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Serious questions have arisen over how black empowerment company Sekunjalo landed the R800 million tender to police South Africa’s marine resources after it submitted four separate bids under different company and consortia names but with identical financial statements.

Although its preferred bidder status was withdrawn by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries after the incumbent operator of marine patrols took Sekunjalo to court, a company which provides legal advice to fishing companies said that the initial award appeared irregular.

Shaheen Moolla, a director of Feike, an independent natural resources advisory firm based in Cape Town, took the unusual step of posting a blog asking if Sekunjalo had broken any law or any JSE rules.

He said Sekunjalo had signed a form that stated that each bidder should not have any knowledge of any other competitor’s bid contents.

“Does this not constitute bid rigging?” he asked.

There had been four separate bids under different company and consortia names “but with identical financials”.

A PwC forensic audit of the tender documents marked as strictly private and confidential, reports that Premier Fishing, Premier Fishing Consortium, Sekunjalo Marine Services and Sekunjalo Consortium all provided the 2010 annual report for JSE-listed Sekunjalo Investments as their financial statements.

PwC reported that it had been unable to determine how financial viability was measured and assessed in the evaluation criteria of the tender evaluation committee.

Moolla, who was formerly a legal adviser to former environment minister Valli Moosa and now provides advice on resource trading and procurement related to fishing quotas in South Africa and Namibia, said there was serious doubt about the existence of Sekunjalo Marine Services. It does not appear on the Sekunjalo website.

Meanwhile, Sekunjalo Investments has refused to comment on whether it will go through a second bidding process for the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries tender to run South Africa’s marine patrol vessels.

It is also not clear who will carry out the job from April because the incumbent provider’s tender term ends this month.

The tender is open after Sekunjalo’s preferred bidder status, announced last November, was withdrawn last month. The incumbent, Smit Amandla Marine, took the matter to the Western Cape High Court arguing that adjudication of the process had been dodgy.

It also claimed that Sekunjalo had a conflict of interest because it owned a shipping company that fished in South African waters.

Business Report asked Sekunjalo whether it would once again fight for the tender.

Cherie Hendricks, corporate affairs and sustainability director of Sekunjalo, said: “We have no comment. Kindly refer to our announcement released on Stock Exchange News Service on Friday, February 24, 2012.”

Sekunjalo argued all along that it had been open about its interests in fishing. She was also not available to take questions arising from the Feike blog last night.

Smit Amandla has begun shutting down its service as its contract ends on March 31. Smit Amandla’s spokesman would not comment yesterday.

Selby Bokaba, the department’s spokesman, would not comment. - Donwald Pressly

On Monday Donwald Pressly submitted the following questions to Cherie Hendricks, the director of corporate affairs and sustainability at Sekunjalo Investments.

Her reply is printed below in full as it was received.

To Cherie Hendricks

Sekunjalo

Dear Cherie

In the interests of fairness all round, I have put these questions to the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries from Shaheen Moolla from Feike. I thought I would send them on to you, if you wish to respond to them in any way. He says there are some pertinent questions that the department and Sekunjalo need to answer.

They are as follows:

Who were the members of the evaluation committee and what technical skills and qualifications did they have to adjudicate such a complex tender?

Have they and their family members been subjected to lifestyle audits before and after the adjudication of the tender?

Why did the minister rush to announce the decision when the forensic report highlighted so many significant concerns?

Then for some harder questions (as Mr Moolla put it):

Did Sekunjalo break any South African law or any JSE rules?

Sekunjalo admits to submitting four separate bids under different company and consortia names but with identical financials etc. What they effectively did was submit four connected bids despite signing a standard bidding form, which states that each bidder should not have any knowledge of any other competitor’s bid contents. Does this not constitute bid rigging?

Does Sekunjalo Marine Services actually exist? There is no record of such an entity on the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission database. Why did the Department of Agriculture, Forestries and Fisheries ignore the PricewaterhouseCoopers report?

Who gave the instruction to award this contract despite all of these concerns?

Could any of them be answered?

Donwald Pressly

Dear Mr Pressly

We once again object strongly to your sending us these questions close to your deadline time. It is quite clear that you are not serious about getting any response from Sekunjalo. It is also laughable that you talk about fairness. All of your articles have been biased against Sekunjalo and you have distorted the truth through every instance through misleading headlines and selectively quoting from our Stock Exchange News Service (Sens) announcement. We are of the view that you are the spokesperson for Smit Amandla. We maintain that you are directing a viscous and slanderous campaign against Sekunjalo. We are not quite sure why you are doing this but we will have no hesitation in reserving our rights with regard to what you publish.

With regard to your questions, we again reiterate that these are questions for the department, that Mr Moolla is known to have being investigated by the Office of Serious Economic Offences and we in turn have sent Mr Moolla a letter from our lawyers informing him that should he not withdraw some of his comments, he will face defamatory charges from our company. We contend that you and Mr Moolla, along with others are part of hideous, viscous and slanderous campaign which disregards all idea of media fairness and objectivity against our company. We ask you to once again to read through our detailed Sens announcements which explains in great detail our position.

If you have any integrity, you will publish our full Sens announcement and not distort our position through innuendos. We are aghast that you treat our company this way and can only assume (it is) because it is a black company that is successful. We trust that you will direct your questions to the relevant party and not to us which is the innocent party in all of this and have complied fully in all material aspects with the requirements of the contract. We are not surprised that there are serious question marks around media freedom in this country. Since journalists such as yourself are involved in politics of deception and hide behind questions raised by a highly discredited individual reportedly being investigated by the Office of Serious Economic Offences.

Should you continue to slander our company and distort our position on this matter and/or any other matters, we intend to exercise our democratic right to hold you accountable in every respect by asking for an investigation of your conduct and your close relationship with competitors of Sekunjalo since in our view, you are simply a spokesperson for Smit Amandla as all your articles have failed in the most fundamental tenant of journalism to be objective.

We trust that you will publish in full my response as black woman and a director of a company that is completely disgusted in the slanderous manner in which you have dealt with our company.

Please do not in future send me questions before the close of your deadline and then write that we did not respond. There is nothing more dishonest in journalism in doing that. I intend to write to the editor of the Cape Times and ask if it is policy of the Cape Times to conduct its reporting in this way. If it is, it is a sad indictment of our country and fear for its future when people like yourself are so clearly biased and defamatory in your reporting about black companies and in particular our company, Sekunjalo.

Cherie Hendricks