Covid-19 corruption: Gauteng govt's spending on school sanitising tender could be more than R431m

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A worker sanitises a classroom at a Johannesburg school.
A worker sanitises a classroom at a Johannesburg school.
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  • A witness has testified that the Gauteng Department of Education may have spent even more than the stipulated R431 million to sanitise public schools in the province.
  • The SIU brought an application before the Special Tribunal for the controversial tender to be declared invalid and unlawful.
  • Lawyers representing the tenderpreneurs claimed their clients were innocent and were in fact heroes who risked their lives fighting the virus.

The Special Tribunal has heard that there is a possibility that the Gauteng Department of Education may have spent even more than the stipulated R431 million to decontaminate schools in the fight against Covid-19.

Investigations by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) revealed that the tender was irregularly awarded. It now wants the tender to be declared invalid and unlawful, and the money to be recovered.

At the tribunal hearing on Wednesday, it was revealed that many companies benefitted from the tender, including some who were not registered on the government's Central Supplier Database.

SIU investigations also revealed that some tenders were awarded via WhatsApp.

Judge Lebogang Modiba told the Special Tribunal the department, led by MEC Panyaza Lesufi, could in fact have spent even more than the widely reported amount of R431 million.

"The value of these tenders investigated presently [can] easily increase because investigations (by the SIU) are continuing. When you consider this huge potential loss to the state within the context of the SIU Act, it can't be that because the tenderers were innocent, they have all performed... because the procurement was urgent," Modiba said.

READ | DA wants Gauteng govt to make public SIU report on R431m school sanitisation tender

"We are dealing with tenders that were issued in an emergency. The cost to the state was huge. Given the fact that the issuing was irregular, shouldn't the tribunal lean more towards the state and against entrepreneurs who benefitted?" asked Modiba.

The tribunal also heard arguments from various lawyers representing the implicated companies. One of them, advocate John Peter, argued that there was no loss where a fair price had been charged and fair value received.

Peter also said the respondents were innocent.

Another lawyer, advocate Mpati Qofa, dealt with deviations and selective targeting of appointments.

Qofa said 287 service providers benefitted from the tender, yet the SIU investigated 173 of them and cited 49 in the application.

"The SIU must complete their investigations to avoid prejudice. At all times... when they brought an application before you (the tribunal), they ought to say, 'We have completed our investigations against a particular party'. There is no basis (for that) whatsoever. Out of 280 parties, how exactly did they choose 49 only?" Qofa asked.

Qofa added that the SIU needed to be consistent, applying equal application and fairness.

"One can't decide that when you sit with 10 criminals and whoever the hands reach, you're going (after). Otherwise, justice will never be applied equally across the board," Qofa said.

READ | Three senior Gauteng govt officials face charges over R431m school decontamination tenders

Advocate William Maodi argued that their clients didn't contravene the Public Financial Management Act.

Maodi said tenderpreneurs rendered emergency services, while advocate R Bvumbi said the directors of two companies that rendered services at some schools hadn't provided affidavits to Modiba.

"The application by the SIU should be dismissed. The SIU is not ready. There are internal remedies available, [and] the applicant should have approached the department to look at premature aspects before heading to court.

"Internal processes in the department were falsely represented. Clients provided services with excellence. Officials responsible for schools that were cleaned later gave them the green light that they had rendered adequate services. The department then made payments [that were] due to our clients," Bvumbi said.

Heroes in the fight against Covid-19

Bvumbi added that services providers wanted to be national heroes and join the fight against the pandemic.

"We were dealing with a new issue here during a pandemic. Our clients were placed at the forefront to fight the virus. The applicant wants to treat them as people doing normal jobs at normal places. We can't subject people who were heroes to this kind of a process," Bvumbi said.

Judgment has been reserved.

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