EXCLUSIVE: Public Protector probes the SIU over PPE corruption
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DURBAN - THE office of the Public Protector has lodged an investigation against the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) over allegations of irregular appointments and procurement.
According to a complaint lodged with the public protector, SIU chief financial officer Andre Gernandt allegedly instructed his Supply Chain Management junior staff, via a WhatsApp text, to give a PPE (personal protective equipment) tender to his “associate”.
The investigation was as a result of a whistle-blower, who was, at that time employed by the SIU, who blew the horn on the irregularities allegedly playing out within the organisation.
In June last year, the SIU appointed a company that was allegedly recommended by Gernandt through a WhatsApp text to his subordinate to provide it with 1 600 cloth masks for R58 000.
The whistle-blower claimed Gernandt instructed supply chain management (SCM) members to include the company in the award process, even though it was not on the National Treasury list.
The Treasury issued an instruction in April last year to public officials to buy cloth masks only from a list of pre-approved companies, which were also registered with the Department of Small Business Development.
“The SCM practitioner carried out the ‘unlawful instruction’ from Gernandt and reissued the request for quotations which now included a company, preferred by the CEO,” the whistle-blower wrote.
The letter also made several allegations against SIU head Andy Mothibi, accusing him of the irregular appointment of executives, maladministration, abuse of power and the irregular awarding of contracts.
The Daily News has seen a WhatsApp conversation, where Gernandt was giving an instruction and even mentioned the name of the person and the company who must be given the tender.
The public protector’s spokesperson Oupa Segalwe confirmed the investigation. “Yes, the public protector is investigating (the SIU). We are still awaiting a response from the SIU,” Segalwe said.
He added that the investigation was still in its early stages.
In February this year, Mothibi read a media statement during the release of a report of finalised investigations and outcomes of investigations into allegations of the PPE procurement by state institutions – Proclamation R.23 of 2020, where he noted: “It appears that the names of the service providers were determined before any SCM process commenced.”
Sources close to the matter have accused the SIU of “having double standards” after it allegedly failed to take action against its own CEO.
Interestingly, in its investigation into the Digital Vibes saga, the SIU found that former health minister Zweli Mkhize’s use of a WhatsApp text was improper as he was giving instructions to former director-general Precious Matsoso – but has allegedly failed to discipline one of its own for a similar offence.
The Digital Vibes investigation relates to a R150 million tender for the National Health Insurance communication strategy, awarded to the company. The tender was found to be irregular.
SIU spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago said the matter relating to Digital Vibes was sub judice and hence was not going to comment on it.
Kganyago said the Gernandt matter was previously investigated independently by the auditor-general last year. He added that it included whether the CFO had any conflicts of interest with the service provider.
“No irregularities were found in a letter addressed to the head of the SIU dated October 28, 2020,” Kganyago said.
He also said that they have been informed that the matter was further investigated by the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigations (DPCI), also known as the Hawks, based on a case opened last year, and the National Prosecuting Authority had declined to prosecute.
“The SIU is therefore satisfied that the matter has been fully investigated by two independent government agencies, and no irregularities were found in the allegations made against the CFO,” Kganyago said.
Hawks spokesperson Brigadier Thandi Mbambo said that the SIU matter was fully investigated and submitted to the NPA for a decision.
“The NPA then declined to prosecute anyone,” Mbambo said.
NPA national spokesperson Mthunzi Mhaga said: “After evaluating evidential material contained therein, prosecutors declined to prosecute due to no prospects of a successful prosecution.”