Cape Town - The soul of the University of the Western Cape is on the line on Monday as the tertiary learning institution’s governing council gathers to address the recommendations of a specially constituted ad hoc committee looking into security contracts at the university’s Bellville campus.
The committee has recommended the immediate cancellation of a contract given by management to security specialists VI Consulting to oversee a multimillion-rand campus tender.
Though the tender has yet to go ahead, large sums of money – totalling more than R20 million according to well-placed sources though this could not be verified – have been paid to a security provider on an ad hoc basis since February 2013. How the provider in question – which had not provided security services to the university beforehand – was selected in the absence of a tender remains unclear.
The committee also found that UWC’s director of finance could have been guilty of misconduct and recommended further disciplinary steps.
Monday morning’s meeting, scheduled for 10am, comes at the head of what has been dubbed the “battle of the Brians” – a protracted conflict between the O’Connell administration of UWC under rector Brian O’Connell and the controlling interest in UWC’s governing council, with community activist, labour law specialist and council chair Brian Williams at the helm.
It was called as the first order of business by Williams after winning a high court order on May 6, reinstating him as council chair after he was removed by a resolution taken at a special meeting of council in September.
The court upheld Williams’s contention the removal had been improper and the September sitting of council “unlawful”, awarding the order with costs against the university’s executive.
Complainants in the appointment of VI Consulting charged that the company was, irregularly, brought in to perform a function – vetting, validating and administering a multi-million-rand security tender – that fell within the remit of UWC’s risk management department and council’s tender committee.
The complaint was initially brought to council by the ANC Youth League-dominated Student Representative Council, after an anonymous poster appeared on campus in October questioning the probity of a then-secret contract for security specialist Shane Jacobs to facilitate a campus tender.
Responding, council, in late November appointed a three-person ad hoc committee to assess the validity of the SRC complaint. On May 23, the committee referred the matter to council, finding that there was a “prima facie case” to be answered.
Though VI Consulting, in the person of Jacobs, was appointed to provide guidance on the tender in the first part of last year, the long-range contract for outsourced security on campus has yet to be awarded – and was suspended by council in the wake of the SRC complaint.
In the interim the university has coughed up more than R20m in ad hoc contract extensions to Securitas, the incumbent security provider.
Jacobs was earlier the focus of allegations of impropriety in connection with an apparently irregularly-awarded R30m-plus contract for parliamentary security in 2007. Though referred by the Freedom Front Plus to the public protector, as well as the National Prosecuting Authority for further investigation, the claims did not result in prosecution.
Responding to queries from the Cape Argus, UWC communications and media liaison manager Luthando Tyhalibongo confirmed the tender remained unresolved: “The tender for security services at the University of the Western Cape will follow due process and is nowhere close to being awarded. UWC plans to award the tender some time in the second half of the year.”
As the ad hoc committee report makes clear, the long-range contract has never formally gone to tender. University regulations require that all contracts to a value greater than R500 000 – except in very special circumstances – are required to be put up to open and competitive tender.
With a value of R485 000, the contract with VI Consulting was not immediately bound by open tender stipulations, but in terms of university regulations, there should have been three competitive quotes unless there were special circumstances. No other quotes were obtained and the job was signed off by O’Connell on the basis of a “deviation” from normal procedure motivated by UWC’s director of financial services, Abduraghman “Manie” Regal. Regal told the ad hoc committee he had requested the deviation in a climate in which key staffers had received death threats. He did not supply documents to back up this claim and charges relating to death threats were not laid with the police or the university.
VI Consulting subsequently had to draw up the terms of the service level agreement – detailing the functions it was required to perform as well as the checks and balances governing the job. The complainants said this effectively positioned the company as player and referee.
While Monday’s meeting of council has been called to address the single issue of the ad hoc committee’s findings, the Cape Argus understands that the governing body could also be calling for the university’s ongoing ad hoc security arrangement to be suspended and subjected to forensic investigation.