From offender to chef's assistant: Prisons readying for Bosasa kitchen exit

2019-02-27 19:33
Pollsmoor Prison. (Picture: Supplied)

Pollsmoor Prison. (Picture: Supplied)

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Prisoners are already "stirring the pots" at 26 kitchens run by African Global Operations (AGO), but soon more will become chef's assistants, meat cutters and confectioners as the Department of Correctional Services readies itself to cut ties with the controversial company.

"Based on risk rating and readiness to take over kitchens, [we] can say confidently at this point chair, that all our kitchens are ready to be served and serviced by correctional services officials as we speak," said correctional services commissioner Arthur Fraser on Wednesday.

Speaking at Parliament's portfolio committee on justice and correctional services, he said the department is capable and willing to take over from AGO, formerly known as Bosasa.

"So there is at this point no imminent risk of collapse within the department," said Fraser. 

On February 22 the department gave the company notice it would cancel its contract amid allegations of corruption made by its former COO Angelo Agrizzi to the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture, and after AGO went into voluntary liquidation. 

The notice of cancellation came as some banks said they would cut ties with the company.

Fraser said the department is currently identifying already-trained department officials to be used as managers, supervisors and rations clerks. Offenders are being "upskilled" for kitchen work to be ready for when the contract ends in March. Job shadowing will also take place. 

There seemed to be confusion over who owned the kitchen equipment, with Fraser saying it belonged to the department according to an audit, but a committee member pointing out that the department had been told previously that it belonged to AGO.

Fraser said part of its transition strategy was to prepare legally for a challenge over who owns the equipment.

Fraser said eight contracts were given to Bosasa/AGO since 2004/5, but there have been multiple extensions and expansions which came to a total of R7.1bn.

Since November 2018 the department has written to AGO to ask it to provide reasons why it should not be placed on a database of restricted suppliers.

Six officials mentioned during Agrizzi's testimony have received notices to allow them to respond to the allegations, and all but one provided explanations.

Fraser will discuss their submissions with them over the next few weeks to obtain further details and decide what to do.

The department is also talking to organised and recognised labour about the coming changes and, if necessary, might have to bring certain skilled staff in on contract for positions that cannot be filled internally. 

There has been no decision yet on hiring AGO employees once the contract ends, following the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union's request regarding this. There is a possibility of some being brought in on 12-month contracts if necessary, according to the written submission Fraser referred to during his presentation.

READ: Popcru calls on correctional services to absorb Bosasa employees

"The department is capable, able and willing to provide the service that is required," he said.

Fraser's document for the committee outlines how the department is handling the transition of nutrition services from contractor to in-house.

It stated that the risks of not having proper food services in prison include possible riots and instability among inmates, as well as poor nutrition.

AGO currently provides services to 46 434 inmates at 26 prison kitchens - that is, for 29% of the around 162 000 offenders in 239 correctional centres in South Africa. 

These are: 

  • Five kitchens at St Albans in Eastern Cape;
  • Four kitchens in Gauteng, including Johannesburg prison, four at Kgosi Mampuru in Pretoria, one in Krugersdorp and three in Modderbee;
  • Six in KwaZulu-Natal at Westville Prison, and;
  • Three in the Western Cape at Pollsmoor.

The department has also successfully insourced two kitchens at Groenpunt after a contract with Ukweza Holdings ended on January 31, 2019. 

The "war room" it has set up for the transitions, has a "work stream captain" to make sure things run smoothly, and to deal with disruptions. 

Treasury is being consulted to ensure cost-effectiveness, and catering services for the 26 kitchens are in place to be ready immediately, in case services are terminated within 24 hours.

The department also has the go-ahead to procure a training provider for the development of chef's assistant, baking and confectionery and meat cutting courses.

The actual training of offenders will start on March 6, so that inmates can prepare food under the supervision of other inmates.

Regions have also been told to start procuring stock reserves of perishable and non-perishable food to sustain operations during the transition.

Many MPs wanted to know why the department had not been doing its own kitchen work all along.

Justice Minister Michael Masutha said the contracting of services was in line with the Jali Commission's recommendations in 2001.

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Read more on:    bosasa  |  michael masutha  |  arthur fraser  |  state capture inquiry

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