Investigation into suspect payments

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SIX MONTHS before it went bankrupt and subsequently failed to deliver textbooks, the Limpopo Education Department paid a service provider R2 million a month more than the amount originally tendered.

Today the Star Africa can reveal that Aurecon JV – a consultant engineering joint venture which was awarded a R100 million project management unit (PMU) contract in September 2010 – was paid R7m more than it was entitled to last year.

The department outsourced its project management duties to Aurecon, effectively giving the company control of its multibillion-rand school infrastructure contracts for three years.

The contract gave the company the power to design, manage and implement projects in Limpopo, and support the department with the adjudication and awarding of tenders.

Documents seen by The Star Africa show that in addition to the price change, the department extended Aurecon JV’s three-year contract by six months to March 2014.

According to the Service Level Agreement (SLA) between Aurecon and the department, signed on November 22, 2010, Aurecon’s R2.5m a month tender was due to end in September 2013.

A sworn statement by one of Gobodo’s forensic investigators – the company which probed the department early this year – confirmed that Aurecon had charged and got paid excessive amounts by the department.

Chartered accountant Bernard Levenstein, whose firm was hired by Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan to probe possible overcharges by the PMU, said the SLA had recorded “a significant deviation from the tender” because the price was no longer fixed and the contract value “substantially exceeded”.

Signed by Levenstein on March 15 this year, the affidavit said that despite a monthly charge per tender document of R2.5m, Aurecon JV was paid between R3.2m and R4.6m a month.

Levenstein said the Gobodo investigation had revealed “overcharges pertaining to differences between the amount charged” per Aurecon JV Invoice, compared to the “tendered amount and the budget approved” by the department.

Aurecon JV was a joint venture between three companies – Aurecon SA (Pty) Ltd, Tubatse Consulting cc and MOT Professional Services Consulting cc.

Aurecon spokesman Ronnie Khoza denied any wrongdoing by the company. He said the firm had neither over-charged nor received extra money from the department.

The department’s spokesman, Pat Kgomo, declined to comment.

In terms of Aurecon JV, Aurecon owned 40 percent of the PMU, Tubatse 30 percent and MOT the rest.

An independent search showed that Johan van Rensburg was Tubatse’s sole director.

Tubatse was named in a City Press graphic last year, titled the “Limpopo Mafia”, as one of a few companies close to Limpopo Premier Cassel Mathale and former ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema. The firms had apparently scored most of the province’s multi-million-rand contracts since 2010.

Van Rensburg, from Burgersfort in Sekhukhune, is seen as a close associate of Limpopo Education MEC Dickson Masemola, who is also the provincial ANC deputy chairman.

Van Rensburg dismissed the findings as baseless yesterday.

“The topic has been hit so many times that, by comparison, the truth would appear sensational. What has been written and said is far from the truth. If you are interested in that, I can maybe arrange a full session for you with the JV partners,” he said.

Masemola served as Sekhukhune regional chairman and district mayor for almost a decade until his elevation in 2009. He failed to respond to allegations that Aurecon got the PMU tender or enjoyed political protection partly because of his associations with Van Rensburg.

Levenstein said Aurecon’s charges and payments “substantially exceeded” the amounts in the bid and the R3.1m monthly budget approved by the department. He said Aurecon had failed to provide time sheets and an analysis of time per employee to substantiate the hours worked for payment certificates one to four, totalling R8m.

Payment vouchers in support of payment certificates five and eight could not be supplied, he added.

Khoza said Aurecon had not seen the report but co-operated with Gobodo.

“We co-operated with Gobodo earlier this year. We believe that we have provided the necessary proof to justify our actions and billings relevant to the project,” said Khoza.

“All actions were properly documented and submitted with each invoice to the client. When forensic auditors do their work, they may focus on specific questions and don’t normally understand the complexities (of the projects). I don’t think anybody would have completed the same project for the amount quoted as lower bidders, at just over R20m or R40m the others are reported to have quoted.”


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