Armscor bosses fiddle specs

2012-02-16 00:00

THE acting CEO of Armscor and a top manager illegally tampered with a technical oversight report for a multi-million rand contract to upgrade its training planes, witnesses claim in sworn testimony.

The training planes are also used by its famous Silver Falcons aerobatics wing.

The accused pair — acting CEO Sipho Mkwanazi and Mike Matibe, a general manager at the time — also persuaded another executive to sign the fiddled report, which they then convinced the Armscor board to sign off on, the witnesses claim.

Not even the Armscor board is entitled to change a technical report on tenders. The technical report assesses whether the tenderer is capable of meeting the requirements of the contract. The 2007 tender was for a R10-million upgrade to the navigation systems for the Pilatus planes which the airforce use as training aircraft and which are also used by the Silver Falcons, the aerobatic display team of the air force.

The upgrade contract went to Switzerland-based Pilatus, the original suppliers of the plane although more than a dozen other companies had pitched for the business.

Witnesses during arbitration proceedings in a CCMA case said critical technical criteria were changed to allow the contract to be awarded. There is no suggestion of illegal activity by the company Pilatus.

Evidence suggests the Armscor executives were under pressure to get a deal concluded for the airforce.

The details of the Pilatus tender report and contract are now classified, insiders say.

The witnesses are four Armscor employees who testified in the constructive dismissal case brought by Dr Ben van Tonder, former general manager of the technical insurance division, which oversees technical details of military tenders, to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA).

Van Tonder, who has a doctorate in physics and a masters degree in engineering management, resigned from Armscor in October 2007, claiming his position had become untenable due to interference — including the tampering with the report incident — by his seniors in his division, among a raft of other issues.

His case is still ongoing through the Labour Court, although he won his case at the CCMA on two separate occasions, where commissioners seemingly accepted the evidence of those who described the report-tampering incident. Their evidence also formed part of a Labour Court hearing.

The witnesses testified in the CCMA hearing how Mkwanazi (then still a general manager) and Matibe (an acting general manager) unilaterally changed the technical tender document by adding paragraphs to it.

In his testimony, Pierre Meiring, senior manager for acquisition and business planning, condemned changes, saying: “Such a step would seriously compromise Armscor’s audit ability.”

The tampering was done while Van Tonder and another staff member in his department, who wrote the report, had been on leave, the witnesses said.

The evidence suggests Mkwanazi and Matibe had received an electronic version of the report and had changed it.

Afterwards they had instructed an acting manager to sign the changed document, which was then presented to the board for it to award the contract. Former Armscor chairperson Popo Molefe said he was not aware that the tender document had been changed and also was not aware of Van Tonder’s grievances. The Witness, however, has a copy of the letter containing the grievances which had been sent to Molefe and to which he reacted. One of the commissioners who considered Van Tonder’s case said that Van Tonder had been treated in an “inhumane” and “shocking” manner which was “unknown in terms of modern standards”.

Mkwanazi and Matibe did not reply to repeated requests for comment.

Daphney Chuma, Armscor’s spokesperson, did not respond to e-mail or telephone messages.

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