Kimberley - The prosecution has argued that the former Head of the Department of Social Services and Population Development Yolanda Botha, deliberately enriched her friend – the deceased managing director of the Trifecta Sarel Breda, by approving leases with his company.
Breda had previously offered to transfer 10 percent of the shares in the company to beneficiaries that Botha was requested to nominate.
Botha, along with the CEO of Trifecta Christo Scholtz, ANC provincial chairman John Block and the former MEC for Social Services and Population Development Alvin Botes, are standing trial for charges of fraud, corruption and money laundering.
The accused allegedly benefited from shares in the company, cash donations, salaries and renovations to their properties in exchange for facilitating leases with the Trifecta group of companies.
Trifecta provides office space to government departments in Kimberley, Upington, Douglas, Kuruman and Springbok.
State advocate, Peter Serunye, questioned why Botha and not the Provincial Tender Board had finalised the leases with Trifecta, in the Northern Cape High Court on Thursday.
“Botha deemed it fit to introduce her friend (Breda) as the service provider. She had a personal interest when it came to matters involving Trifecta.”
He pointed out that the department failed to comply with its own tender processes, where the leases were not advertised in the tender bulletin and lease agreements were extended in order to accommodate Trifecta.
“The department ended up paying for space that was not utilised. The annual escalation rates were increased in order to benefit Trifecta. This amounts to corruption.”
Serunye advised that Botha should have recused herself from the bidding process, as she personally knew the directors of the competing service providers (Breda from Trifecta and Botes from Itile Supply Services).
“The HOD is the one who makes the final decision in awarding tenders.”
He stated that the accused was clouding the issue and resorted to shifting her responsibilities to other officials, whenever evidence was presented in court, that procedures were not followed. “The department should have a long term plan of acquiring suitable accommodation. It cannot expect to locate a building after advertising a tender for five days.”
Serunye argued that Botha had forced an official from the department’s legal services to retract a letter that was sent to Trifecta threatening to terminate its contract, due to a possible breach of contract, because it was a source of income for Breda.
“Botha still appears to be angry up until today. The official overstepped the mark because he threatened to terminate the Trifecta contract, which was bringing in money for her friend.”
He questioned the need to rent the 400 square metre Keur ’n Geur building in Douglas for two officials, while a needs analysis only identified the need for a 205 square metre office.
Botha said the department was urgently looking for offices and that advertising in the tender bulletin would only serve to delay the process. “We chose to advertise in local newspapers for short periods of time, so as to resolve the matter quickly. The decision to award the leases was a combined process involving the tender board, the physical planning unit and supply chain management. I had no reason to question their recommendations. If any of these parties were not happy with the buildings, the contracts would never have been ratified.”
She added that the migration of the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) and expansion of the department meant that they were fast running out of time and space.
Botha also stated that the department for years, had unsuccessfully tried to secure offices and that the tender board had ratified her decision because they understood the difficulties they faced.
“They never saw anything wrong with it and Sassa is still occupying the Upington building till today. Service delivery had to continue and you have to make the right choices. We had an accommodation crisis – land and buildings were scarce and we had to sort out the department or be put out on the street.”
She denied that she had granted Trifecta any favours. “Only white people own buildings in Upington, so the fact that Breda owned a building in town, was a big thing. The building is situated in a prime location in the CBD and is accessible to everyone. It makes perfect sense because it is imperative to provide services to people with dignity. If I had to be an HOD again, I would have made the same choices.”
Botha pointed out that she did not have an improper relationship with Breda and that the leases were concluded without her influence.
“Sassa officials liked building, they made up their own minds. There was no conflict of interests.”
She explained that the discrepancies in the size of the offices that were rented arose due to “a mistake” or passages that were not measured.
“The lease agreement for Springbok was changed from three to five years to ‘negotiable’ so as to give us more muscle to negotiate with the proprietor and secure a good deal for the department.”
Botha added that it was no business of the legal services official to cancel contracts because she was the only person with the authority to do so.
“He should have come to me along with the chief financial officer, supply chain management and the physical planning unit, to discuss the problem. It is not something that you do on your own. The process that he followed was wrong – you do not penalise without talking things through.”
She claimed that she had a vested interest in all the contracts that were entered into by the department.
Botha related that her decision to extend the leases with Trifecta was done with the purpose of providing stability for the department and to save costs. “It is not true that I tried to advance the interests of Trifecta. I was only looking after the interests of the department.”
She stated that the Keur ’n Geur building in Douglas that was leased by Trifecta, was selected, with a view of expanding the staff compliment to nine officials.