THE LAUNCH OF THE NEW PATROL BOAT THE SARAH BAARTMAN .PIC GARY VAN WYK/STORY CT & ARGUS.

Donwald Pressly

The Sekunjalo Consortium, which had been the preferred bidder for a R800 million tender to police South Africa’s marine resources for five years, has been dropped in the tender process. It is not clear whether the company voluntarily withdrew or the government ditched it as both sides claim to have initiated the move.

Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson’s spokesman, Selby Bokaba, confirmed on Friday that the department had withdrawn Sekunjalo’s preferred bidder status on Thursday.

On the other hand, Sekunjalo, headed by billionaire Iqbal Survé, issued a JSE announcement early on Friday noting that it had withdrawn its tender to manage South Africa’s eight research and patrol vessels, which include the Sarah Baartman, the Victoria Mkhize, the Lilian Ngoyi and the Ruth First.

Sekunjalo was scathing in the announcement of the department’s role, saying it had become embroiled “regrettably as an innocent third party” in review proceedings in the Western Cape High Court brought by Smit Amandla Marine, which has held the contract since 1994 and questioned the tender procedures.

Sekunjalo spokesman Kaveer Bharath emphasised that it was Sekunjalo that had requested that it be removed as preferred bidder in a letter to the deputy director-general of the department. “We requested that the tender be cancelled as we saw this as the most prudent way to go forward.” It had also decided not to oppose the court review proceedings.

Sekunjalo believed that the matter could be dragged out indefinitely in court. “It is evident from the papers in those proceedings that the challenges to the award of the tender to our consortium all relate to the tendering processes and procedures followed by the department,” said the announcement.

But Sekunjalo slammed the media for its coverage of the court proceedings brought by Smit Amandla Marine. The current provider said it could not comment at this point but it had argued that Premier Fishing, which is a subsidiary of Sekunjalo, presented a conflict of interest because Sekunjalo would be both marine policeman and fisherman.

Smit Amandla Marine spokeswoman Claire Gomes said it had been notified by the state attorney that the department had revoked the award.

“No clarification was provided and, at this time, Smit Amandla Marine has no further comment.”

Smit Amandla Marine, which is also a black empowered company but is headquartered in Holland, holds the management contract until the end of March. Bokaba could not say whether it would continue to manage the contract after the expiry date.

“The award for the preferred bidder… has been withdrawn,” he confirmed. He said the award was subject to the signing of a delivery agreement and a due diligence process by Sekunjalo. Asked if these had not been fulfilled, he said the department could not go into that matter.

He said: “Our decision to withdraw the award to the preferred bidder was the result of legal opinion we had obtained.”

In the JSE announcement Sekunjalo said: “Our consortium, its participants and its executives have been subjected to a slanderous and misguided media attack, and we have remained silent in the face of such attack as the review proceedings are sub judice.

“At this juncture, we must point out that there can be no doubt that we followed the letter of the law and all due processes in the completion of our tender submission, and while we have decided not to oppose the aforementioned review proceedings on the basis that it relates essentially to a dispute between the department and the current service provider… Our decision is under no circumstances to be construed as an acknowledgement or acceptance that the unfounded grounds of review raised in such proceedings are valid or correct.”

DA fisheries spokesman Pieter van Dalen said the award to Sekunjalo in November “looked fishy” as a PwC audit had questioned the processes, suggesting that there was a conflict of interest related to Premier Fishing. He said it was also clear that the adjudication committee had carried out some dodgy scoring procedures.

He noted that it was a “rather large contract” and it had even been suggested by Sekunjalo that it would be rather lucrative.

He had written to the public protector and the auditor-general to investigate the tender process and all tenders of the department.