Cape Town - The public protector has found Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson guilty of maladministration, improper and unethical conduct in the irregular awarding of an R800-million tender to the Sekunjalo consortium to manage the state’s fishery vessels.
In a report released on Thursday, Public Protector Thuli Madonsela recommended that President Jacob Zuma take disciplinary action against Joemat-Pettersson for her “reckless dealing with state money and services, resulting in fruitless and wasteful expenditure, loss of confidence in the fisheries industry in South Africa, alleged decimation of fisheries resources in South Africa and delayed quota allocations due to lack of appropriate research”.
She has instructed the director-general in the Presidency to come up with a plan, within 30 days, of how this “remedial action” would be carried out.
Madonsela’s investigation followed a complaint by DA MP Pieter van Dalen who asked her to probe the awarding to the Sekunjalo consortium of the multimillion-rand contract to manage the department’s fleet of research and patrol ships.
The public protector said on Thursday that Joemat-Pettersson had interfered with her investigation by trying to get Justice Minister Jeff Radebe to call off the investigation which she deemed “unnecessary” as the Sekunjalo contract had already been withdrawn.
Van Dalen also asked the public protector to investigate the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries’ failure to re-advertise the tender to run the fishery vessels - which had in the meantime been put under the management of the South African Navy - as this meant that the department was unable to carry out its work of anti-poaching patrols and fisheries research, crucial for establishing fish quotas.
The public protector found that:
* The awarding of the tender to Sekunjalo Marine Service Consortium was improper.
* Acting head of fisheries Joseph Sebola, on the tender evaluation committee, had been “irrational, biased and improper” when he gave bidding company Sekunjalo, with no experience in the field, the highest possible score, yet had given Smit Amandla, with 10 years’ experience, the lowest possible score.
* The fisheries department had failed to deal with issues of conflict of interest in awarding the tender to run patrol vessels to Sekunjalo because Premier Fishing was a subsidiary of Sekunjalo, which meant the Sekunjalo consortium would be referee and player.
*Joemat-Pettersson’s abrupt handover of the vessel management from Smit-Amandla to the South African Navy was ill-advised, improper and constituted maladministration.
* Joemat-Pettersson’s rejection of a request to hold off on her plan to hand the fishery vessels to the navy, which had allegedly led to lack of patrols and the deterioration of patrol vessels and fruitless and wasteful expenditure, constituted maladministration.
Madonsela referred the decision on whether Sekunjalo’s conduct constituted collusive tendering to the Competition Commission. She urged Joemat-Pettersson to ensure that the already-advertised tender for the services of a ship manager for crewing, management and maintenance of the research and fisheries vessels was finalised and the contract awarded within 60 days.
Joemat-Pettersson’s spokeswoman, Palesa Mokomele, said on Thursday the department had not received a copy of the final report and “we remain keen to receive it”.
“While the finalisation of the investigation is welcome, it is hoped that the response of the minister and the department, which highlighted inaccuracies, incorrect information and bias, will be reflected in the final report,” Mokomele said.
Sekunjalo Investments Limited said on Thursday it was pleased that the public protector had found no evidence of any wrongdoing on its part: “The company disagrees with the finding that it had a conflict of interest, but agrees that there had never been any concealment by the company of the relationship between the four bidders, Sekunjalo, Sekunjalo Marine Services Consortium, Premier Fishing and the Premier Fishing Consortium.”