Snoek are offloaded in Cape Town. Photo: Brenton Geach.
Snoek are offloaded in Cape Town. Photo: Brenton Geach.

Minister baits hook for graft

By Time of article published Mar 22, 2012

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An independent committee, which is likely to be headed by a retired judge, will be trawling through all awards of fisheries tenders following what Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson admitted was a saga over the awarding of a marine patrol contract.

She said yesterday that a black empowerment company, Sekunjalo, had been tainted by dodgy departmental tender processes, which led to it losing its preferred bidder status.

In an admission that one of her departmental branches was a bit “shoddy”, the minister called an emergency press conference on a public holiday to announce the committee’s pending appointment.

Sekunjalo lost its status last month as preferred bidder for the R800 million, five-year contract to police South Africa’s marine resources and conduct marine research.

The incumbent provider, Smit Amandla Marine, took legal action, arguing Sekunjalo had a conflict of interest as it would police marine resources while having a fishing company in its fleet. It also argued the adjudication process was fishy.

The minister said the fisheries branch had been under scrutiny “with regard to alleged irregular processes and procedures” being followed in the awarding of tenders.

Acknowledging that the award to Sekunjalo had been withdrawn “on the basis of advice from senior counsel”, Joemat-Pettersson said that as a consequence “of our own flawed processes, an innocent company, Sekunjalo, has been portrayed as the culprit in this saga and its reputation has been tainted”.

In an apparent reference to Smit Amandla, she said “another company” could have taken legal action against the department for awarding and withdrawing a tender “based on shoddy government work”. “I have consulted with the ministry of justice and constitutional development with the view of appointing a judge to head the committee of inquiry.”

It would determine whether there were “any irregularities” in the chain of procurement, including maladministration, fraud or corruption by government employees and the private sector. The committee would sit “as soon as possible”, possibly from April, she said.

DA fisheries spokesman Pieter van Dalen said he had never heard of an independent committee, rather than a commission, of investigation. “Does this have judicial standing? Can I sit on the committee?”

The department reported that high-level talks would be taking place today with the SA Navy over the marine patrol and research contract.

It is understood that it had already been agreed that the navy would play a role in policing South Africa’s territorial waters, but it was not clear if it would do it alone or in collaboration, for a period, with Smit Amandla. The third option was to extend the latter’s contract for a temporary period, but this was unlikely as department director-general Langa Zita wants to charge Smit Amandla with corruption over a previous tender process and fronting.

Shaheen Moolla, a director of marine research company Feike, said it was nonsense that all matters relating to fishing contracts were now sub judice. “Sub judice only applies for matters currently before court,” argued Moolla. He agreed with Van Dalen that the minister had declared Sekunjalo innocent before the committee sat. - Donwald Pressly

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