A review by the director-general of the department of transport into allegations of Covid-19 procurement irregularities found no evidence to support claims that companies owned by people linked to senior managers had benefited.
Director-general Alec Moemi told City Press that, as the accounting officer, he personally verified that all procurement processes were in compliance with the required legal prescripts.
Because public transport posed a major risk in terms of the spread of the Covid-19 virus during the national state of disaster and the lockdown period, the department even had a responsibility to supply material to minibus taxi operators.
An unsigned memorandum circulated by disgruntled employees in the department – addressed to the office of the Public Protector – had contained claims that the department had spent up to R80 million on procuring personal protective equipment, the bulk of which went to companies hand-selected by officials, including Moemi.
It was further alleged that an unnamed company owned by the ex-husband of the director for supply chain management, Reinette de Villiers, was among those awarded contracts. The whistle-blowers also complained that key personnel in the public transport branch were deliberately sidelined from the process.
Last week, Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula dismissed these allegations, as well as ones that he had appointed some people unlawfully, as “unsubstantiated” and “malicious”.
Moemi said on Tuesday that the amount spent by the department on Covid-19-related procurement was only R30 million and “nowhere near” the claimed R80 million. He said the funds were spent on personal protective equipment for the department, the sanitisation of the building, and the provision of sanitisers and other necessities for the taxi industry and public transport as a whole.
He said that, following City Press’ enquiry last week, he had checked whether the allegations that had been made were substantiated.
“As the accounting officer, I also have a responsibility to check all the processes in this regard, and I have done so,” he stated.
Moemi said he could find no evidence that the public transport branch had been excluded. Records showed that managers in the branch had approved the submissions that had been made. Secondly, he said, all checks – including of Treasury’s central supplier database and the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission – were combed for evidence that De Villiers’ ex-husband owned a company that received a contract. The search had come back negative.
Regarding the alleged “dodgy process” to select suitable companies and allegations that officials brought their own lists, Moemi explained that, during level 5 of the national lockdown period, there had been a shortage of personal protective equipment, which forced Treasury to open the market to other service providers besides those on the list with whom it had secured a transversal tender.
Treasury had said that any other company that had stock could be contracted, provided it was registered on the central supplier database, that its prices were comparable with (or less than) those of the transversal tender and that its tax affairs were in order.
Consequently, companies started marketing themselves to the department. All of them had been referred to the supply chain unit, which had to follow through and determine whether each company qualified, based on the criteria determined by Treasury, he said.
“So there were no competing lists that have emerged. In fact, all lists went into one single pot of all companies that came, irrespective of which avenues they used. Some of them dropped company profiles and details in envelopes at our reception; others made calls directly to the office of the minister; some made calls to the office of the director-general and still others made calls to our communication section,” said Moemi.
He stated that no company had been dismissed and the process had been “done in a transparent manner, openly and without any coercion or prescription that only specific companies could be utilised”.
He added that the department only bought personal protective equipment during level 5. Subsequently, provincial departments bought materials through their own processes.
Moemi said that, for its part, the central department procured supplies using two different processes: it had first used the quotation model, in which the cheapest company was preferred, and had later switched to the multiple award system, in which companies that provided the cheapest price per line item were selected.
“Consequently, regarding allegations that there may have been wrongdoing or differentiations of process, we don’t deny that the process was differentiated, but it was differentiated to benefit the department, not to harm it.
“We believe that, with this process, we were able to save more money.
“We were also able to spread resources and ensure that more companies got something out of the procurement process, instead of having just one company,” explained Moemi.
He said the Auditor-General had questioned the appointment of Lawrence Venkile as the adviser to Mbalula – which had happened before his arrival at the department – and the matter had been resolved when Public Service and Administration Minister Senzo Mchunu approved the appointment last month.
Venkile had agreed to pay back the money he received between June and August, as he had started working before Mchunu approved a request Mbalula had sent him in June.
City Press also saw SMS messages from at least three people mentioned in the memorandum as being victimised by Mbalula and Moemi, in which they distanced themselves from the allegations.
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