Last week as Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula summoned the navy to explain an allegedly dodgy R52 million tender, another contract in the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) came under the spotlight owing to an error in a bidding process.
Mapisa-Nqakula gave the navy until November 15 to respond to the alleged “disturbing revelations” pointing to “possible corruption and irregularities” in the contract awarded for the maintenance and repairs of operational mechanical equipment.
The allegations were contained in a letter her office received last week from United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa, in which he claimed that the contract had “ballooned to more than R52 million” and that the winning bidder, RA Govender CC, was not tax compliant at the time of awarding.
In Pretoria this week, a tender for an electronic document management system contract had disgruntled supply chain personnel up in arms amid allegations of interference by senior management in the SANDF, including defence intelligence.
Defence spokesperson Siphiwe Dlamini told City Press that there had been an error in the bidding process for the mentioned R39 million contract.
Dlamini said the functionality evaluation process was restarted because an “incorrect team” had presided over the task.
He did not explain how the wrong people ended up getting involved in the awarding of the tender, only saying that the governance, risk and compliance process picked up on the error and the re-evaluation process was meant to remedy that.
However, whistle-blowers who leaked internal documents in the defence department’s procurement unit disagreed, alleging that the re-evaluation was done to advantage the winning bidder, Optiflex, because “the first evaluation process was compliant and should not have been restarted”.
Treasury documents presented in Parliament in September last year showed that the defence department had requested a deviation to extend the contract of Optiflex for the supply of the same services from May last year to April this year.
The department submitted to Treasury that the company had “in-built security capabilities that can be customised”. Treasury granted conditional support for the deviation, valued at R45 million.
The new tender, advertised in June this year following the expiry of the deviation arrangement, offered a one-year contract to supply the department with hardware as well design and supply software, and commission wireless technology until next year.
Three companies – DataTech Solutions, Zendafor and Optiflex – complied with the mandatory criteria and proceeded to the functionality evaluation.
According to leaked internal documents, Optiflex scored 91% for functionality during the re-evaluation, while Zendafor scored 60% and DataTech scored 58%.
Both DataTech and Zendafor were disqualified for not meeting the minimum threshold of 70%, according to a document signed by the secretary of the evaluations committee.
Whistle-blowers said in the initial evaluation process DataTech had scored in excess of the required minimum 70% threshold and therefore should not have been disqualified.
Dlamini said “the evaluation was objectively and independently conducted by different teams without referencing to the previous evaluators”.
“All the bidders who qualified for this evaluation phase lost points, including Optiflex, and a detailed evaluation report was consolidated,” he said.
He dismissed allegations of interference from senior management, saying the only “instruction [to the new evaluation team] was to conduct the evaluation objectively, independently and not base their process on the previous evaluation process”.
“Defence intelligence has no role in the awarding of tenders, other than security screening of the shortlisted or winning bidders prior to a contract being awarded,” said Dlamini.
While insiders said Optiflex did not have the required security clearance to continue supplying services to the defence force, including managing sensitive information, Dlamini said “security clearance is not part of the standard bidding documents”.
“As far as our process is concerned there were no reports of irregularities to warrant remedial action. According to our records, there were no negative reports or any reports relating to dissatisfactory performance of Optiflex.”
A similar tender in Simon’s Town was planned, but abandoned midway because “there were no funds available,” said Dlamini.
Optiflex declined to comment last week, saying it was “not at liberty to address any of your questions as a matter of principle and out of respect for our clients’ confidentiality”.
However, said the company, “the fact that we do not respond herein to any of the arguments, comments, allegations or contentions [made] should not be construed as an admission by us as to the validity or veracity thereof”.
Optiflex strategic accounts director PV Ntlantsana said the company had “no insights into the department’s internal tender adjudication processes or any documentation emanating from such processes”.
“We deny any suggestions or insinuations that Optiflex influenced the outcome of the department’s decision or otherwise participated in any irregularities.”