to assist to address potential risks in the department,” reads part of the minutes.

It is said that the CEO requested the Board to invite Kobla Quashie and Associates to present the last audits they performed and present their submission on the alleged forgery of audited financial statements for five years beginning in 2015.

Kobla Quashie and Associates is said to have presented in detail what happened when they last performed the audit for ETA and this included a questionable E1.9 million which relates to staff loans. From this amount, the late CFO had a loan of E980 000, the then CEO had a loan of E390 000, the former Marketing Manager had a loan of E277 000 and the remainder of about E235 000 was for the rest of the staff,” the minutes state.

It was highlighted that Kobla Quashie then presented all fraudulent items in the reports including those signatures, including that of the then Board chairperson, were forged.

The reports were reportedly obtained by Kobla Quashie from the Public Enterprise Unit (PEU).

The Eswatini Financial Times has gathered from reliable sources that the issue is now unnecessarily delaying certain activities including the renewal of the CEO’s contract.

Instead of her contract being renewed, as per approval by Cabinet, the CEO is said to have now and again been subjected to being called to provide answers on the alleged fraudulent activities and the delay in the investigation by both the REPS and the ACC is not making her life better.

When we reached out to her to ascertain if she had received any feedback on how far the investigation of the fraud has gone from both the police and ACC, the CEO asked not to comment saying she did not want to interfere with the investigation.

Meanwhile, both the ACC and the REPS could not provide feedback on the progress made as far as the investigation is concerned.

ACC’s Jabu Phakathi said, “The law prohibits the disclosure of information or details of any person who is subject of an inquiry or investigation by the ACC, and this is contained in the Prevention of Corruption Act, 2006. Therefore, we neither confirm nor deny investigating ETA”.

The REPS, through Chief Police Information and Communications Officer Superintendent Phindile Vilakati, did not respond to a questionnaire from this publication.

A question was sent to Vilakati on Monday but she has not responded by the time of compiling this report despite several reminders from this publication.

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