Judge Raymond Zondo, the chair of the state capture inquiry, expressed surprise on Friday when he heard that top executives at state-owned freight rail company Transnet could choose to keep tenders secret up until they were awarded.
The inquiry is investigating allegations of state capture, corruption and fraud.
Peter Volmink, Transnet's executive head of governance, testified that when a Transnet contract was classified as confidential it could bypass much of the usual oversight process.
"It's quite a strange thing in a state-owned entity – somebody who says there are certain contracts which will be regarded as confidential, but we are not saying which ones. What are the criteria for confidentiality? asked Zondo. "[The contracts] could entail a lot of taxpayers money."
Volmink said there was a real financial danger to keeping tenders secret.
"This concern is not an abstract academic concern, it is rooted in the real experiences of the organisation. It created huge risk for the organisation at the time."
He said the company's current board had removed the power to classify tenders as confidential, which had originated from the company's previous board.
In response to questions by Zondo, Volmink said that once a tender was awarded, the confidentiality lapsed, as a request for proposal had to be sent to the successful bidder. "It's very strange," said Zondo.
Volmink had previously testified that procurement at the state-run freight rail operator had been "something of an aberration" since 2016. Popo Molefe, meanwhile, the chair of the company's board, said on Tuesday that former Transnet top executives Brian Molefe, Siyabonga Gama and Anoj Singh were "architects of the capture of the state".