Patrol boat decision still all at sea
There is no clarity on just who will be running the marine patrol and research vessels in South Africa’s oceans from next Sunday, but the bungling of the tender procedure by the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Department has led to a flurry of legal activity involving the company which lost it, the company which won and then lost it and another company which has been accused of defaming the latter.
And now the department has called for a committee of inquiry into the mess, which according to Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson would specifically look “at processes and procedures relating to tenders with the view of determining whether there were in fact any irregularities in the chain of procurement, including maladminsitration, fraud or corruption, by government employees and/or the private sector and/or both”.
Joemat-Pettersson admitted her department had bungled the tender for the R800 million five-year marine patrol tender, which fell under the marine coast management branch. She formed a committee of inquiry in terms of the Treasury’s Public Finance Management Act number 20. This allows for the appointment of a committee which may include a MP or a judge to probe all current and recent tender processes of the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Department.
In November Sekunjalo Consortium was named the “preferred bidder” but it was swiftly taken to court by Smit Amandla Marine, the incumbent provider of the service of policing local waters with the help of the state-supplied ships the Lilian Ngoyi, Ruth First, Victoria Mxenge and Sarah Baartman. It has also manned the fisheries research vessels, the Algoa, Ellen Khuzwayo and Africana since 2000. Its contract ends on March 31.
The minister took the unusual step of criticising Smit Amandla in the agriculture portfolio committee two weeks ago, suggesting it might be fronting.
Later her director-general, Langa Zita, said the police should look into charging Smit Amandla for corruption. He argued that the tender had been extended in 2005 without an open process and Dudula Fishing had been included in its bid which meant that it had a conflict of interest.
Smit Amandla later said it was Dudula Shipping, not a fishing firm.
Ironically, the criticism began with Smit Amandla’s argument that Sekunjalo had a conflict of interest because in terms of the tender it was required to police the marine resources but it also had a fishing company on board, Premier Fishing.
Joemat-Pettersson, who called an emergency press conference on Human Rights Day on Wednesday, refused to answer a flurry of questions about who would now run the marine patrol and research function. But she was quick to defend Sekunjalo which she described as an innocent victim of bungled department processes.
Sekunjalo, meanwhile, issued a lawyer’s letter to Shaheen Moolla, a former special adviser to former environment minister Mohammed Valli Moosa and now the chief executive of a marine research firm, Feike. It accused him of defaming its reputation in a private blog circulated on the internet.
Kaanit Abarder, the director of Edward Nathan Sonnenbergs in Cape Town, confirmed that he had acted on behalf of Sekunjalo Investments chief executive Iqbal Surve and the subsidiaries of the company.
He said in a letter to Moolla on Friday that while Moolla was entitled to raise queries “in regard to matters of public interest, the manner in which you have sought to raise such queries, purportedly on behalf of the members of the public, has generally cast our client in an unfavourable light and have been raised with an unwarranted and unnecessary sting”.
Referring to Moolla’s blog, Abarder said: “Certain of the statements made by you will be understood by the ordinary reader of them to mean that our clients run their businesses dishonourably and/or improperly, and are involved in, inter alia, corruption.
“The defamatory sting in your publications regarding the tender awarded to the consortium in which our client, Sekunjalo Investments, was a particpant, is untrue.”
Moolla said that it was in the public interest “that answers be demanded to questions pertaining to how it came about that a company that is essentially involved in fishing can be allocated an R800m fisheries patrol and research tender
Meanwhile, Smit Amandla spokeswoman Clare Gomes said once it was clear that Sekunjalo’s status as the preferred bidder had been cancelled, it had withdrawn its review of the tender brought before the Western Cape High Court.
Asked if the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Department had subsequently carried out its threat of instituting legal action against Smit Amandla, she said “not that we are aware of”.
DA fisheries spokesman Pieter van Dalen said it was laughable that the minister had declared Sekunjalo innocent of all charges and allegations against it, “while she conveniently finds that Smit Amandla Marine guilty until it is proved innocent”.
Meanwhile, department spokesman Selby Bokaba said he could not provide further light on whether the navy would assist with policing the waters from next month.
High level talks took place between the department and the navy on Thursday.
“The meeting was very positive, unfortunately, we can’t disclose the details at this stage. We will communicate soon when we are ready to do so.” - Donwald Pressly