Cape Town – Acting chief procurement officer Willie Mathebula "categorically denied" reports alleging that he had met with the finance ministry to discuss the restructuring of his office and the revision of his powers.
The Office of the Chief Procurement Officer briefed Parliament’s standing committee on finance on Wednesday about its performance in the past financial year. Democratic Alliance spokesperson David Maynier asked Mathebula to elaborate on an alleged meeting between him, Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba and Deputy Finance Minister Sfiso Buthelezi.
City Press reported on Sunday that Mathebula had met with Gigaba and Buthelezi to discuss the restructuring of his office and its functions. If the finance ministry’s proposed intervention goes ahead, it could see the chief procurement officer's powers significantly diminished.
This could mean that state departments will no longer need permission from National Treasury to deviate from contracts, as long as the head of a specific entity believes the deviation is warranted.
Parliament heard on Wednesday that in this financial year alone, deviations to the value of R37.6bn were approved. In addition, there were expansions and variations on existing contracts amounting to R42.2bn.
“I dispute the content (of the news report) with the contempt it deserves,” Mathebula said when prodded by Maynier for a second time.
Earlier in the briefing, he said the information in the news report was “inaccurate”.
“I have never met the minister or the deputy minister as an individual, but we have met as a team of the Office of the Chief Procurement Officer before I started acting (as chief procurement officer).”
Mathebula was berated by members of the portfolio committee for giving a sub-standard presentation and not being able to answer questions sent to his office by Parliament.
MPs wanted to know the details of contracts pertaining to the deviations – specifically from Eskom and the South African Revenue Service - as well as the particulars of investigations into procurement irregularities by South African Airways.
The chief procurement officer could not provide details during the briefing, but undertook to submit a full report to the committee detailing all deviations from contracts in excess of R10m.
“I apologise to members for giving a 'substandard’ presentation,” Mathebula said. “It was never specified what this committee expected from the Office of the Chief Procurement Officer.”
Mathebula has been acting chief procurement officer since September 1, replacing Schalk Human who became caretaker procurement head after former chief procurement officer Kenneth Brown left the position in December 2016.
Human's removal was met with considerable criticism. Maynier called the move a "victory for state capture".
Human, however, pointed out in an interview with Fin24 that he was not forced out and that Gigaba had advertised his position shortly after taking office at the end of March 2017.
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