.Image: Acting Public Protector Advocate Kholeka Gcaleka (Facebook/PublicProtectorSouthAfrica) / Compilation OUTA
Accountability win: Public Protector upholds OUTA complaint and orders criminal investigation
Four years after OUTA submitted a detailed complaint to the Office of the Public Protector about two SASSA contracts, the Hawks have been ordered to investigate possible bid rigging and corruption by two businesses, and SASSA has been ordered to take action against 11 staff who are implicated.
OUTA’s complaint outlined how whistleblowers had provided information on two questionable contracts awarded unprocedurally by SASSA (the South African Social Security Agency, the state agency responsible for paying social grants). The contractors were Azande Consulting CC, an events management business, and Vee-el Promotions. The contracts were for three years, one for an unknown amount and the other for R393 million, and at least R221m was spent on the first year of the contracts. Both contracts were for outreach programmes.
OUTA’s complaint was submitted by Dominique Msibi, OUTA's Portfolio Manager for Special Projects at the time, in June 2018 while Advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane was in office. The complaint languished for four years. Now Acting Public Protector Advocate Kholeka Gcaleka has issued a damning report, ordering action.
A year earlier, in September 2017, OUTA submitted a report on the matter with a request for action to the then Minister of Social Development Bathabile Dlamini, the acting DG of Social Development Nelisiwe Vilakazi, the acting CEO of SASSA Pearl Bhengu, the chief procurement officer at the National Treasury, and Parliament’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts and Portfolio Committee on Social Development. As far as OUTA is aware, no action resulted from the 2017 complaint.
OUTA is grateful to Advocate Gcaleka for delivering this report and ensuring that those implicated will be held to account.
“I am happy that the Public Protector filed this report. What will be important will be consequence management and accountability,” says Advocate Stefanie Fick, OUTA Executive Director for Accountability.
“These individuals must be held to account, disciplined and criminally charged where appropriate. The implicated companies must be blacklisted from further government contracts, and SASSA should consider claiming back the money that was spent on these contracts.”
OUTA notes that we had to wait until Advocate Mkhwebane was suspended from office for this report to be finalised by the acting Public Protector. OUTA believes that Advocate Mkhwebane has done a lot of damage to that office, and over the years has repeatedly called on Parliament to investigate her fitness for office.
“If the Minister, SASSA, the Treasury, Parliament’s committees and the Public Protector had acted faster, taxpayers’ money may have been saved. SASSA’s mandate is important and it cannot afford to lose such large amounts,” says Fick.
She said the report also vindicated the whistleblowers who had provided the information. “Whistleblowers are essential in combatting corruption and deserve protection and recognition,” says Fick.
OUTA welcomes Advocate Gcaleka’s moves to get the Office of the Public Protector back on track. “This is a crucial Chapter 9 institution and has a very important role to fulfil,” says Fick.
The Public Protector’s report orders:
· The Hawks to take note and consider conducting criminal investigation in terms of the Prevention and Combatting of Corrupt Activities Act for possible bid rigging and corruption linked to the two contracts;
· The SASSA CEO to take action within 120 days against the 11 employees identified in the report as being implicated in not adhering to supply chain management policy and for breaching public service and Treasury regulations;
· The SASSA CEO to take “appropriate action” in respect of Azande and Vee-el in terms of Public Finance Management Act rules within 120 days;
· The SASSA CEO to ensure appropriate training for supply chain management officials within 120 days;
· The SASSA CEO to “consider conducting lifestyle audits” on supply chain management staff to identify and combat illicit activities; and
· The SASSA CEO to provide the Public Protector with an implementation plan within 30 days.
A soundclip with comment by OUTA's Advocate Stefanie Fick is here.
The Public Protector’s Report, No. 26 of 2022/23, is available here.
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