/ 2 October 2014

Blitzed patrol: Cops’ wheels have come off

Blitzed Patrol: Cops' Wheels Have Come Off

The Pretoria high court’s cancellation of a R2billion contract for the supply of spare vehicle parts has compounded a countrywide crisis and has left many police stations without wheels during the run-up to the busy festive season, amaBhungane has learned.

The crisis has coincided with the release of police crime statistics showing a marked rise in key violent crime categories, including murder and car hijackings.

South African Police Service (SAPS) spokesperson Lieutenant General Solomon Makgale said that 36 station clusters, about 20% of the national total, have been badly affected by vehicle shortages caused by breakdowns.

More than 20 officers between the ranks of warrant officer and brigadier interviewed by amaBhungane said that many policemen were forced to use their own vehicles to conduct investigations, and others were left office-bound and unable to visit crime scenes.

The Democratic Alliance’s Dianne Kohler Barnard said that, according to information released in the Eastern Cape legislature this week, 21% of the province’s 5562 vehicles are at police garages for repairs. 

Of these, 344 had been waiting for repairs for more than a month, 85 had been booked in for more than three months, and 18 had been left standing at garages for more than six months.

A Gauteng station commander who asked not to be named warned that the “crisis will not be resolved soon”. “We are nearing the busy festive season, which is always chaotic, and the commanders are not aiding the situation by dithering on instructions,” he said.

According to Kohler Barnard, who quoted information released in the Gauteng legislature this week, about a third of police vehicles in the province are not operational.

She added that Durban’s flying squad and specialised outfits such as the K9 dog unit have also been left without vehicles.

AmaBhungane has learned that the police have decided to appeal the judgment but no orders have been issued about where their garages should order parts. 

This is not only causing chaos and uncertainties at stations nationwide, but is an infringement of the court ruling.

Judge: Winning bidders “incapable”
In a strongly worded judgment last Friday, Judge Lötter Wepener struck down a two-year, R1.96-billion contract for spares awarded to Pinnacle Auto Parts and ABE Midas in June. 

Wepener found that the winning bidders were “incapable” of fulfilling their obligations, “[which] cannot be in the public interest”.

He ordered that the contract of the original service provider and applicant in the review proceedings, Autozone Retail and Distribution, should be “renewed with immediate effect … pending the finalisation of a new tender process”. 

Autozone had held the contract for the previous 13 years.

The court documents show that Pinnacle was placed in business rescue two months after landing the contract. The judge also found that Pinnacle’s black economic empowerment (BEE) certificate was false, as it had not been issued by the entity that had supposedly supplied it.

Wepener also criticised the police’s bid evaluation and adjudication committees, and said: “The eagerness to at all costs allocate the [R1.96-billion] tender to ill-equipped tenderers and not to [Autozone] is rather worrying.”

He also found that the two winning bidders broke many tender requirements, such as subcontracting, not having established distribution networks and not supplying tax certificates.

Tender process “smacks of an agenda”
Wepener ordered the creation of bid committees to start a new tender process.

“The conduct of the [police] smacks of an agenda to award a tender to anyone but [Autozone] despite it being the only bidder that fully complied with all the bid requirements,” he said.

AmaBhungane has confirmed that, despite the judge’s order that Autozone should be reinstated as a supplier “with immediate effect”, station and garage heads have not been issued with this instruction.

“We did receive an instruction not to acquire anything more from ABE Midas and Pinnacle, but no instruction about where else to turn,” a Western Cape garage station commander said. “It is absolute chaos and everything came to a grinding halt.”

Pinnacle claimed that the empowerment consulting firm Consolidated BEE Services issued its BEE ­compliance certificate. But the firm has denied this.

“It definitely is not mine,” the firm’s Ebrahim Yuseph, who supposedly issued the document, said. “It is a fraudulent certificate in every respect and I disassociate myself completely from it.”

One of Pinnacle’s owners, Haaroon Gangat, claimed to be the victim. 

“We deny submitting an allegedly fraudulent BBBEE [broad-based black economic empowerment] certificate to mislead the court. We applied for the certificate but did not think to authenticate it.”

Winning bidder sinking in “problems”
Gangat confirmed that the company is in dire straits. “This contract was a buoy to keep Pinnacle alive. It could have sorted all the problems we had,” he said.

