MPs to look into prisons catering graft claim
By Carien du Plessis
Fresh allegations about graft related to prisons tenders are due to come under the spotlight on Tuesday when Parliament's Portfolio Committee on Correctional Services meets.
Last month, an R840-million contract for catering in 31 prisons was awarded to Bosasa, which had been running prison kitchens since 2004 and which is currently under investigation by the Special Investigations Unit for alleged irregularities related to multimillion-rand prisons tenders.
The latest allegations about corruption surfaced in a Mail & Guardian report last week, claiming that the previous chief financial officer of the department of correctional services, Patrick Gillingham, leaked confidential department documents to Angelo Agrizzi, Bosasa's operations co-ordinator. This correspondence is published on the newspaper's web site, together with letters and evidence of alleged private surveillance of correctional services employees by Bosasa.
It is also claimed that the company had prior, privileged access to tender documents for projects amounting to billions of rands, such as the outsourced catering, X-ray machines in prisons and prison fencing. Bosasa's contracts from the department totalled more than R3-billion.
Committee chairperson Dennis Bloem on Monday night confirmed that the issue of the latest kitchens tender was on the agenda today.
"The committee had asked the department to give us feedback on the tender process (for prisons catering) once they finished the initial process, but never did," he said.
Bloem did not want to pre-empt the committee's decisions by predicting any outcomes. He did, however, vow to tackle any possible corruption involved in the contracts.
Prisons union Popcru has also aired its dismay about the latest allegations by demanding the resignation of Correctional Services Minister Ngconde Balfour.
The union had previously threatened industrial action over the summary shifting of national prisons chief Vernie Petersen to head up the Sports Department.
Union spokesperson Benzi Ka-Soko said he believed Petersen was moved because he was a corruption buster.
Shortly before his redeployment last year, Petersen suspended Gillingham amidst claims of corruption.
According to recent reports, Gillingham allegedly helped Bosasa win contracts from within the department.
He was also reported to be Balfour's first choice for heading up the committee that was due to look at re-awarding the catering contract in the middle of last year.
Politicians and industry insiders alike have questioned the latest prisons catering contract to Bosasa due to complaints about past performance.