Kimberley - The former HOD for the Northern Cape’s Department of Social Services and Population Development, Yolanda Botha, has divorced herself from any involvement in corruption or fraudulent practices with regards to multimillion-rand government leases that were secured with the Trifecta group of companies.
Her co-accused, ANC Northern Cape chairman, John Block, the former HOD for the province’s Department of Social Services and Population Development, Alvin Botes, and the CEO of Trifecta, Christo Scholtz, appeared in the Northern Cape High Court on Tuesday.
The accused have pleaded not guilty to fraud, corruption and money laundering charges.
Botha denied transgressing the Public Finance Management Act and stated that she had delegated her powers to the chief financial officer, Thabo Holele, who also served on the bid adjudication committee (BAC).
She added that Holele, in turn, sub-delegated his duties to another official, Dalene Vosloo.
She said she had full confidence in Holele as well as all other officials in the department to carry out their duties efficiently.
Botha indicated that it was not required of her to personally measure the buildings that were leased by Trifecta, as this was done by the physical planning unit.
“All the documentation was in order and there was no wasteful expenditure. There was neither any external or internal influences to arrive at any decision. An independent official from Provincial Treasury sat on the bid adjudication committee to ensure that everything was above board.
“The bid adjudication and bid evaluation committees did not operate in a clandestine manner, while the procurement of the six leases, that were processed with Trifecta, were transparent.”
She added that she had never initiated any leases with Trifecta, although she had responded to an urgent need for accommodation in areas where office rentals were scarce or non-existent.
Botha stated that the only other option in Upington – the Bosch and Diesel Electric building – was not suitable for the needs of the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa), as the owner was not willing to sign up a black empowerment (BEE) partner.
She indicated that, as the head of department, she was not responsible for making decisions.
After the deal for the Bosch and Diesel Electric building fell through, Botha passed on the contact details of to the now deceased Sarel Breda, when she learnt that he had acquired the old Oranje Hotel in Upington, through the Trifecta company.
Botha stated that the Provincial Tender Board was aware of the increase in the price of R49 per square metre to R69.80, the escalation rate of 7.5 percent to eight percent and the lease period from five to 10 years, while the national office of Sassa had also approved the lease.
She added that while she was unable to identify the signature on the agreement, it was definitely not hers.
“I never sought to curry favour for Trifecta, defraud the department or showed any bias.”
Botha’s legal representative, Advocate Anwar Albertus, said that the department did not expect any money in terms of the rentals as the lease was ceded to Sassa immediately after it was concluded with the Department of Social Services and Population Development.
“Botha had nothing to do with increasing the annual escalation rate or rentals. The agreement was subsequently altered by Sassa.”
He pointed out that if Botha was intent on securing leases for Trifecta, the first bid document for the Springbok building in Van Riebeeck Street, which did not comply, would never have been cancelled.
“The department was in dire need of office accommodation as the lease for the old building had lapsed and (the building) was not big enough to accommodate all the staff. The department had struggled since 2001 to secure suitable offices.”
Albertus added that the bid adjudication committee allowed Botha to negotiate the rental period prior to signing the lease.
While the first bid was cancelled, Trifecta was successfully awarded the bid on the second attempt, where the lease period was changed to 10 years, upon Botha’s instruction.
The offices were converted from an old block of flats.
Trifecta was the only choice, according to Botha, as it was the only company with a BEE component.
She indicated that she had never issued any instruction that her department liaise with Breda.
Botha said the Trifecta lease was signed by Holele, after two estate agents were consulted as to whether the prices charged were market related.
“I approved the lease for 10 years with an option to renew for another 10 years, so as to provide the institution with stability.
“In 2005 officials were accommodated in two buildings and with the introduction of the new organogram, we would not have had enough space for all staff members.
“In order to ensure that service delivery was not compromised, it was decided to centralise the district office in one building. Moving is a lengthy and costly exercise while the branding of the department is complicated. No wasteful expenditure was incurred in the lease.”
She explained that she had reprimanded an official for writing a letter of non-compliance with regards to the Springbok lease.
“The official was supposed to speak to me first before writing to the service provider. He had no authority and should have confirmed with me first.”
A letter was later copied to Rand Merchant Bank informing them of the possible breach of contract with Trifecta Trading.
A follow up letter was later sent to the bank whereby it advised that the matter had been amicable resolved and that the contract would not be terminated.
Botha explained that the Summerdown Place building was the only office building available in Kuruman, following the incorporation of the North West offices into the Northern Cape.
She said that Breda undertook to renovate the offices and also install an electronic alarm system before occupation on March 1 2007.
“Rent would be payable to Trifecta at R65 per square metre for five years with an option to renew for another five years.”
Botha extended the lease period to 10 years with an option to renew for another 10 years.
“I was not bound by the advice of the MEC for Social Services and Population Development, Goolam Akharwaray, at the time, not to enter into leases of more than five years.
“Rand Merchant Bank stipulated that they were only prepared to finance the acquisition of the building, the refurbishment or both on condition that it was leased for a minimum of 10 years.”
She added that sharing offices with Sassa in Douglas, was problematic as Sassa wanted their own branding.
Albertus explained that the department had agreed to lease the Keur ’n Geur building in Douglas of 400 square metres from Trifecta and not only the required 205 square metres on an “all or nothing” approach.
“Buildings were scarce in the area. Botha and the CFO came to an agreement with the service provider that they would lease the building on condition that the rest of the building was utilised and the space be renovated to include a kitchenette, storage area, a registry, reception area and a boardroom.”
The municipal library that they were occupying had been declared a heritage site and no renovations could be made.
Trifecta secured another two leases for six floors at the DuToitspan Building in Kimberley.
The case continues before Judge Mmathebe Phatsoane on Wednesday.