Five questions facing Pansy Tlakula
Serious questions remain to be answered when Parliament reconvenes this week to study the public protector's damning report into Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) chair Pansy Tlakula's role in a botched leasing deal.
Public protector Thuli Madonsela found Tlakula flouted procurement regulations in securing a R320-millon lease for the IEC's head office in Centurion and held an "unmanaged conflict of interest" as a result of her and business associate Thaba Mufamadi's separate and undisclosed business relationship.
Tlakula's key defence, in a forceful statement released after the report, is that the deal did not constitute a conflict of interest as she did not benefit in any way from it.
But that does not explain the procurement procedures that were flouted in the deal, nor other outstanding questions in the public protector's report. These include:
- Wrong procurement process
The IEC put out a "request for proposal" to secure new premises instead of putting it out to tender, in line with the IEC's procurement policy and other regulations that state amounts above R100 000 should be subjected to a tender process. Curiously, Tlakula pulled back a previous attempt to find new premises because that process didn't satisfy the necessary regulations, but still made clear errors in the second attempt.
- Withheld evidence
Evidence was withheld from the public protector during her investigation, according to the report.
"Despite repeated requests, information such as the full sets of the executive committee and the commission's minutes of meetings, and the budget in connection with the procurement of the Riverside Office Park building was not provided during the investigation. Only extracts from the minutes were provided, with some not having the actual dates when the meetings were held."
Refusing to co-operate with the public protector as a public servant is serious. The material was withheld by Tlakula's former deputy Mosotho Moepya, who now occupies the chief executive post that Tlakula filled when the deal was made. Tlakula said: "I cannot speak on behalf of the chief executive and believe that this question should be referred to him," when asked about the withheld information. Questions have since been referred to Moepya's office.
- Tlakula involved where she shouldn't be?
In the run up to awarding the lease, Tlakula chaired the meetings dealing with procurement of new office spaces in her then role as chief executive. According to Moepya in his interview with the public protector, this was not previously the norm.
- No way to verify Tlakula's defence
According to the report, the IEC's executive committee played a role in the procurement that should have been played by the procurement committee. Tlakula subsequently insisted "the decision to award the tender was neither made by me, nor the executive committee of six, of which I was a member. It was made by the commissioners after two bidders were recommended to them without indicating any preference for either bidder."
But it is difficult to confirm this as neither the public nor the public protector has access to the full set of minutes from the relevant meetings.
- Flouted regulations
According to several regulations governing the IEC, the bid for the new premises should have been advertised for at least 14 days as required by the IEC's procurement policy. Treasury regulations are even stricter, requiring the bid to be advertised for a minimum of 21 days. Instead, it featured for between six and 11 days in various publications, including the Sowetan, Pretoria News, the Star, the Citizen and Beeld. The rushed process and flouted regulations involved in a bid that went to a business associate does not look good.
These and other questions were put to Tlakula but she declined to answer, after her initial stinging rebuttal following the report.
"Advocate Tlakula has advised that this matter has now been tabled in Parliament and it would be inappropriate for her to comment or respond at this stage," said her spokesperson Dominique Pienaar.
Parliament on Thursday announced it will establish an ad hoc committee to "consider" the findings by Madonsela relating to the procurement of the IEC's headquarters in Centurion.
"The establishment of the ad hoc committee will be tabled in the [National Assembly] next week, together with a time frame for it to complete its work ... and recommend a course of action," Parliament said in a statement.
"As is the case with other committees of the [National Assembly], the ad hoc committee will comprise proportional representation from political parties represented in the House."
This meant that there will be seven members of the ANC, two of the Democratic Alliance, one of the Congress of the People, one of the Inkatha Freedom Party, and one from smaller parties represented in the Assembly.
By early next week, parties are expected to provide the names of their chosen members to serve on the committee.