Following the awarding of the contract, garages were instructed not to order from Autozone. But the court documents highlight the immediate inability of the new contractors to meet the requirements.

AmaBhungane has seen an email from Colonel Henry Horn, divisional head of the police’s mechanical services, to all provincial commanders, stating that “it came to this office[’s] attention that the contractors can’t deliver at all garages at this moment”.

In his judgment, Wepener said that “the ability of the SAPS garages to operate was seriously hampered”.

In its review application, Autozone said that, by mid-July, about 2140 vehicles at 56 of the police’s 97 garages nationwide were waiting for spares. 

These included about 600 vehicles at the Benoni garage, 230 in Polokwane, 208 in Maitland and 120 vehicles at garages in East London.

Autozone also noted that smaller auxiliary garages such as those in Roodepoort, Stellenbosch, Kuruman and Beaufort West had closed their doors for want of stock.

AmaBhungane confirmed this. It further noted that garages in Vredendal, Bloemfontein, Mthatha and Brits had outsourced their vehicle repairs – at a greatly increased cost – to private companies.

In an answering affidavit, the police did not contest this.

Police forced to outsource repairs at huge cost
A police insider said that outsourcing was three to four times more expensive than carrying out repairs at police garages.

Pinnacle’s Gangat admitted the problems. “Yes, we were still finding our feet. We do have a little bit of a backlog, but the cars sitting in the garage are not from our time only.

“I am being honest: it did not run like clockwork from day one. But you cannot compare us with the level of service from Autozone. They have been doing this for many years; we were just starting.”

Two emails leaked to amaBhungane show station commanders were scrambling to reduce the “unacceptable” number of vehicles in police garages by mid-September.

On August 13, the head of the police’s vehicle fleet management, Major General RJ Mokwena, sent an email to all provincial commanders and to supply chain management divisional head Lieutenant General Gary Kruser, noting “with concern that there is an increase in the number of vehicles at the various [police] garages and that the vehicle availability per station has decreased.

“Investigations have revealed that one of the reasons for this is due to the transition period with the implementation of the spares contract.”

Mokwena suggested countermeasures, including an instruction that all spares problems and requirements should be reported daily to the mechanical call centre.

He added that “the current backlog also needs to be addressed by increasing the outsourcing of repairs”.

Urgent need to tackle car backlog
On August 26, supply chain management’s Brigadier Hannes Pansegrouw sent a stern email to all provincial commanders, including Kruser and Mokwena, saying: “The number of vehicles in the garages has increased [by] 1905 since August 4 2014. This is totally unacceptable.”

Pansegrouw changed tack, asking the provinces to report back on how the dire increase of vehicles at police garages and the drop in vehicles available to police stations could be addressed.

“In order to address this unacceptable increase … all provincial commanders need to meet with all the garage commanders and submit a consolidated plan for their province on what they intend to implement to reduce the number of vehicles in garages [by] at least 20% before September 15 2014.” The deadline was not met.

Makgale confirmed that 2346 vehicles were booked into police garages between July and August, but did not provide figures for September. The garages had managed to repair 6812 vehicles with parts they had in stock, he said.

Own vehicles
A warrant officer attached to the Gauteng provincial investigative unit said he was instructed to use his own vehicle for investigations.

“A colleague’s vehicle had broken down in August,” he said. “My vehicle was given to him because there were no spare parts to fix his. I had to use my own for work.

“It gets seriously expensive to travel through the whole of Gauteng each day. So I booked off sick. I have been at home for the past month.”

A warrant officer at Sandton’s detective branch, two captains at Bloemfontein’s tactical response team (TRT) and a detective in Krugersdorp confirmed that the confusion has crippled their ability to do their work properly.

They said that the unmarked vehicles of members attached to units such as the TRT, the Hawks and the Special Task Force could be serviced by private dealers. 

But “if the service plan expired, we have to use the police garages, where nothing happens at the moment”.

Pinnacle and ABE Midas are understood to be considering an appeal against Wepener’s judgment. “The conduct of the [police] smacks of an agenda to award a tender to anyone but [Autozone] despite it being the only bidder that fully complied with all the bid requirements”.

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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.