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Pretoria - The findings of corruption, flawed procedures, financial mismanagement and maladministration in the R320 million procurement of Independent Electoral Commission headquarters in Centurion are cause for heads to roll, chief complainant in the issue, Bantu Holomisa, has said.
Welcoming the report, which he said vindicated most of the issues he had complained about, the United Democratic Movement leader called for the immediate sacking of IEC chairwoman Pansy Tlakula and her entire executive team if she did not resign voluntarily.
He said: “They can at least suspend her and the members of her executive committee responsible for this maladministration and gross misconduct, until the forensic audit is concluded.”
Public Protector Thuli Madonsela had made public her findings from the investigation into the 2010 lease agreement, in which she found irregularities and flouting of procedure. “The procurement of the building was grossly irregular,” Madonsela said of the processes undertaken by Tlakula and her executive committee.
The process was characterised by a violation of procurement legislation and prescript, Madonsela said.
Tlakula had admitted during the investigation that she had given a directive that the procurement be handled by the executive committee instead of the procurement committee, “...in violation of her own commission’s procurement policy and procedures”.
Madonsela also found evidence of conflict of interest, in that Tlakula had a close business relationship with Thaba Mufamadi, who chaired Manaka Property Investments, which owned a 20-percent stake in its BEE partner Abland. Tlakula and Mufamadi were also co-directors in Lehotsa Investments.
Abland was the company awarded the contract for the provision of the Riverside Office Park accommodation leased by the IEC.
“There was indeed an undisclosed and unmanaged conflict of interest between Tlakula’s responsibility to act in the best interest of the electoral commission as its head accounting officer, and her special business relationship with Mufamadi.”
The protector found that Tlakula had been highly involved in the initiation, evaluation and adjudication of the bids for the procurement of the building.
Her behaviour in all this was improper and constituted maladministration, Madonsela said.
She should have declared her relationship with Mufamadi in Lehotsa Holdings, and recused herself.
The situation had further been exacerbated by the fact that Tlakula had prompted the retraction of the original award of the contract to Menlyn Corporate Park.
The IEC had moved from its offices in Sunnyside and into the Centurion offices in September 2010, months after it started making payments towards occupation of its new offices.
The IEC continued to make rental payments, amounting to more than R6m, for the empty offices, only stopping in July the following year.
Madonsela found that the amount was refunded to the IEC, but without interest. As a result there had been financial loss.
“That could be termed as haphazard handling of the move, and possibly, reckless use of public funds.”
Maladministration and bad management were also found in Tlakula’s handling of the procurement process; her failure to ensure a comprehensive competitive tender bidding process in violation of the provisions of the IEC’s procurement policy. “It was accordingly irregular and constituted maladministration.”
Madonsela said Tlakula’s behaviour had put the reputation of the IEC at risk, and suggested, as remedial action, that the Speaker of Parliament consider taking action against Tlakula for her role.
She said the IEC also had to take urgent steps to, among others, consider reviewing the entire lease agreement with Abland; consider commissioning a forensic investigation into the lease agreement and related expenditure; consider taking appropriate action against all members of the executive committee who were still in the employ of the commission and who participated in the procurement and contravened laws and prescripts.
She also suggested a review of the conflict of interest policy and procedure within 60 days.
Tlakula has lashed out at Madonsela’s report, saying that if unchallenged, it could damage the credibility of the IEC.
“I believe that left unchallenged, the report of the Public Protector into the IEC lease has the potential to damage the credibility of the important institution in which I have worked for more than 10 years,” she said in a statement.
Tlakula said she had respect for the office of the Public Protector as a Chapter 9 institution, but she was duty bound to point out that the investigation and report was fraught with procedural and substantive irregularities.
Tlakula said she was ready to accept non-compliance with procurement processes where they existed.
“I wish to emphasise that no public funds were misappropriated nor did I benefit in any manner from the procurement. I am of the firm view that the IEC got value for money in the procurement of the turnkey solution,” she said.
The DA has called for the suspension of Tlakula after Madonsela’s findings.
“As head of the IEC, there should be no questions around her integrity or conduct,” DA MP Manny de Freitas said.
Cope spokesman Johann Aubrie said Madonsela’s findings were “a serious indictment” against the IEC.
The ANC’s Jackson Mthembu said he could not comment as he “had not seen the report”.
* Previously, Madonsela found that former police commissioner Bheki Cele had unlawfully entered into negotiations for the lease of the Sanlam Middestad building, and for another building in Durban, with Roux Property Fund.
Cele was fired in June last year.
The building has been sold on auction to Nedbank for R66m.
Pretoria News and Sapa