PUBLIC PROTECTOR UPHOLDS OUTA COMPLAINT, ORDERS CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION
In a big win for accountability, the acting Public Protector, Adv Kholeka Gcaleka, ordered the Hawks to investigate and SASSA to take action against 11 employees over two contracts which cost at least R221 million of social security funds. This comes four years after OUTA submitted a detailed complaint to the Office of the Public Protector while the now suspended Adv Busisiwe Mkhwebane was in office.
OUTA’s complaint outlined how whistleblowers had provided information on two questionable contracts awarded unprocedurally by SASSA (the South African Social Security 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.
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.
The complaint to Public Protector Mkhwebane languished for four years. Now Acting Public Protector Gcaleka has issued a damning report, ordering action.
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.
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