Tembinkosi Bonakele. Picture: PETER MOGAKI
Tembinkosi Bonakele. Picture: PETER MOGAKI

The DA wants more answers on the nature of the professional and financial relationship between the Competition Commission and a law firm, the principal partner of which was previously employed by the commission.

In a written reply to the party’s questions, economic development minister Ebrahim Patel revealed this week that the commission had paid Ndzabandzaba Attorneys nearly R72m between January 2015 and August 2018.

The firm’s principal partner, Anthony Ndzabandzaba, was previously head of training and development in the commission’s cartels division.

The commission is a statutory body mandated to probe restrictive business practices and abuse of dominant positions and mergers. But its internal procurement processes have been called into question by auditor-general Kimi Makwetu.

In the commission’s 2017/2018 report tabled in parliament in September, he flagged irregular spending of R129m.

This included R40m in 2017 and R86m in 2018 related to contravention of procurement of forensic, economic and legal experts used on cases.

“It is clear that Ndzabandzaba Attorneys has struck gold at the Competition Commission. The firm is being channelled for most of the cartels case work and is intimately involved in helping the commission to conduct ‘dawn raids’ … by all accounts he [Ndzabandzaba] enjoys a close personal relationship with leaders at the commission,” DA MP and economic development spokesperson Michael Cardo said on Tuesday.

He said the law firm was briefed on 31 of the 44 cartel cases by the commission. “I will ask further questions to determine what amount of money was paid to Ndzabandzaba Attorneys for each of these dawn raids.

“Tomorrow [Wednesday] the commission appears before our portfolio committee on economic development to account for its annual report, and I will ask whether this particular expenditure was approved in accordance with supply chain management regulations.”

In his written reply, Patel said commissioner Tembinkosi Bonakele had provided him with the details of the work Ndzabandzaba Attorneys had done, and suggested that there was nothing irregular about the business relationship.

“The nature and the scope of work rendered by the law firm includes assisting the commission with prosecution of cartel cases, negotiating and concluding settlement agreements, giving legal advice on cartel cases and briefing legal counsel ahead of court cases to appear at the [Competition] Tribunal and in higher courts.

” The law firm has also assisted the commission with high court applications for search warrants,” said Patel. The firm successfully negotiated settlements worth R594m and had a 100% success rate on prosecutions at the tribunal, said Patel.

phakathib@businesslive.co.za