The SA Police Service (SAPS) bought the wrong forensic cameras for R92 million in a deal involving a retired senior officer, it failed to take steps to set the defective decision aside, and it did not bother to defend a R24 million lawsuit for breach of contract – which was settled without a single camera being delivered.
The costly blunder has been put on former acting top cop Khomotso Phahlane’s head, whose version of events is that he was under suspension when his successor, General Khehla Sitole, allegedly authorised the settlement.
Ethemba Forensic Group, a company in which retired SAPS brigadier John Lambert was the national head of sales, did not deliver the high-end panoramic cameras because supply chain management had accepted its bid with incorrect specifications, and the forensic services division, then headed by Phahlane before he acted as national commissioner, refused to pay.
City Press understands that the spherical cameras that Phahlane’s forensic services division had asked for in the bid specifications are similar to the one that was used to recreate the crime scene in the case against convicted murderer and Paralympian Oscar Pistorius.
A National Treasury recommendation that an independent assessment be conducted to verify if the cameras would be able to provide the required service was also seemingly ignored, according to records of the dispute.
City Press could not confirm the information as police spokesperson Vish Naidoo did not respond to questions sent to him on Tuesday.
Other options available for the police at the time included a court application to “set aside the defective decision”, but a recommendation was made that the SAPS wait for Ethemba’s summons while, at the same time, go ahead with Treasury’s advice to get an independent expert assessment of the cameras.
Phahlane last week said the dismissal sanction against him over the Ethemba contract was on hold and Sitole had not confirmed it.
‘Challenge the merits’
On Thursday, Phahlane appeared before the Johannesburg Labour Court to challenge the merits of the disciplinary process and the handling thereof by the SAPS.
The court reserved judgment until Tuesday.
Internal police documents show that, last year, during the arbitration process to settle the dispute, the SAPS did not submit any defence for its case and did not have any representative attending the hearings, resulting in the awarding of R24 million plus interest to Ethemba for expenses incurred by the company as a result of the breach of contract.
Ethemba, which in 2014 won the bid to the value of R92 million, sued the SAPS two years later when a purchase order was not forthcoming because forensics wanted the deal withdrawn on the grounds that Ethemba allegedly submitted incorrect information that its cameras met the bid specifications.
According to internal police documents, the contract with Ethemba was signed on July 28 2014 for the supply and maintenance of 93 units of “360° panoramic cameras”, of which 65 were scheduled for delivery in the first year and the remaining 28 the following year.
The agreement included maintenance for a three-year period.
Forensic technology supplier Forensic Data Analysts, which was the runner-up bidder, raised objections to the contract, arguing that its product was the only one that matched the bid specifications.
But Lambert disagreed, saying in a February 2016 letter written to divisional commissioner for supply chain Lieutenant-General GJ Kruser, who was the deputy chairperson of the bid adjudication committee, that their cameras not only met but exceeded expectations.
“It is recommended that the contract issued to Ethemba Forensic Group on the panoramic 360° camera be withdrawn since the bid offer was misleading and not compliant with the specifications,” wrote Phahlane.
The forensics division argued that the type of camera supplied by Ethemba allowed for manipulation and therefore created the risk that evidence could be rejected in court on the grounds that it could have been compromised.
They also noted that there was no competent expert representing the forensics division when the bid evaluation team, led by Brigadier TD Magagula, went on site at Ethemba’s offices to test the equipment.
In addition, forensics was of the view that Ethemba did not have the capacity to provide the requisite 24-hour support services.
In September 2016, Treasury recommended that the SAPS approach the SA Bureau of Standards and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research for an independent assessment, which Phahlane, then acting as national police commissioner, approved by November the same year.
Suspended for fraud
In June 2017, Phahlane was suspended with immediate effect following claims by the Independent Police Investigative Directorate to Parliament that he was interfering in the directorate’s investigations.
The former top cop was also facing fraud charges stemming from a 2016 tender worth R86 million for a blue lights tender.
In documents relating to the arbitration between Ethemba and the SAPS, it was noted that the SAPS was “unable to furnish any instructions or to provide any evidence to counter the merits or the quantum of [Ethemba’s] claim”, and “did not have any representative that attended any of the hearings”.
Thus a settlement was awarded in favour of Ethemba.
Sitole authorised the settlement amount in July 2018 and signed off the payment in May last year, according to documents that City Press has seen.