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Treasury report slams IEC deal, confirms Madonsela's findings

Verashni Pillay

IEC head Pansy Tlakula should be held responsible for a process that was not fair, equitable, transparent, or competitive, says a treasury report.

IEC head Pansy Tlakula. (Paul Botes, M&G)

The long-awaited forensic report into the Independent Electoral Commission's (IEC) botched leasing deal was made available to the public on the body's website, and it's not a pretty picture for those involved in the deal – particularly IEC head Pansy Tlakula.

"[Advocate] Tlakula, as the [then] chief electoral officer and accounting officer, Mr [Norman] Du Plessis as the deputy chief electoral officer corporate services and Mr [Stephen] Langtry as the manager in the office of the [chief electoral officer] should each be held responsible for the roles they played that resulted in a procurement process being followed that was not fair, equitable, transparent, competitive or cost effective," reads the report's findings.

Mosotho Moepya, who was Tlakula's deputy at the time, is currently the IEC's chief electoral officer (CEO), and his deputy is Du Plessis.

The report was done by PricewaterhouseCoopers and commissioned by national treasury, in keeping with the recommendations of public protector Thuli Madonsela's report into the lease deal, which she criticised for being irregular. 

The report blasted the bidding process for numerous irregularities, saying it would not stand up in litigation that "could arise by anyone of the unsuccessful bidders". 

Incorrect information
One of the report's findings is that Langtry, Tlakula's then manager in the office of CEO, provided incorrect information to the bid committee, which resulted in a company that should have been considered for the bid, Khwela City, being excluded. Abland eventually won the bid, and Tlakula's business partner in a separate company – Thaba Mufamadi – owns a stake in that company. 

The forensic report said the rental being charged by Abland was not fair market rental. Too much space is allegedly being leased, resulting in an extra R110-million being spent on the unnecessary space over the 10 years of the lease, while a high rate of rent and operating costs incurs them a further R20.8-million above market norms over the 10-year period. 

Madonsela released her report "Inappropriate Moves" in August 2013, finding that the deal was "irregular … and violated procurement rules". Madonsela took particular aim at Tlakula in the report, saying she played a "grossly irregular" role in procuring the Riverside Office Park building in Centurion, Pretoria.

Langtry is also mentioned in Madonsela's report as partly responsible for the botched lease, along with Moepya and Du Plessis. The report caused a sensation at the time for the historically stable and widely respected IEC, with tensions among the five commissioners coming to the fore.

But Madonsela's recommendations have been less than easy to follow for those wanting to bring the matter to a close. Jurisdiction over who can adjudicate the matter has presented a further headache for all involved. 

Overstepped authority
?IEC deputy chair Terry Tselane, who was appointed to speak on the matter, emphasised in February that the commissioners may take action to address issues in the organisation as raised by the public protector's report, but that they were not empowered to judge where Tlakula is concerned. This has left the long-serving Tlakula in something of a legislative blind spot.

A parliamentary ad-hoc committee decided against advising on the matter in October 2014, saying Madonsela overstepped her authority in referring the IEC matter to them. 

Madonsela also recommended the IEC's own court, the electoral court, deal with the findings of her report. 

But the electoral court is legislated to adjudicate matters relating to commissioners. Because Tlakula was chief electoral officer during the events detailed in the public protector's report, her conduct falls outside the ambit of the electoral court.  

The matter is further complicated by the fact that Tlakula has taken the public protector's report on judicial review. The matter is pending at the high court in Pretoria and Tlakula has refused to comment further after vehemently protesting her innocence when the report was first released. 

IEC protected by the Constitution
Several commissioners as well as those political party representatives closely involved with the IEC say the public protector's recommendations are difficult to follow, given the legal conundrum it represents. The IEC is a chapter nine institution, a body whose independence is strongly protected by the Constitution. 

A further problem with the report is the action it recommends against a the officials in Tlakula's office at the time of the leasing deal, who are still at the IEC and integral to the smooth running of the upcoming election. 

Senior respected bureaucrats in the IEC are in the firing line. The report recommended that Du Plessis and Moepya two face disciplinary action and treasury's report seems to reiterate this line of action.

Du Plessis reached retirement age last month and was due to leave the organisation. This was despite the fact that he represented invaluable experience to the IEC, according to two sources. A request to extend his contract by six months in order to help with elections on May 7 was turned down. 

Moepya came under enormous pressure since the report's release but was not able to comment until other processes related to the report were concluded. He told the Mail & Guardian he would focus on the smooth running of the general election. 

Tselane has echoed the same sentiment, as the body strives to maintain a stable front ahead of elections.

"Our focus largely is delivering the elections," he previously told the M&G.


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