On 5 December, shortly after the Public Protector released her final report entitled "Docked Vessels" on the R800 million vessel management tender awarded to the Sekunjalo Marine Services Consortium ("Sekunjalo"), Sekunjalo Investments Limited, which is entirely related to the Consortium issued a statement saying it was vindicated. That people such as the DA's Pieter van Dalen had "pilloried" the company in the media suggesting that the company lacked the expertise to undertake the tender and that Sekunjalo had been involved in "corrupt practices".
Sekunjalo's statement continued by stating that these "defamatory statements had been thoroughly debunked by the Public Protector".
What is a plainly clear is that perhaps Sekunjalo did not actually read the Public Protector's report before issuing the statement. The "defamatory statements" had certainly not been debunked by the Public Protector. In fact, rather than being "vindicated" Sekunjalo has a lot of questions to answer. Here are 4 key ones. (Of course, the continued failure to address these 4 questions can only result in certain reasonable conclusions and inferences being drawn).
First up of course is what is common cause and not up for debate. Sekunjalo was the beneficiary of an illegally awarded R800 million vessel management tender in late 2011. The illegality of this award was conceded immediately by the Fisheries Minister when she failed to oppose the urgent review application by Smit Amandla. Similarly, Sekunjalo immediately folded and refused to contest the tender award in open court where the eyes of the public would have been firmly studying the evidence that would show the vulgar illegality of the tender award. Which company that did no wrong so quickly hands back an R800 million tender?
How did Sekunjalo come to score this tender given the fact that before the sudden and inexplicable appearance of the hapless Joseph Sebola on the bid evaluation committee, Sekunjalo scored significantly less than Smit Amandla?
Secondly, the Public Protector confirmed that Sekunjalo lacked the expertise and skills for the vessel management tender. The Public Protector states says the following on this score -
"Regarding Mr Joseph Sebola's alleged irregular scoring of SMSC 5/5 on everything which did not have the relevant experience while scoring Smit Amandl a 1/5 which had (10) years of experience in conducting the exact service in question, I make the following findings-"
Of course the Public Protector was not remiss in finding that Sebola's conduct was highly questionable given the fact that Sekunjalo readily admitted that it did not have the skills and capacity to undertake the tender but would poach the retrenched Smit Amandla staff once granted the tender!
Thirdly, why did the Fisheries Minister suddenly deploy a lowly director from Pretoria - Joseph Sebola - who did not know the difference between a snoek and an abalone, let alone the difference between the bow and the stern of a vessel, to head the fisheries department on a temporary basis during this critical tender evaluation period? Sebola had no experience or knowledge when it came to the complex field of vessel management, maintenance and deployment. But he happily scored Sekunjalo top marks lifting them from near the bottom of pile to the only bidder to breach the 80 point evaluation cut-off! How lucky for Sekunjalo that Sebola came around!
The Public Protector has requested that Sebola's conduct be investigated by the DG of DAFF but dont hold your breath that anything materialises here. The DG answers to the Minister and presumably wants to keep her job. Ultimately, we will be seeking the intervention of the Public Service Commission to interrogate Sebola's conduct. For one, a lifestyle audit is required in order to determine if his conduct was influenced by anything more than gross stupidity.
Fourthly, the allegations of collusion and/or bid rigging by Sekunjalo and its related bidding parties have been submitted to the Competition Commission for investigation as it this institution that has the authority and expertise to investigate such allegations.
It is therefore not entirely clear how Sekunjalo considered that the final report vindicated it and its related bidders. At least these four important issues require further examination, investigation and answer.
This is perhaps why Sekunjalo's Chairman, Iqbal Sekunjalo, panicked and fired the editor of the Cape Times daily newspaper last week Friday. The newspaper had the audacity to splash the Public Protector's findings on its front page on the Friday morning following the release of the Docked Vessels Report, placing much of the above issues firmly into the public spotlight.
It was also reported that Surve then had a lawyer's letter dispatched to his own newspaper and threatened it and its staff with litigation if they did not apologise! There can be little doubt that such conduct is grossly despicable and a direct threat to media independence and democracy.