Chairperson of the IEC Pansy Tlakula File photo: Etienne Creux

Johannesburg - An “unreasonable” R1 million for almost 400 steel pot plant containers. Furniture worth about R900 000 for the boss’s office. And more than R500 000 for gym equipment.

Professional services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers’ (PwC) investigation into the Independent Electoral Commission’s (IEC) multimillion-rand lease reveals that Pansy Tlakula authorised the move because its new offices “might be too opulent”, but the final cost of furnishing her office, boardroom and waiting area was R899 000.

“A number of items have been identified… where it appears that little or no regard was given as to whether these items were really required,” reads the report.

The PwC report also reveals that items worth about R60m were reviewed to determine whether they were what would normally be expected for furnishing an organ of state’s premises.

According to the PwC probe, for most of these purchases, there were no supplier invoices, although it confirmed there were some quotations and invoices for various items listed on the budget schedule, although these were limited to a few.

This resulted in PwC being unable to validate whether amounts invoiced to the commission were market-related or cost effective and amounts invoiced correct.

The items include 399 brushed steel pot plants, which at R2 400 each, cost the commission R957 000.

The IEC effectively spent just under R1m for pot plant containers, which are placed all over the building, according to the PwC report.

PwC was told by IEC officials that they wanted a green building, hence, so many of these pot plant containers were purchased, but this was not documented in any minutes of meetings that approved expenditure.

“This expenditure and the amount spent on this one item (pot plants) appears unreasonable,” the PwC report says.

The investigation also found that the commission bought R483 000 worth of gym equipment and gym audio equipment worth almost R70 000.

According to the report, in November the gym had 72 members including 55 permanent employees and 17 contractors.

They each paid membership fees of R130 a month, which equates to R9 360 per month.

“Although the commission is recovering some of the costs associated with the gym, the low membership and monthly membership fees mean it will take years to recover all the costs spent on setting up the gym, never mind the monthly rental for the floor space,” the PwC report reads.

The report also slams R899 000 spent furnishing Tlakula’s office, boardroom, waiting area and her personal assistant’s office.

The furnishings include 23 diamond padded five-star base chairs for her office and boardroom that cost the taxpayer more than R110 000, two coat racks (R2 400 each) and another for her personal assistant. Others include a R48 000 TV display and a R28 000 desk, both for Tlakula’s office, and a R70 000 TV display for her boardroom.

The PwC forensic investigation was commissioned by the Treasury after Public Protector Thuli Madonsela found Tlakula’s conduct highly irregular, improper and constituting maladministration after directing retired deputy chief electoral officer Norman du Plessis to draft a request for proposals and submit it to her (Tlakula) for sign-off.

This was after the lease had been awarded to Menlyn Corporate Park, later cancelled because “the proposed building (Menlyn Corporate Park) might be too opulent”.

The IEC eventually awarded the lease to Riverside Office Park, owned by Abland, which counts ANC MP Thaba Mufamadi and former Limpopo premier Cassel Mathale among its shareholders.

Mufamadi is Tlakula’s business partner in another company and the IEC chairperson (chief electoral officer at the time) never declared this, which Madonsela found constituted a conflict of interest.

Like Madonsela’s report, the PwC probe recommended that Tlakula, Du Plessis and the manager in Tlakula’s office Stephen Langtry be held responsible for their roles in the procurement process that was neither fair, equitable, transparent, competitive nor cost effective.

The cabinet has asked Home Affairs Minister Naledi Pandor, to whom the IEC reports, to follow up the PwC probe and advise it.

Deputy chairman Terry Tselane said the IEC would only respond to the forensic report after the elections, while Tlakula, who refused to co-operate with the PwC probe, has declined to comment until the North Gauteng High Court application to review and set aside Madonsela’s report is finalised.

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Sunday Independent