Sascoc tender that wasn’t

2012-06-23 00:00

SOUTH Africa’s Olympic president Gideon Sam misled the public about a lucrative communications contract awarded to media firm Highbury Safika Media (HSM).

In April, Sam, president of the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc), said on Radio Today and DStv that HSM had tendered for the contract, speculated to be worth more than R12 million, but this month Sascoc admitted after an access to information request by Media24 Investigations the contract did not go out to tender.

The admissions have sparked questions over why Sascoc, the official representative of the country’s sports codes and which, according to its latest available annual report, is a beneficiary of nearly R12 million in taxpayer funding and nearly R50 million in lottery funding, falls outside government procurement laws.

A director in the firm, Mark Keohane, resigned his job as publishing director and as HSM’s appointed spokesperson for the Olympic team last month following allegations about drug abuse and sexual harrassment of female colleagues.

HSM is contracted to run and populate Sascoc’s website and publish the quarterly magazine Road to London 2012.

Asked by Sportsfire host Graeme Joffe whether Highbury had tendered for the contract, Sam said: “They did. They did.” (See sidebar for full comments)

However, Sascoc’s Jean Kelly, a manager in CEO Tubby Reddy’s office, told Media24 Investigations: “This matter was not put out to tender and we are not obliged to do so, but we conducted our own investigations and were satisfied with the good track record of [Highbury], and thereafter arrived to an agreement to the satisfaction of both parties.”

In the radio interview, Sam explained that Sascoc had decided to appoint a media partner in 2008 because people didn’t know what Sascoc was.

Kelly’s contradiction of Sam’s account came after Media24 Investigations filed an access to information appliction to see the contract.

She also revealed that Sascoc had “afforded HSM the right of first refusal” for communications for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Sascoc this week gave Media24 Investigations limited access to parts of the contract.

Sascoc staff members showed us four agreements and paged swiftly through, only pointing out the names of parties and some part of the terms of agreement. What could be gleaned from the bits of the four-year contract that were revealed was that most of the value would come from HSM and Sascoc splitting net advertising revenue from its website and the magazine over the term of the deal.

Sascoc is funded largely by the Department of Sport and Recreation and the National Lottery, yet as a not-for-profit company it is not bound by government procurement rules as specified in the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA).

Paena Galane, spokesperson for Sport and Recreation, said the department advised Sascoc to use its “preferential procurement policy” and said it was subject to sanction if it didn’t comply with this policy.

Senior advocate and sports administrator Norman Arendse said Sascoc, as the main interface between sports federations and government, should be governed by official procurement rules, especially as it is funded by taxpayers’ money.

Richard Mdakane, chairperson of the portfolio committee on sport and recreation, said he was not aware of the contract between Sascoc and Highbury Safika, but the manner in which it was awarded was not in line with good governance.

“I am aware that Sascoc is not a government parastatal or entity, but everyone assisted by government should account according to existing legislation, which in this case is PFMA.

“Government cannot take a hands-off approach and should insist that all federations follow good governance practices,” he said.

Sam said he could not recall precisely what he had said on radio, and said it had never been his intention to mislead the public.

Following repeated attempts to get comment from HSM, the company responded with a lawyer’s letter requesting that we not contact them again and threatening to report us to the Press Ombudsman.

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