/ 13 June 2008

Cape tender sparks infighting

A fresh battle over questionable provincial government tenders has broken out in the Western Cape African National Congress, with provincial transport and public works minister Marius Fransman at its centre.

This week Thami Manyati, who heads Fransman’s department, was issued with a subpoena in an attempt to get him to reveal the names of three private trusts that benefited from a government transport tender.

Fransman had refused to give the names of the trusts to a provincial oversight committee, which is now attempting to get the information from his director general instead.

The tender was for a sophisticated integrated-ticketing system designed to allow commuters to use one smart card on both buses and taxis. Manyati has so far refused to disclose the beneficiaries.

The subpoena was issued by the provincial standing committee on finance and economic development, which is dominated by ANC members allied to provincial secretary Mcebisi Skwatsha.

The integrated ticketing project, on which the province has already spent R35-million, is expected to cost between R150‑million and R200‑million in Cape Town alone. The deal is controversial because of the way it was rushed through, despite major uncertainties about how it would work, and whether taxi associations would accept it.

The tender was awarded to Traffic Management Technologies (TMT), an international company with a 51% BEE component and the other 49% locked into the three private trusts in question.

Fransman is seen by many as an ally of provincial Premier Ebrahim Rasool in the struggle for control of the Western Cape ANC, but that view is strongly contested by people familiar with the inner workings of the party’s leadership contest.

People close to both Rasool and his main rival, Skwatsha, say Fransman’s personal ambitions mean neither faction relies on his support.

The ANC infighting in the Western Cape has been riddled with allegations of tender irregularities, several relating to Fransman’s department. Most high profile is the controversial deal to sell the province’s valuable Somerset Hospital site for an estimated R1-billion.

Fransman’s apparent refusal to provide the standing committee with the names of the anonymous trusts was ‘the final straw”, said a senior party official, and led to the unprecedented move by the ANC-dominated committee.

In response to queries this week Fransman said: ‘This is all nonsense and a waste of time.” He referred further questions to Manyati.

Standing committee chair Garth Strachan, who is associated with support for Skwatsha, said the committee had effectively been forced to apply for the subpoena after months of fruitless requests for information.

‘When you adjudicate a tender it’s inconceivable that the beneficiaries of a trust are kept secret. If you don’t know the beneficiaries, the officials who adjudicate can put themselves into the winning [trust] and you never know. The law is very clear: it’s totally unacceptable,” he said.

‘We are constantly reminded that we should exercise strong oversight. It’s a constitutional imperative.”

Manyati will have to appear before the committee this Tuesday and provide the names.

An angry Manyati said the subpoena was ‘a huge waste of my time and of the committee’s time and of taxpayers’ money. It’s such nonsense to even pursue the matter. There is nothing there. It’s hogwash and nonsense.”

Meanwhile the Mail & Guardian has obtained the names of the three private trusts. All of them appear to be entirely white-controlled.

They are: the Gelerman Trust, whose trustee is Niel Lourens (a founding partner of TMT); Transfin Trust, whose trustee is one Johan du Toit, and the Zoey Trust, whose trustee is the CEO of TMT, Douglas Davey.

Davey said this week the Zoey trust was named after his dog and the beneficiaries are his two children.

Davey’s trust owns 17% of TMT and the two other trusts 16% each.

TMT’s 51% BEE shareholder for the ticketing deal is Matemeku Investments, headed by BEE heavyweight Moss Mashishi.