On 27 November 2011, Feike published an article on this BLOG questioning how, just two days previously, the Minister of Fisheries could have conceivably allocated an R800 million vessel management and maintenance tender to Sekunjalo Investments, which owns Premier Fishing.
Premier Fishing holds a range of extremely substantial fishing quotas in a number of South Africa's largest and most lucrative fishing sectors. Premier Fishing, for example, is the single largest holder of South Coast rock lobster fishing quotas.
We questioned how it was possible that a fishing company could be granted a tender to oversee fisheries compliance patrols and fisheries research. The shocking conflict of interest was plain for all to see except Sekunjalo and the Minister.
On 26 November 2011, the Mail & Guardian published a separate and unrelated story about Premier Fishing's decision to pay for the personal security costs of another Cabinet Minister.
Soon thereafter, the Democratic Alliance, together with a host of media, repeatedly highlighted the clear conflict of interest the tender allocation created.
By December, the incumbent service provider, Smit Amandla, had begun legal proceedings against both the Minister and Sekunjalo seeking to interdict the Minister from proceeding to implement her decision to allocate the tender to Sekunjalo.
However, the key reason for the decision to backtrack from the original tender decision would have to have been the February 2012 expose by the Democratic Alliance of a Forensic Report commissioned by the Fisheries Department in 2011 which was kept secret. This report was damning and confirmed that -
- There was no evidence that the bid adjudication committee even considered the major conflict of interest in awarding a contract to Sekunjalo. The qualifications of the people on the committee also could not be verified.
- The report acknowledges the apparent conflict of interest, repetitively raised by the public.
- Premier Fishing, Premier Fishing Consortium and Sekunjalo Marine Services all submitted bids for the same tender, citing one common annual report as their supporting documentation.
The fact is the forensic report, coupled with the interdict application (which Sekunjalo failed to even oppose) would require too many difficult (if not impossible) questions to be answered.
However, a number of very difficult questions remain to be answered publicly by the Minister. For example, who were the members of the evaluation committee; what were their technical skills and qualifications to adjudicate such a complex tender; have they and their family members been subjected to lifestyle audits before and after the adjudication of the tender; what role did the Minister and officials in her department play in this debacle; why did Sekunjalo effectively submit three tenders for the same bid and what were each of these bid amounts; why did the Minister rush to announce the decision when the forensic report highlighted these significant concerns?
The Sekunjalo tender debacle once again exposes a department and Minister lost at sea. Perhaps we need to be reminded that an ANC member of the Fisheries Parliamentary Portfolio Committee has described this department as being "dysfunctional".