DA, ANC in war of words over IT deal

05 February 2012 - 03:15 By ROB ROSE and BOBBY JORDAN

The Democratic Alliance has become embroiled in a "jobs-for-pals" scandal in Plettenberg Bay after it shunted a plum IT contract to a company run by millionaire resident Jeremy Ord without tender.

The ANC, which lost the Bitou municipality after 16 years to the DA last May, is crying foul saying this was a "payback" for one of the party's supporters.

Ord is the chairman of Dimension Data (Didata), a global IT company bought by Japan's NTT for R22-billon last year. After the DA took control of Bitou, it fired IT supplier Lefatshe Technologies because its R10-million system didn't work. The DA's new mayor, Memory Booysen, said Ord then "offered to send a team down to Plett, at no cost, to evaluate our technology systems".

Documents in the Sunday Times' possession show that on December 11 - soon after the free evaluation -  the DA-led council requested a "deviation from tender processes" so it could award Didata a R4,3-million short-term contract "to stabilise the IT environment at Bitou".

Bitou manager Terry Giliomee, in a letter to Booysen on December 12, he says he got no other quotations besides Didata's because "there was not enough time".

"There is no reason to believe the best price was not obtained by Didata," Giliomee wrote.

However, the Sunday Times has letters dating back to August 30, in which Bitou officials gave Lefatshe a 90-day notice and said "the contract will come to an end on 31 December". Eyebrows were also raised at e-mails from DA councillor Johann Brummer to Bitou officials in December, urging them to act to prevent problems at Plett's Lookout restaurant.

Brummer wrote: "Remember that Lookout is a Plett icon and hang-out of preference for some very powerful people - like Jeremy Ord and others who have supported us generously."

DA spokesman Jordan Hill-Lewis refused to confirm or deny if Ord had been a financial supporter of the party in the past. "We don't confirm who our donors are at all, because there is a climate of recriminations against people who donate to the DA," he said.

But Hill-Lewis said the DA would "never do a quid pro quo relationship with a donor". Mayor Booysen admitted that Brummer's statement about Ord's support "could mean a lot of things ... that's definitely open [to] a lot of interpretation".

He said before Plett hired Didata, no mention was made of Ord being a "supporter" of the DA.

"I've got no idea as to his relationship with the DA. Whether he supports [the party] or not, I wouldn't have that information."

But ANC councillors said it was a clear jobs-for-pals scam. Phakie Mbali, ANC chief whip in Bitou, said the explanation that Didata had to be appointed quickly was a poor excuse for not putting it out to tender.

"They gave Lefatshe three months notice, which ended in December. So they knew a long time ago that they would need another company to run the IT system," he said.

Mbali said while the DA told the public that Didata's assessment was "free", they found a way to pay Didata R4,3-million anyway.

He said the ANC believed Ord was a DA donor, and this was why business was shunted to Didata without tender. Both the DA and Ord refused to clarify if he was a donor.

Ord's spokesman Hilary King said: "Jeremy will not be able to provide comment regarding your inquiry on Plettenberg Bay."

Brummer said his reference to Ord as a "supporter" only related to the free assessment, and "politics has nothing to do with it" and no tender was put out because it was "an emergency". "When we can, [we'll] come out with a tender. We are paying them something like R4,2-million, but [every cent is accounted for] down to the last safety pin."

While the ANC is fuming about this "abuse of power", its officials aren't innocent either. A dirty tricks campaign has targeted Booysen, while allegations have also emerged that the ANC wanted to bribe DA councillors to swap parties, so it could reclaim Bitou. Booysen said he had inherited a financial mess from the ANC, including a shortfall of R25-million. But Mbali disagreed. "The ANC council that was running Bitou received three unqualified audits, including for this financial year."

Booysen said he still gets death threats from people furious that he is the "first black opposition" mayor. "I'm optimistic they will subside, but I still get calls where somebody says that I'm a dog, and they'll get me."