North West premier: I was only the 'postman' for R50 million payment to SA Express

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The SA Express proposal would cost the North West provincial government R110 million to subsidise flights for the first year alone. (Pic: KGOTSO MODISE)
The SA Express proposal would cost the North West provincial government R110 million to subsidise flights for the first year alone. (Pic: KGOTSO MODISE)
  • Professor Job Mokgoro, the premier of the North West province, testified at the Zondo commission on Thursday.
  • He was the acting director-general in the office of the premier when he signed off on a payment of R50 million to SA Express in March 2015.
  • A proposal by SA Express for R110 million to provide airlift was accepted by the provincial government, even though another proposal was for just R4.7 million.


The decision to pay R50 million to SA Express by the government of the North West province was made by the "decision makers" as a priority project and he was just the "postman" in the process, the Zondo commission into state capture heard from Professor Job Mokgoro, the premier of the North West province.

Mokgoro, who made his first appearance at the commission on Thursday, signed off on the payment in March 2015 when he was the acting director-general in the office of the premier. 

The money came from a fund of R132 million at the office of the premier, to which all provincial departments were asked to contribute from their own budgets. The money was ringfenced for projects including those relating to enhanced safety and food security.

The North West government had identified SA Express as the preferred service provider in plans to revitalise airlift to and from the province, starting with the route between Mahikeng and Johannesburg.

The SA Express proposal would cost the North West provincial government R110 million to subsidise flights for the first year alone in what was supposed to be a five-year contract.

The second highest bid would have cost the provincial government only R4.7 million.

The only reason given for choosing SA Express, contained in a report from the provincial department of community safety and transport management, was because it is a state-owned enterprise (SOE) and not profit driven.

Mokgoro said he recalled that it was one of the reasons given and he admitted that it did not make sense to go with the R110 million SA Express proposal rather than the R4.7 million one.

Hindsight

"Maybe in hindsight I should have gone back to the exco to say their decision is uninformed, but that was not my space," he told the commission.

Already in 2019 evidence was given to the commission about a contract between SA Express and the government of the North West province relating to certain routes to be established between airports in the province and other destinations in SA.

The payment of the R50 million was the first payment made to the state-owned regional airline.

In his affidavit, Mokgoro links the payment to projects referred to in an inaugural state of the province speech delivered in June 2014.

At the commission, he, however, admitted that no mention was actually made in that speech regarding developments at the Mahikeng and Pilanesberg airports, but about general development and rejuvenation of Mahikeng.

In August 2014, six airlines were invited to Sun City to make presentations to the province. Mokgoro did not attend this meeting, although he was aware of it, he said.

Asked whether he was aware of whether any tender process was followed or a request for bids issued before this meeting in August 2014, Mokgoro said it would have been the task of the procurement department to embark on that, and that one of the priority projects identified was development at the Mahikeng airport.

Evidence leader advocate Kate Hofmeyr put it to Mokgoro that the first time reference to the resuscitation of the airports appears is not in the state of the province speech, but in a planning document from October 2014.

Mokgoro said he was aware of procurement processes undertaken from a report by the procurement department to the executive council.

Prior evidence

Prior evidence at the commission alleged that no proper process was followed in terms of the invitation to the airlines to make presentations and there was no invitation to tender.

Mokgoro testified that, in terms of procurement processes, departments are supposed to follow, at face value, and under "normal circumstances" the invitation to the six airlines would not have been in line with procurement processes. He admitted during his testimony that an open tender should have been followed.

According to Mokgoro, as far as he can recall, it is his understanding that in discussions between the provincial treasury and provincial department of community safety and transport management, unused monies were identified, which could be used for plans to reinstate flights.

In his view, this was not contrary to the broad policy aims of the provincial government.

According to Hofmeyr, she has not seen any document recording any such discussions.

Mokgoro responded that, at a practical level, the monies remained part of the particular departments' budgets. They were just pooling the funding. He admitted that it was an "unusual arrangement".

"The reason why checklists are needed are to prevent a situation where people, for ulterior reasons, would want to advance certain parties to enrich themselves, not so?" Hofmeyr asked Mokgoro.

To this, Mokgoro responded that he wishes the exco was sitting where he was sitting.

"Treasury had discussions with the department and the exco decided the money must go there," said Mokgoro. "The letter I got said it was for my urgent attention and processing, so this shows the decision makers had decided to make the funds available and I must authorise the payment."

Instruction

For Mokgoro, the use of the instruction "process" meant the payment was authorised.

"I did not authorise the payment, I processed it," he said.

What is of concern for Hofmeyr, is that the R50 million was taken out of ringfenced funds marked for projects, like safety and infrastructure, and put towards a government subsidy so flights could come to the province.

Also on Thursday, Nontsasa Memela, former head of procurement at South African Airways Technical, was called again to supplement her testimony from February this year.

This was after testimony by a supplier in August this year that Memela benefitted to the tune of R2.5 million from a fraudulent deal. Memela denies the allegations.


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