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Spy boss haunted by tender probe

The new head of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) is a director of a company embroiled in a massive tender-fraud probe involving millions of rands.
Lizo Gibson Njenje, appointed head of the NIA last Friday by State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele, is a director of Bosasa Operations, a Krugersdorp-based facilities management company with various lucrative government contracts.

Njenje is a former head of operations at the NIA who was suspended with former spy boss Billy Masetlha in 2005. Njenje was prepared to challenge his suspension legally, but it was revoked by former intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils after an out-of-court settlement was reached.

Njenje was the non-executive chairperson of Bosasa before joining the NIA for the first time. He resigned his directorships when he started working for government, but rejoined the Bosasa board in May this year.

Bosasa has been under investigation by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) since 2007 for allegations of tender-rigging in the department of correctional services.

The SIU finalised its report into these and other allegations last month and handed it to Correctional Services Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula and acting prisons boss Jenny Schreiner. Neither Mapisa-Nqakula nor Schreiner have commented on the outcome of the investigation.

Mapisa-Nqakula’s spokesperson told the Mail & Guardian in mid-September that the minister would respond to the report ”in due course”. Mapisa-Nqakula has since told The Star she would submit the report to the Cabinet before deciding on further action.

The M&G revealed earlier this year that Bosasa had tender documentation in its possession before it was advertised publicly. The Bosasa contracts, worth more than R1-billion, were investigated by the SIU with the 200 most lucrative tenders awarded by the prisons department. These included contracts for access control systems at prisons countrywide (Sondolo IT), high-tech security fencing (Phezulu Fencing) and catering at major prisons (Bosasa Operations).

The M&G is in possession of a presentation by the SIU that was supposed to have been submitted to Parliament’s portfolio committee on correctional services two weeks ago. The meeting was cancelled a day before.

In it, without naming companies, the SIU strongly suggests that it had found proof of irregularities with the awarding of high-value contracts in nutrition, clothing, building and security.

The SIU found evidence of tender-rigging and has referred it to the National Prosecuting Authority to decide if criminal prosecution should be instituted.

This week Cwele’s spokesperson, Lorna Daniels, defended Njenje’s appointment, saying: ”We do not wish to discuss or pre-empt the outcome of any investigation still under consideration — Lizo Njenje brings to our community not only his intelligence skills and experience but also strong business skills that are needed during this period of restructuring.”

The M&G reported earlier this year that Bosasa had sponsored the airfare of Njenje and former prisons boss Linda Mti from Johannesburg to Port Elizabeth while Njenje was employed by the NIA and Mti by correctional services.

Njenje said at the time: ”I was headhunted into a government position while active as a businessman with various interests. All I needed to do to comply with the employment conditions was to resign as an executive director from the companies.

”My shareholding and all benefits accruing were a matter of declaring and that I did as required. Some of the companies I was a shareholder in had or have relations with Bosasa.”

Besides his interest in Bosasa, Njenje is also a shareholder of mining company Simmer & Jack through its empowerment partner Vulisango, of which Njenje owns 22%. Vulisango is embroiled in a boardroom battle with Simmer & Jack over its equity. As a result four directors, including Njenje’s wife, Bulelwa, resigned from the mining firm’s board.

Gibson Njenje is also a director of 25 other private companies, including Delta Mining Consolidated, Thatha Security and Iziko Mining. Daniels said he would resign from these directorships ”as is required by the public service legislation”.

He will also be required to disclose his financial interests.

Cwele did not respond to the M&G‘s questions about whether he had taken into account a report by the inspector general of intelligence, Zolile Ngcakani, in 2005 that led to the suspension of Njenje and Masetlha.

Ngcakani investigated the botched surveillance of businessman Saki Macozoma and found the reasons given by Masetlha and ”the senior management of the NIA” for spying on Macozoma were ”without substance and merit”.

Last year in the so-called hoax email trial against Masetlha and others, Kasrils testified that the botched Macozoma surveillance illustrated the lack of leadership at the NIA. He criticised Masetlha and ”two other senior people in NIA” — Njenje and colleague Bob Mahlangu were suspended with Masetlha — for their role in the operation, saying the episode showed ”people at [the] top” were not ”fit for their jobs”.

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