The department of correctional services was a “free-for-all” under the leadership of Bosasa-linked prisons commissioner Linda Mti, the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture heard on Friday.
During his testimony before the commission — chaired by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo— Congress Of the People (Cope) MP Dennis Bloem recounted how “havoc” reigned over the department under Mti and his predecessor Khulekani Sithole.
Bloem served on the committee from 1994 and became its chairperson in 2004.
Bloem, a former chairperson of Parliament’s portfolio committee on correctional services oversight, said: “This thing of Bosasa was hampering the function of the department of correctional services. There was no control. There was no discipline in the department of correctional services … People were unhappy in the department.”
Bosasa has held lucrative catering tenders with the department of correctional services since 2004. During the course of his testimony, former Bosasa chief operating officer Angelo Agrizzi confirmed these tenders were retained through Bosasa’s relationship with Mti.
The Special Investigating Unit (SIU) began its probe into Bosasa in 2005 for alleged improper conduct relating to tenders the company was awarded. The SIU’s report was finalised in 2009. It found that Bosasa officials paid bribes to Linda and the department’s then chief financial officer, Patrick Gillingham, to secure tenders.
The report was handed over to the National Prosecuting Authority.
Mti’s payment allegedly included free air tickets, hotel accommodation and paying for the design of his luxury home in Midrand.
According to Agrizzi’s testimony, Mti was paid R65 000 a month by Bosasa.
Mti was allegedly still receiving monthly payments from Bosasa at the time Agrizzi resigned in December 2016, a decade after Mti had resigned as prisons commissioner and seven years after Bosasa and Mti were exposed in the SIU’s 2009 report.
On Friday, Bloem told the commission that internal controls were flouted under the leadership of Mti. “They have not done anything according to the book. It was a free for all,” he said of supply chain management controls at the department during that time.
Bloem went on to recount the transfer of the late Vernie Petersen, Mti’s successor, to the department of sports and recreation in 2008.
He called Petersen “the best national commissioner in the department”. Petersen was a “corruption buster”, Bloem said. “He was a straightforward person.”
Petersen’s transfer was “a blow to the department of correctional services”, Bloem said, telling the commission that the minister Ngconde Balfour did not alert the portfolio committee about Petersen’s redeployment.
Agrizzi has previously alleged that Bosasa paid officials in the department of correctional services R1-million a month to put pressure on Petersen to get him to co-operate in the company’s business interests.
Petersen did not want anything to do with Bosasa, Agrizzi said.
Agrizzi recounted a meeting between Bosasa chief executive Gavin Watson, Sithole and a Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru) official identified only as “Sbu”.
The meeting was organised to find a way to “swing” Petersen in Bosasa’s favour, Agrizzi said.
It was agreed that the men, along with KwaZulu-Natal prison’s Mnikelwa Nxele, would be paid R1-million a month to put pressure on Petersen, Agrizzi said.
According to Agrizzi, this pressure would applied through the union. If Petersen would not co-operate, he would feel “the wrath of Popcru”, Agrizzi explained.
Popcru denied its alleged participation in the undermining of Petersen. “If anything, these are fabricated falsehoods since at the said time it was widely known that Popcru was a critic of the direction the DCS [department of correctional services] was taking.”
Petersen had publicly butted heads with Balfour, who two months before Petersen’s transfer warned him in a letter that “something must break” if they cannot “trust and work together in the department”.
Agrizzi told the commission that Balfour received no favours from Bosasa.