But once Angelo Agrizzi had been sworn in, he started revealing allegations of large-scale corruption by his former company, Bosasa Operations (now called African Global Operations), its chief executive Gavin Watson and many high-profile individuals whom, Agrizzi said, happily ate at the Bosasa table as long as they helped keep the company’s meal ticket - multimillion-rand contracts - in place.
He also told the inquiry that his life has been in danger since it became known that he would go public with what he knows.
With the longest witness testimony heard at the inquiry to date - Agrizzi spent eight days in the chair - and the highest number of people implicated ever, the Bosasa files named everyone from middle and executive level public officials, Cabinet ministers and parliamentarians to former president Jacob Zuma in the large scheme allegedly meant to establish and maintain the company as a tender monopoly in the otherwise inconspicuous Department of Correctional Services.
According to Agrizzi, Bosasa spent between R4 million and R6m monthly for cash bribes to senior government officials on the company’s payroll, in what chief executive Watson called “monopoly money”.
The company’s government contracts ran into billions of rands a year.
The first one with the came in 2004 to provide catering services for several prisons across the country, with three more to follow over the next few years for security fencing, TV set installations in prisons and CCTV security systems.
After Agrizzi, former Cope MP Dennis Bloem gave evidence that Correctional Services had no need to outsource the services in the first place.
All of the functions Bosasa was paid for, could have been done within the department’s capacity.
For the bribe cash to be made available, several money laundering schemes had to be set up and different amounts generated to enable the payments.
Bosasa would be paid, then transfer an agreed-upon amount to a cash-based business that would return it in cash form via an agent, and then it would be distributed to the relevant targets.
Referring to himself as Watson’s former “right-hand man”, Agrizzi told the inquiry that he knew so much about what went on at Bosasa because he was given the task of recording how much money was kept in the special office vault whose sole purpose was to store bribe cash.
By the end of his first day of testimony, Agrizzi had made one damning allegation after another, pointing fingers at some powerful individuals he said had received bribes and other favours from the company for contracts awarded.
Watson, he said, would openly give bags of money to different Bosasa officials to facilitate bribes to those public officials with whom they associated on various projects they managed for government.
“There was a vault at the office that we called ‘Gavin’s safe’ and often people would ask him for money and he would simply go in there and retrieve a money bag to give to them.”
It happened in front of him, said Agrizzi, and other directors and senior managers at Bosasa were familiar with the practice.
Among other public entities with senior managers on Bosasa’s payroll were the South African Post Office and the Airports Company of South Africa.
Strategic officials in these entities - mostly in procurement operations - would be approached and enticed into co-operating with Bosasa and then enjoy benefits for their buy-in.
In addition, some politicians who, in the company’s view, had the power and muscle to help it snap up lucrative contracts, also were paid handsomely, according to Agrizzi.
* Valencia Talane is a writer at Corruption Watch.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.