FDA hits back after criticism for 'holding country to ransom'

A corruption-linked police supplier who managed to suspend some police systems after threatening to do so hit back at Parliament after it said the supplier was holding the police ransom.

Forensic Data Analysts (FDA) responded with a letter to the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) on Friday, noting that in November last year the committee had called for the company not to be paid.

"FDA is shocked and disappointed that Scopa regards the suspension of services to SAPS as 'holding the whole country to ransom'. Scopa [has] deliberately and expressly ordered and instructed the termination of all contracts with FDA and payments to be withheld with immediate effect.

On Thursday the police and the State Information Technology Agency (SITA) said in a joint statement that "certain systems have indeed been shut down and while the shutting down of the said systems is likely to affect the efficiency of certain operations within the SAPS, they, however, do not completely bring operations to a halt".

This after Forensic Data Analysts (FDA) said on Wednesday that it would "unfortunately" suspend the police's Property Control and Exhibit Management and Firearm Permit System unless the police and SITA pay FDA by Wednesday midnight.

According to FDA, the company hasn't been paid since December.

Links to Phahlane case

In November last year Scopa said SITA should not pay for any of its contracts with FDA after it emerged in the meeting that SITA awarded a contract for forensic equipment for the police, mostly lights and Nikon cameras, worth more than R900m to FDA without following procurement processes and without there being a reason for FDA being the sole provider.

The Independent Police Investigative Directorate also recommended that SITA not pay FDA.

FDA's directors are former police officer turned businessman Keith Keating and Vhonani Mufamadi, brother of former minister of safety and security Sydney Mufamadi. 

Keating is a central figure in the corruption case against former acting police commissioner Khomotso Phahlane which is currently before the court. He allegedly paid for vehicles for Phahlane.

It has also been said that FDA had done business worth R5bn with the police since 2010. Keating disputes this figure and earlier denied the allegations against him, saying they were part of a plot for a hostile takeover of his business.

After FDA's statement on Wednesday, Scopa chairperson Themba Godi responded on Thursday saying the committee was "shocked and disappointed with the fact that one man can hold the whole country to ransom by having the power to switch off the criminal justice system".

Call not to pay 'not made in a vacuum'

"It is really puzzling as to why one man can have such power over equipment that is owned by the government. If this equipment has been bought by the government, what gives FDA the right to switch it off?"

Godi said Scopa's call to SITA not to continue with the payments wasn't made in a vacuum and arose from the officials' own questioning of the legality of the contracts. 

"Scopa then said if there is illegality, the officials should not pay," said Godi.

FDA responded with a letter to Scopa, which was also released to the media in the early hours of Friday morning.

Apart from pointing out that Scopa had recommended that the company not be paid the letter also attempts to clarify Wednesday's threat.

"FDA did not say that the criminal justice system will be switched off; rather, critical systems relied upon by SAPS would be suspended, that would have an impact on the criminal justice system," it reads.

"FDA [has] maintained the service offering at previously agreed standards for more than five months (last paid invoice: October 2017), with the bona fide belief that any concerns will be formally raised and resolved within a reasonable period."

'Presumed guilty, yet uncharged'

The letter states that no company can be expected to continue providing services for more than five months without any indication that it will be paid. 

FDA also contends that Scopa was misled about irregularities in the awarding of contracts. 

In another statement released in the early hours of Friday, FDA says it has "continued to provide software services to SAPS and SITA in extremely challenging circumstances without payment since October 2017. 

"Services were provided in the belief that SAPS and SITA would honour payments as they were still receiving the benefit of the services, and considering that no official reason has been provided for failing to honour payment (although it is abundantly clear that FDA, its employees and Keith Keating have been presumed to be guilty, yet uncharged)."

It says FDA has over the past six months written to the police, SITA, Scopa, the National Prosecuting Authority and others "providing proof of its innocence and many blatant lies that have formed the basis of the presumption of guilt". 

"In light of this untenable situation, and after hitting wall after wall, on 4 April 2018, FDA, issued a public statement indicating that certain SAPS systems will be suspended at midnight. As no response was received, the services were suspended."

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