Public protector Thuli Madonsela has accepted a request from the DA to investigate the granting of preferred bidder status to a Sekunjalo consortium to operate the marine patrol vessels that police South Africa’s waters.
Although the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries had now stripped Sekunjalo of this status after the incumbent provider, Smit Amandla Marine, took the granting of the R800 million tender on review to the Western Cape High Court, DA MP Pieter van Dalen said there was a need for further investigation “to get to the bottom of the murky circumstances surrounding a tender that may well have put our marine resources and the livelihoods of fishermen at risk”.
In a letter to Van Dalen, Madonsela said: “I have decided to contact organs of state concerned to ascertain the process followed to date and the status of the tender process.”
Later, however, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson’s spokesman Selby Bokaba said he had contacted Madonsela’s spokeswoman, Kgalalelo Masibi, who had indicated that the protector did not know that the Sekunjalo preferred bidder status had been withdrawn.
Bokaba also said the department was exploring various options to decide who would run the patrol vessels after the end of March when Smit Amandla’s contract came to an end. One option was understood to be that Smit Amandla’s contract would be extended by a year.
However, Bokaba noted that there could not be a public protector investigation as the Sekunjalo status had been withdrawn and the circumstances of the awarding of the preferred bidder status to it was still a matter before court. “The public protector is not going to investigate something (that is) before court,” he said.
Approached for comment, Madonsela said her “instinct” was to withdraw the investigation, but she would be consulting both the department and “the complainant” (Van Dalen).
Van Dalen, however, said there were various concerns about the adjudication process, with one adjudicator in particular scoring Sekunjalo high and Smit Amandla very low, which still needed to be probed.
“The public protector must still investigate what went wrong,” he said. This included the fact that Sekunjalo owned a fishing firm, Premier Fishing, although it was supposed to perform the service of policing sea fishing.
Madonsela said she would be grateful if her office’s load was reduced.
Bokaba said the tender had been withdrawn after Sekunjalo “wrote to us informing us that they were withdrawing from the process”. The department also received legal opinion that “prompted us to withdraw the tender”. The tender is worth R800m over five years.
By the time of going to press, Sekunjalo spokeswoman Cherie Hendricks had not responded to questions. - Donwald Pressly