Tembinkosi Bonakele. Picture: RUSSELL ROBERTS
Tembinkosi Bonakele. Picture: RUSSELL ROBERTS

The DA has called for the suspension of high level Competition Commission executives pending the conclusion of a forensic investigation into financial and administrative irregularities at the organisation.

The Financial Mail reported on Thursday that the National Treasury initiated an  investigation into the commission’s allegedly dubious procurement practices.

The commission is a key statutory body, mandated to investigate and evaluate restrictive business practices, abuse of dominant positions and mergers. The probe will look into the financial affairs of the watchdog’s top executives to explore whether anyone is receiving kickbacks from external legal or IT service providers.

DA MP and economic development spokesperson Michael Cardo said on Thursday that he has written to economic development minister Ebrahim Patel asking him to suspend Tembinkosi Bonakele, and other members of the commission’s executive committee. The commission is administratively accountable to the department of economic development.

The DA first called for an investigation into the commission in 2018, following responses to parliamentary questions revealing that Ndzabandzaba Attorneys received R72m in payments from the commission between January 2015 and August 2018, and were channeled 70% of all cartel cases outsourced by the commission.

“The DA welcomes the forensic investigation. However, for it to be thorough and credible, the investigation must be undertaken by an independent and competent forensic investigator. The investigators must also undertake their work without any obstruction or interference, perceived or real,” said Cardo 

He requested the suspensions of Bonakele, the head of the cartels division Makgale Mohlala, and the CFO Molatlhegi Kgauwe.  

Financial health

Cardo said the commission’s financial health is a source of great concern. The commission’s expenditure more than doubled from R199m in 2013/2014 to R422m in 2017/2018. The commission recorded deficits of R78m in 2016/2017 and R69m in 2017/2018.

“The commission’s accumulated surpluses have now been depleted, yet the commission continues to spend beyond its budget despite interventions from National Treasury. Furthermore, the commission’s irregular expenditure ballooned to R128m over the preceding two financial years [2016/2017 and 2017/2018]. Much of it benefited Ndzabandzaba Attorneys and two firms that provided services in connection with ‘dawn raids’ — Century Technical Solutions and Exatech,” Cardo said.

According to the 2019 Budget Review, an amount of R125m set aside for the commission to investigate cartels and anti-competitive behaviour has been placed on hold pending the completion of the forensic investigation.

“The forensic investigation should, therefore ,proceed expeditiously. There must not be a whiff of doubt about the independence and credibility of the investigation. The Competition Commission’s reputation, integrity and institutional stability are at stake,” said Cardo.

The economic development department was yet to respond to request for comment on Thursday.

phakathib@businesslive.co.za