Chief Financial Officer of the department of community safety and transport in the North West Kutlwano Phatudi. Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency (ANA)

Johannesburg - Former North West premier Supra Mahumapelo’s office approved the payment of R50 million for the running of the province’s two airports to SA Express without following proper procurement procedures in a deal described as “strange”.

North West Community Safety and Transport Management Department chief financial officer Kutlwano Phatudi told the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture that on March 16, 2015 the department received an invoice to make the R50m prepayment to the airline, but the amount had not been budgeted for.

But Phatudi said the SA Express contract was only concluded on March 31, 2015.

“I do not understand how the invoice came before the conclusion of the contract,” she said.

The payment date for the R50m was March 26, 2015, according to Phatudi.

Her former boss, department head Bailey Mahlakoleng, wrote to current North West Premier Professor Job Mokgoro, who was the province’s acting director-general at the time, on March 16, 2015 requesting the R50m prepayment.

Mokgoro was acting North West director-general until the end of June 2015.

Phatudi said Mahlakoleng requested Mahumapelo’s office to pay on behalf of the Community Safety and Transport Management Department.

“I don’t know why SA Express was paid before the contract was signed and the payment processed in another department (office of the Premier),” she said.

Commission chairperson Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo said: “You may want to find out who in the office of the premier authorised the payment?

“What did they have in front of them to make that decision?”

This week, the ANC nominated Mahumapelo to be the chairperson of the National Assembly’s portfolio committee on tourism.

Justice Zondo said he found the agreement strange because Mahumapelo and his MECs approved SA Express’ appointment to revive the Pilanesberg and Mahikeng airports but told officials to conduct the analysis of the presentations made by potential bidders.

“How do you start by making a decision and afterwards say bring me the information that is needed to make the decision after you have already made the decision?” Justice Zondo asked.

Phatudi said her department had no obligation to pay SA Express before the signing of the agreement, which Mahlakoleng had instructed the department’s legal section to draft.

She told the commission she only became aware that the agreement had been signed when there were two invoices presented - one from SA Express (R50m) and another from management company Koreneka (R20m).

The two invoices, Phatudi said, were submitted at more or less the same time but she refused to process Koreneka’s as she believed there was no basis for paying a management company in terms of the agreement.

She said the agreement stated that SA Express would, in consultation with the department, appoint a management company for the Pilanesberg and Mahikeng airports.

“There was no proof that the department was involved in the appointment of the management company,” said Phatudi. She said when the department received the invoice to pay R20m to Koreneka, those with authority had approved it.

Phatudi’s refusal to sign forced the agreement to be amended to state that the funds were to be paid to SA Express and the management company.

She said she then appended her signature after the amendment, but the payment to Koreneka was halted in 2016 after the department was served with a letter from the attorneys of Joyce Phiri, formerly a partner in Koreneka.

The department was instructed not to pay money until litigation between Phiri and Koreneka director Babadi Tlatsana was concluded, according to Phatudi.

The commission continues on Saturday.