The SABC office in Auckland Park, Johannesburg. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
The SABC office in Auckland Park, Johannesburg. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

A preliminary Special Investigating Unit (SIU) probe has found that a R185m SABC security tender was irregularly awarded by its interim board and should be set aside.

The interim board was appointed in 2017 to resolve challenges at the public broadcaster but has now found itself in crisis following the resignations of four of its board members earlier in December.

These interim findings will cast a shadow over the Ramaphosa administration’s drive to clean up the SABC, which has reported losses exceeding R1.5bn over the past two financial years.

Tebogo Malatji, the lawyer representing former interim board members Khanyisile Kweyama, Krish Naidoo, John Matisonn and Mathatha Tsedu last week denied there was any link between their resignations and the security tender.

The resignations of the four come after reports that new communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams was "at war" with the board over the retrenchments of 981 permanent staff and 1,200 freelancers, and allegations that members refused to allow her to first negotiate a bail-out with finance minister Tito Mboweni before going ahead with the job cuts.

The SIU, however, said its initial investigations into that tender revealed that the "SABC flouted its own procurement policies" in awarding the contract to second-ranked bidder Mafoko Security, which was reportedly R2m more expensive than the highest-ranked bidder, Mjayeli Security.

The tender was for the provision of security services to the SABC over a five-year period. It was put out in February 2017 and was awarded by the interim board.

The SIU is part of SA’s prosecution machinery and is tasked with investigating serious malpractices as well as any conduct "which may seriously harm the interests of the public".

It refers any alleged criminality uncovered by its investigations to the National Prosecuting Authority because it is not empowered to prosecute cases. It can institute civil litigation to recover state funds unlawfully spent on irregular contracts.

SIU forensic investigator Jande van der Merwe said the unit’s interim findings showed that the SABC’s bid evaluations committee was "irregularly" constituted. In an affidavit filed at the high court in Johannesburg, Van der Merwe said the public broadcaster had also violated the constitutional requirement that procurement be conducted using a system that was fair, equitable, transparent, competitive and cost effective.

She said the SIU was also investigating "an array of allegations of corruption and maladministration" linked to the security tender and identified by board chair Bongumusa Makhathini.

In a letter to the SIU dated March 1 2018, Makhathini stated "a number of whistle-blowers" had outed various cases of fraud and corruption regarding the evaluation process leading to the recommendation stages of the tender process.

The SIU’s interim findings on the SABC security tender have been revealed in court documents, as the axed former head of supply chain management at the SABC, Simon Mulaudzi, and former SABC GM of supply chain governance Ayanda Mkhize claim they were fired on "trumped-up charges", because they "knew too much" about alleged impropriety linked to the security tender.

SABC attorney Sandile July, however, said there was no connection between the charges against the pair and the security tender. He said the charges came about as a result of a parliamentary portfolio committee investigation into the administration of the SABC, which saw President Cyril Ramaphosa issuing a proclamation in July to authorise an SIU investigation into the public broadcaster.

Part of that investigation includes an in-depth evaluation of the security tender.

The SIU is now seeking to be legally joined to the court challenge by Mjayeli Security to the awarding of the security tender to Mafoko Security.

Van der Merwe said it was "in the interests of justice" for the court to decide on the legality and rationality of the tender award to have access to all the evidence gathered by the SIU in its investigation, as well as its final report. She said that the "SIU is enjoined to ensure that the circumstances surrounding the award of the tender are properly ventilated".

The SIU believes the tender award should be set aside, but does not support Mjayeli’s application for it to be awarded the tender instead.

Malatji told the SABC that his clients did not believe there were any irregularities. Instead, he said, they were concerned there may have been collusion and possible manipulation of the scores allocated to bidders, which determined how they were ranked in the process.

Correction: 18 December 2018