Protector: IEC reckless with public funds

Pretoria - Advance payments amounting to R1 653 215.46 were made by the IEC to Abland for the Riverside Office Park premises, Public Protector Thuli Madonsela has found.

"Adv [Pansy] Tlakula's explanation that the amounts were part of a 50% deposit for the fixtures and movables forming part of the turnkey solution is not contradicted by evidence," said Madonsela at a media briefing in Pretoria on Monday.

Tlakula is the chairperson of the Independent Electoral Commission.

"It is of grave concern that this is part of the procurement that was done in contravention of the contract between Abland and the commission... which required that the procurement of these be subjected to an open market," said Madonsela.

She found no evidence that R22m was paid by the commission in March 2010.

"An amount of R22 603 374.00 was approved as an amount for the fitting out budget in respect of the second addendum between the Riverside Office Park Trust and the commission... This amount was to be rentalised over the period of the lease."

Allegations

Madonsela had investigated allegations made by United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa, including suspected irregularities in the procurement of the Riverside Office Park, the validity of lease agreements entered into by the commission, and various payments to Abland.

There were further allegations of a conflict of interest between Tlakula and Parliament's finance portfolio committee chairperson, Thaba Mufamadi, who is chairperson of Manaka Property Investments which owns a 20% stake in Abland by virtue of their co-directorship in Lehotsa Investments (Pty) Limited.

Madonsela said allegations about a romantic relationship between Tlakula and Mufamadi were not investigated as they were not backed by anything tangible.

She said the whistleblower employee denied the allegation when interviewed by the protector.

On request from Mufamadi, Madonsela omitted details about the alleged romantic relationship.

IEC paid R6m for empty office

Madonsela also found that over R6m was paid for the IEC's old offices that stood empty between October 2010 and July 2011.

"It is correct that an amount of R6 753 880.42 was paid in respect of the 260 Walker Street lease," said Madonsela.

"However, the said amount was refunded to the Independent Electoral Commission on 21 February 2012, without interest."

She said evidence indicated that the financial loss to the commission in terms of interest was, among other things, because of the absence of a termination clause in the lease agreement.

This could be described as "haphazard handling of the move, and possibly reckless use of public funds", the protector said.

Madonsela was releasing a report on an investigation into allegations of maladministration and corruption relating to the procurement of the Riverside Office Park to accommodate the head offices of the IEC.

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