Chief justice staff didn't connect resignations with R225m IT contract

23 August 2022 - 18:34
By Andisiwe Makinana
Three senior managers in the chief justice's office approved a huge contract then resigned en masse to form a company that made millions from the contract.
Image: 123RF/Lukas Gojda Three senior managers in the chief justice's office approved a huge contract then resigned en masse to form a company that made millions from the contract.

MPs are none the wiser as to how three senior officials in the office of the chief justice (OCJ) could have been involved in the awarding of a R225m IT contract — and then formed a company that benefited from the deal.

They were left disappointed after the OCJ failed to provide information beyond what was already in the public domain, citing pending investigations.

“We are not saying so because we want to hide anything, it’s also based on legal advice,” secretary-general of the OCJ, Memme Sejosengwe, told parliament’s portfolio committee on justice on Tuesday.

She said internal investigations and investigations by law-enforcement agencies were ongoing which made it difficult for her office to provide further information as this could affect the investigations.

She, however, confirmed to MPs that former CFO Casper Coetzer, former spokesperson and chief director of court administration Nathi Mncube and former case management director Yvonne van Niekerk’s “fingerprints were all over the Thomson Reuters deal”.

All three played a role in the awarding of the contract to Thomson Reuters, from bid specifications to bid evaluation as well as in the bid adjudication committee as it was part of their official duties. This included the negotiation process for pricing relating to the contract, she said.

“So their fingerprint is everywhere in this procurement process. They were integrally involved with the contract.”

Sejosengwe said as procurement processes required members to declare their interests, the three officials had declared that they had no interest in the company [Thomson Reuters] and in anything related to the process.

“I did not suspect that there was anything untoward happening. I had no reason to suspect anything because I did not find anything that in my view would have given reason to believe that they were doing anything untoward.

“Obviously it’s human nature. What happens happened.”

She said they were the only directors of ZA Square Consulting, according to the records, with Ncube being a 51% shareholder, Coetzer holding 25% and Van Niekerk 24%.

Sejosengwe explained that on December 10 2021, the OCJ awarded a contract to Thomson Reuters to provide software, licences, resources and support and maintenance for five years, commencing April 1 2022.

In terms of the award letter, Thomson Reuters was required to subcontract at least 30% of the services to a qualifying small enterprise (QSE) or exempt micro enterprise (EME) registered in SA.

In May, Thompson Reuters formally provided the OCJ with the details of the QSE South African-based company which they had subcontracted to provide support and maintenance. The company stood to earn 30% of the deal’s value, or at least R67.5m.

“The OCJ noted at that stage that the three directors of the company were employees of the OCJ and followed due supply chain management processes by requesting clarity on possible conflict of interest,” she said.

By then, the three directors, still employed by the OCJ, had already served their resignation letters to the OCJ and were serving their notice period during May, she said.

The trio had submitted their resignation letters on May 3, May 4 and May 6.

MPs across the political party spectrum wanted to know how three senior members of staff could resign simultaneously without this raising red flags in the office.

“How did this happen, why did it happen, why wasn’t it picked up and what has been done to ensure it doesn’t happen again?” asked DA MP Glynnis Breytenbach.

She said while they understood there were investigations, and information that could compromise the investigation could not be given, it appeared as if the OCJ did not have a handle on the issue, did not understand what was happening, and was caught napping.

“Nobody asked any questions, nobody was worried, nobody investigated and they haven’t even looked at exit interviews.”

Sejosengwe said the office initiated a process to review all its supply chain management processes and membership of its bid committees.

The office is also conducting a review of active contracts by the department for any impropriety, particularly within the information communications technology (ICT) space, she said.

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