Seta chief ‘is player and referee’

The mining qualifications sectional educational and training authority (Seta) is facing claims of tender irregularity, conflicts of interest and flouting of good governance principles after a company linked to a board member was handed a R25.8-million contract to train artisans.

The contract for the pilot project was given to the Witbank-based Colliery Training College (CTC), one of whose directors, Johan Venter, is an employer representative on the mining qualifications authority’s (MQA) board.

The aim of the MQA, allocated R250-million this year by the government, is to provide health and safety, employment equity and productivity training in mining.

According to the service-level agreement, which amaBhungane has seen, Venter and the MQA’s chief executive, Sam Seepei, signed the deal in September.

“Venter sits on the board and knows the MQA inside out. This gave him an advantage in tailoring his business proposal,” an employee, who asked not to be named, said.

The fact that Venter was both the employer and the training provider and sat on the board, making him both “referee and player”, violated good governance principles.

“When the Seta identified the need for this type of project, he heard everything; he was one of the people who drafted the requirements,” the source said.

Not advertised

Also at issue is the fact that the tender was not advertised according to regulations for contracts greater than R300 000.

“The board, but mainly Seepei, who approved this project and recommended it to the board behind closed doors, must take the blame,” the source said.

Seepei and Venter did not answer questions put to them individually but the MQA’s chief executive, David Msiza, said Venter had declared his interest and recused himself when the board was discussing the project, in line with the Public Finance Management Act and the MQA constitution.

Msiza agreed that the tender was never advertised but said that treasury regulations provided that, “where it is impractical to invite competitive bids”, it was possible to procure by other means, provided the reasons were recorded and approved by the chief executive or the board.

Asked why competitive bidding was impractical for the contract, Msiza did not offer an explanation. However, he said CTC was chosen because of its track record with the MQA and because it was the only service provider in the Nkangala district municipality capable of performing the work.

He said the labour department had asked the MQA to develop artisans in Nkangala because of high youth unemployment and high levels of mining in area.

Two phases

The project had two phases, the first involving preliminary training of 440 learners at the Nkangala Further Education and Training College for R1.2-million, and the second, for the completion of the training, at CTC for R25.8-millon.

Msiza was asked why the contract price had remained the same when the project was downsized in phase two and the number of artisan trainees reduced to 220.

He said that the initial number of learners was “adjusted” in line with the pass rate at the FET college and how many learners the participating mines could accommodate.

He added that the original R25-million contract price was subsequently adjusted “after further work done by the MQA”, and that the board had approved this in July last year.

He did not detail the adjustment.

However, the service-level agreement signed by Seepei and Venter on September 14 last year, three months after board approval, specifies that CTC would be paid R25.8-million over four years.

MQA documents seen by amaBhungane show that, since the project started in September last year, CTC has been paid nearly R5-million.

Receipts

The source also alleged that CTC was paid thousands of rands for “frivolous” claims without submitting supporting documents, such as receipts.

According to a claim submitted by CTC on November 14 last year, the MQA paid more than R16 000 for snacks and R33 000 for transportation.

In a letter motivating the deviation, CTC said it was claiming for meetings held before the signing of the contract, the pre-selection of students, students’ exposure and visits to CTC, transportation to and from the college and meals provided to students.

“This is fruitless and wasteful expenditure,” the source said. “Why is the MQA paying for pre-selection of students when they were selected by the FET? Where are the receipts, or at least an invoice from a catering company?”

In the letter, CTC said: “It was impractical to get three quotes [for this expenditure].”

Msiza did not answer a question about the size of the claims. Instead, he said: “All relevant invoices are presented to the MQA and contain proof that students attended training”. Pre-selection was necessary to determine the field of study students were allocated to and the MQA had to meet this requirement. The students’ visit was part of pre-selection at CTC.

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The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane) produced this story. All views are ours. See www.amabhungane.co.za for our stories, activities and funding sources.

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