Blunder costs SA R10m EU contract

2010-05-21 15:33

Cape Town - Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) chairperson Themba Godi reacted with disbelief on Friday on hearing how a careless blunder caused the loss of a R10m development contract with the European Union.

The EU had donated R10m to the Civil Society Advocacy Programme (CSAP) under its programme for reconstruction and development, but the money was recalled when a tardy official failed to sign the contract on time.

"Here is money that is supposed to empower people and we lost it because a date is set and somehow a person does things on their own time," he said in Parliament during an interrogation of the Office of the Public Protector on its annual report.

"One of the lessons here is that if there are projects which must be administered, you need to make sure you have people who are seriously minded... who don't take their national responsibility lightly."

R600 000 penalty

The three offices involved in the CSAP, the Commission on Gender Equality, the Office of the Public Protector and the SA Human Rights Commission, agreed to a three-way split of the R600 000 penalty that had to be paid to the EU for the failure of the contract.

Public Protector officials at the Scopa hearing "could not recall" the name of the CSAP official who failed to sign the contract.

"Here we are with a R200 000 liability, just because someone missed a date," Godi said.

"It is these kinds of things that reflect very badly. It is almost childish."

Themba Mthethwa, the chief executive of the Public Protector's office, said all three charter nine institutions were sued for R1m by the EU after the contract was not signed.

"We had a fall out with one of the service providers and three of us were sued," he said.

"The matter has been settled. All three institutions and the plaintiff signed an agreement late last year."

"The amount involved was just over R1m. We settled at R600 000. Each chapter nine institution agreed to pay R200 000."

No explanation

Mthethwa said the Public Protector was being represented by former acting CEO Shirley Thoke on the CSAP board, but that she had resigned before being able to explain why the R200 000 liability had to be incurred.

"She resigned before we could get an explanation," said Mthethwa, who was replaced by Thoke in October last year after being suspended by former Public Prosecutor Lawrence Mushwana.

Mthethwa, whom Mushwana accused of failing to disclose that he had been investigated by his previous employer - the South African Local Government Association - for alleged tender irregularities, returned to his position earlier this year.

Deputy Public Protector Mamiki Shai said she had wanted to take action against Thoke over the CSAP affair but that she was prevented from doing so by Mushwana.

"In as much as I wanted to take disciplinary action against this employee, I could not do it without the blessing of the Public Protector," she said.

"It was only once the previous Public Protector left that I could take action on this matter."

Shai said it had been difficult to get things done during Mushwana's tenure.

"All previous staff were reporting to the previous Public Protector. There was no room for me as the deputy to operate."