Acting chief procurement officer Willie Mathebula apologised to Parliament’s standing committee on finance on Wednesday for giving a “sub-standard presentation” after members expressed dismay that he claimed no direct knowledge of the withdrawal of a damning report on Eskom’s coal contracts with Tegeta.
Mathebula was also not able to provide details on Eskom’s request for deviations from public finance management rules for nuclear procurement contracts, apart from confirming that the power utility had obtained deviations on deals worth a total R31.1 billion.
The South African Revenue Service was second on the list with R1.2 billion. According to Mathebula, in the last financial year, the office of the chief procurement officer received 793 applications for deviations from procurement rules and approved 450 outright. A further 198 were approved with conditions.
He demurred when Democratic Alliance finance spokesman David Maynier pressed him for detail on Eskom, and in particular the fate of a report on its coal contracts with Tegeta that recommended a forensic audit, but was withdrawn after it was presented to Parliament’s watchdog Standing Committee on Public Accounts.
The probe into Eskom’s Tegeta contracts began on the watch of former chief procurement officer Kenneth Brown as a routine investigation into deals worth more than R10 million but attracted considerable political scrutiny after former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela red-flagged the Gupta-owned company’s dealings with the utility in her report on state capture.
“On what basis do you think you can simply not reply?” Maynier asked.
Mathebula responded that his office had only received questions from the committee late on Monday and that providing detail on individual contracts would have been “a mammoth task”.
He said he was not aware of the withdrawal of the report on Eskom’s coal contracts, but stressed that the office of the accountant-general (OAG) was investigating “that very issue around Eskom”.
“The OAG would be in a position to provide details on what is happening in that particular space, the OAG deals with corruption,” he said, adding that this extended to allegations of pervasive looting of state resources contained in the so-called Gupta emails.
He said since he was appointed to his post a month ago, replacing Schalk Human as the acting incumbent, “I have not detected any corruption”.
Senior ANC MP Derek Hanekom said: “It is a disappointing presentation and the absence of detail in it, particularly on the deviations, is disappointing. It is a very sort of scatty presentation, to say the least”.
Hanekom said MPs were concerned that the office of the chief procurement officer was not simply facing a deluge of deviations but an abuse of the system.
Mathebula said his office would fast-track work on a framework on criteria for accepting or rejecting applications for deviations.
The opposition objected strongly to Mathebula’s appointment in early September, describing Human as a reliable soldier in the battle against state capture.
After Wednesday’s presentation, Maynier issued a statement saying: “The fear that the Office of the Chief Procurement Officer, which is one of the most important institutions in the fight against state capture, has been ‘defanged’, seems to have been confirmed.”