Parliament - Justice and Correctional Services Minister Michael Masutha on Wednesday said his department might have broken ties with Bosasa earlier and been able to recover money had the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) given more detail in its report on the company a decade ago.
Briefing Parliament's portfolio committee on justice, Masutha faulted the SIU on two counts. Firstly, it should have been clear on whether there were grounds for blacklisting Bosasa from contracting with the department, and secondly, it failed to say to what extent contracts with the company had resulted in financial loss to the department.
This detail would have helped the department to claim back money from the company, later rebranded as African Global Solutions, that entered voluntary liquidation earlier this month after sensational testimony before the Zondo commission implicated it in corruption spanning decades and a host of government entities.
"I think that more could have been done in that regard by the SIU," Masutha said.
"With hindsight the SIU might see that there was a gap in their recommendations. Without seeking to in any way exonerate the department, the SIU report could have been more helpful in this regard."
Opposition members of Parliament (MPs) accused the minister of crude blame shifting.
Steve Swart from the African Christian Democratic Party put it to Masutha that the department had the power to blacklist companies, but failed to act on the SIU report until such time that testimony before the Zondo commission forced it to instigate an investigation.
"Suddenly we have the Zondo commission, suddenly we have an investigation."
Democratic Alliance MP James Selfe said the investigation should focus on every contract signed with Bosasa and every member of a bid committee that considered its tenders. For 13 years, Bosasa was the only company to whom correctional services outsourced catering. It also had contracts for fencing at prison facilities, In total, its contracts with the department was worth R7.1 billion.
"I'm sorry, this smells of a rat and it is a very big rat," Selfe added.
The department gave MPs assurances that the closure of the company, which ran 26 kitchens at the country's prisons, would not result in any disruption of catering as the department would shift to insourcing.
Selfe remarked that this was strange because when there were calls in the past to break with Bosasa, the department demurred that it would mean prisoners not being fed because the company owned the kitchen equipment and would remove it.
The SIU found in 2009 that Bosasa had bribed officials to secure contracts with correctional services.
Correctional services commissioner Arthur Fraser told MPs that he had in November given a number of officials notice to give reasons why they should not be placed on temporary suspension.
In November, former Bosasa executive Angelo Agrizzi had not yet begun his bombshell testimony before the Zondo commission but had submitted a draft affidavit.
Fraser said all but one of those given notice had responded by Wednesday.
African News Agency/ANA