DTPS investigation still hazy

Bonnie Tubbs
By Bonnie Tubbs
Johannesburg, 29 Jun 2015
The Special Investigating Unit hopes to have completed its investigations into the DTPS' tender irregularities by the end of July.
The Special Investigating Unit hopes to have completed its investigations into the DTPS' tender irregularities by the end of July.

No further clarity has arisen from the Department of Telecoms and Postal Services' (DTPS) most recent response to inquiries around ongoing Special Investigating Unit (SIU) probes into its employees.

Meanwhile, the department - already hamstrung by getting to grips with the relatively new "split" communications ministry dynamic - is further impacted, as certain processes that pertain to irregular tenders have to be put on ice.

According to the DTPS, in response to a Parliamentary question raised at the end of May around an ongoing SIU probe into tender irregularities, 13 telecoms department employees are currently under scrutiny by the independent anti-corruption body - 10 of which are senior management employees.

While further details have not been furnished by the DTPS, these particular investigations have been ongoing since telecoms DG Rosey Sekese instigated the investigation of a R760 million deal with Media Corner, which was engaged to publicise government's broadcast digital migration programme.

The Media Corner investigation - mandated by presidential proclamation last year - comes from the days of former communications minister Dina Pule.

According to minutes from a DTPS portfolio committee meeting earlier this month, the investigation relating to the actual tender had been completed for some time, but there were "certain related aspects of the investigation that have not yet been completed", relating to the value for money part of the investigation.

Democratic Alliance shadow minister of telecoms and postal services, Marian Shinn, explains the SIU report then goes to the president to decide what further action, if any, needs to be taken. She says, despite a number of attempts to get to the bottom of the investigations under way into DTPS activity, clarity is still lacking.

The latest response, she notes, raises more questions. "The reply to the similar question (but SIU focused), asked on 29 May, says seven employees [are under investigation]. So it's tricky to discern why [there are] some who are being disciplined, and some of their number are being SIU investigated. It needs further clarity."

Alarming number

Shinn says the tender investigation has a "major impact" on the morale and performance of the department, which is failing to meet its targets and project deadlines. "With its upper management level working under a cloud... and unsure of their continued employment, there is uncertainty and lack of leadership."

Thirteen is an "alarmingly large number" of employees to be under investigation, she notes. "The department cannot function with this kind of uncertainty and atmosphere. I have said repeatedly at portfolio meetings that the split of the old Department of Communications, plus the upper-level turmoil at the DTPS, have been the most negative forces to impact SA's ICT sector."

Shinn says this comes at a critical time, when the DTPS should be leading the charge to implement SA Connect, producing far-reaching legislation from the policy review and dealing with spectrum, among other things. "I'm not sure Cwele understands the urgency of resolving these [issues]."

The DTPS had not responded to questions around the SIU probe, including how many employees in total the department has.

IDC regional director Mark Walker says, while one would have to understand the number of individuals that are in the procurement process in the DTPS overall to get a decent idea of the scale of the problem, 13 is an unacceptable number.

"No doubt this impacts on the process, as irregular tenders will need to be cancelled or withdrawn and the process will need to be restarted - at significant cost and time delays to both the department and to the respondents who incur losses from wasted efforts."

ICT expert Adrian Schofield says - like so many South African legislative and regulatory processes - the administration of tenders is good in theory and dubious in practice.

"Application of good governance requires the right rules, the right processes, the right management, the right oversight, the right accountability and the right punishment."

The SIU hopes to have completed the investigation by the end of this month. Shinn notes the SIU report then goes to president Jacob Zuma to decide what further action, if any, needs to be taken.