As part of his testimony on the second day of the judicial investigation committee on state imprisonment, veteran treasury Willie Mathebula stated that deviations from public procurement rules have become the norm.
On Tuesday, Mathebula was the first witness to testify before the committee led by deputy chief judge Raymond Zondo. His testimony concerned a central element of state interference – the irregularities within the public procurement processes.
The committee has been set up to inform and make recommendations for all allegations of state interference, corruption and fraud in the public sector. The task of the research is to determine whether or not deliberate attempts have been made to undermine the power of government institutions in favor of the politically connected Gupta family.
In his opening statement on Monday, the head of the legal team of the research, Paul Pretorius SC, asked that the committee, among other things, investigate the purchasing practices of state-owned companies.
"What can be done in the short and the long term to prevent a recurrence of the disease and what effects it had? … Have the provisions that regulate procurement needs [an] revision? "asked Pretorius.
Mathebula is not one of the witnesses mentioned in the State & Capture & # 39; from the former public protector Thuli Madonsela. His testimony is, however, of crucial importance, because the position he occupies is probably one of the most important gatekeepers in the treasury. As the acting head of procurement officer, his office oversees the government's annual expenditure of approximately R840 billion. He was appointed in September 2017 by the then Minister of Finance Malusi Gigaba.
The mandate of Mathebula before the commission had to work out the tendering procedures of the government.
The head of the Leah Gcabashe SC committee noted that because his testimony is purely technical, there would be no reason for anyone to question him.
Mathebula pointed out that his career was spent on "determining the rules of the game" with regard to purchasing processes. The office of the main purchasing officer was set up to ensure transparency and help regulate purchasing, he said.
His predecessor, Kenneth Brown, resigned from the position under a cloud with a Hawks investigation into the payment of two buildings that hung above him.
In his testimony, Mathebula described a "complex" and "fragmented" system that regulates public procurement. He noted that there are 10 separate pieces of legislation, apart from the Constitution, which regulates public procurement. These include the law on public finance management (PFMA), the preferential procurement policy (PPPFA) and the rules on treasury bills.
Gcabashe explained that many consider the PPPFA – which mandates government bodies to determine their own procurement policies that promote the interests of historically disadvantaged citizens – as "the soft underbelly of procurement".
She added that the numerous allegations of unsuccessful tendering procedures could mean that there is something systemic that gives rise to these irregularities.
The most recent example of such accusations has emerged from Transnet.
The board of the entity issued its chief executive, Siyabonga Gama, chief procurement officer Thamsanqa Jiyane and supply chain manager Lindiwe Mdletshe out of precautionary suspensions last Thursday.
All three, according to Transnet's statement, are involved in the alleged violation of the Constitution; the PFMA; the PPPFA and its regulations; Transnet's internal purchasing policy when issuing requests for proposals; the Companies Act and Fiduciary Duties; and incorrect change of evaluation criteria and non-compliance with government policies on local content requirements.
READ MORE: Transnet CEO Gama, two other suspended officials
When emphasizing how the principal's office enforces rules, Mathebula said that when gaps are revealed in the system, the office gives instructions to increase the system. But he wondered whether these instructions would only ensure that entities comply with these regulations.
"It is a war that we are fighting to ensure that there is no abuse of the system," said Mathebula.
Mathebula pointed out the fact that, once these irregularities have been bought in court, the fate of the offenders is out of the office – a part of the procedure he admits may change.
Gcabashe said that the statement that Mathebula submitted to the committee was preoccupied with contract deviations. "Instead of deviations that are an exception to the standard, deviations became the norm," Mathebula said.
Mathebula suggested that the clause in the Treasury Regulations, which is intended to help government agencies in emergency situations by allowing deviations, has been used by certain entities to circumvent the system. He did not state in his testimony which entities used deviations to circumvent the rules.
He said that these deviations give entities "a blank check" and add: "It's given to me and I can decide to give it to someone, I think that's just the unintended consequence of a very good intention in terms of that instruction, "Mathebula said.
Mathebula reiterated in his testimony that a process of reform is already under way within the treasury. He said that this is done through the Public Procurement Law, which is intended to give the public a role in assessing tenders.
Mathebula said that the bill will tighten the supervisory structures relating to tenders, which he believes is a matter of urgency.
He said that certain parts of the legislation will be withdrawn and others will be changed "to ensure that we have one piece of legislation in the country that deals with tenders".