SA protector demands action over 'irregular' office procurement

27 August 2013

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South Africa’s parliament must take action over irregularities in the procurement of the Electoral Commission’s new head offices, according to the public protector.


Concerns were raised after allegations of an undisclosed conflict of interest between commission chairwoman Pansy Tlakula and close business partner Thaba Mufamadi. He is chairman of Manaka Property Investments, which owns a 20 per cent stake in Abland, the company awarded the contract for the provision of the Riverside Office Park leased accommodation in Centurion.


An investigation by public protector Thuli Madonsela was launched after complaints from anonymous commission employees and looked at alleged maladministration and possible corruption.


It has also been alleged that the two were involved in a romantic relationship, although this was not investigated due to lack of ‘tangible’ evidence.


Tlakula and Mufamadi, who is the South African Parliament’s finance portfolio committee chairperson, had failed to disclose they were co-directors in Lehotsa Investments, the report said.


It concluded “the ideal way that Tlakula could have mitigated and managed this conflict was through the declaration of the relationship and recusal from the procurement process”.


The report found that the process followed by Tlakula was “grossly irregular” and “characterised by a violation of procurement legislations and prescripts” and broke the commission’s own procurement policy.


It criticised Tlakula’s decision to initiate a new procurement process before the commission had officially rescinded the procurement of a previous site, Menlyn Corporate Park.


The advertisement of a ‘request for proposal’ for the office accommodation, as opposed to a comprehensive competitive tender bidding process, violated the commission’s procurement policy and was “accordingly irregular and constituted maladministration”, the report said.


The public protector also suggested the commission should consider taking “appropriate action” against executive committee members involved in the procurement as a well as disciplinary action against various executives at the committee for failing to provide the investigation with necessary information regarding the procurement. And the commission should consider reviewing the lease agreement, the public protector said.


The Electoral Commission said it would co-operate with the public protector on the findings of the report. A statement said: “As clearly indicated and noted, the current commissioners who were appointed in November 2011 following the expiry of the term of office of the previous commission have fully co-operated with the public protector’s investigation.


“The commission as currently constituted is fully committed to adhering to and implementing the remedial actions within the set time frames.”


Electoral Commission vice-chairperson Terry Tselane said the report would not affect elections next year. “Various election milestones have already been achieved by the commission. Staff have been identified and trained and the focus now is on the November 2013 registration weekend," he said.

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