Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Thuli Madonsela: Maladministration at the top of the Independent Electoral Commission

No Fear No Favour No Tender Fraud......

Greg Nicholson    27 AUGUST 2013  SOUTH AFRICA 00:27

                                                        NO CONSCIENCE?
When her business partner was vying to supply the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) with accommodation, Pansy Tlakula should have immediately recused herself from the process, said Public Protector Thuli Madonsela on Monday. Tlakula did the opposite. A new report shows how the head of the IEC risked its reputation when she was the organisation’s CEO. By GREG NICOLSON.

Everyone knew the IEC needed to leave Walker Street. After occupying the building for almost 13 years, the national office in Sunnyside, Pretoria, had become too small. The bathroom facilities couldn’t cope. Outside space was rented for meetings. Even the hallways were being used as offices. The rent was rapidly increasing. Simply put, the building was a health and safety hazard.
On 12 January 2009, the Commission, which consists of five members who run the country’s elections, decided the IEC would move to Menlyn Corporate Park. Soon to be built, it featured 9,059 square meters at the cost of R110.30 per square meter. It would have 300 covered parking spaces, not far off the N1, near schools and public transport routes.
Advocate Tlakula, then CEO, however, intervened. The decision to move to Menlyn hadn’t followed procurement policies and could cause an auditing problem. Besides, it was “too busy” for the IEC’s needs, she complained. Tlakula, who is now IEC chair, took control of finding a new home for the organisation.
She avoided one problematic move only to now stand accused by the Public Protector of “grossly irregular” procurement in another, characterised by “violation of procurement legislations and prescripts”. Less than a year from a national election, she has “risked the loss of public confidence in the Electoral Commission”, said Madonsela in her report into the IEC’s move to Riverside Office Park.
Tlakula suggested the procurement process start again. This time she would handle it through the executive committee. Before the Commission had even rescinded their decision on Menlyn, she had advertisements in the media calling for requests for proposal. Already the process was flawed; anything over R100,000 is supposed to be advertised for tender. Tlakula stayed heavily involved. As the chairperson of the executive committee and CEO of the institution, she effectively led both the initiation evaluation and adjudication of the bids.
Her team didn’t choose whom to award the contract to, but they submitted two options to the Commission. Menlyn Corporate Park was the first, which had previously been rejected due to the faulty process. Abland (Pty) Ltd’s building in Centurion was the other and it subsequently won the bid after outscoring Menlyn on the key criteria – price, location, square meters, age of building, car parking, access to motorway, proximity to shops and schools, and availability on 1 April 2010.
There were faults throughout the process. According to the Public Protector, apparently there was no set budget for the relocation. The procurement didn’t follow any of the available options and Madonsela found it constituted maladministration. But the organisation also struggled to stick to its own rules. The IEC judged bidders on whether their buildings would be ready by April 2010 but it did not move in to Abland’s Riverside Office Park until September that year, meaning some bidders like Mookoli were unfairly disadvantaged and others may have never applied.
Tlakula’s own failings led to a scathing review from the Public Protector. She is a director of Lehotsa Holdings, whose chairman and co-director is parliament’s standing committee on finance chairman Thaba Mufamadi. He is also the chairman of Manaka Property Investments, the BEE partner and 20% owner of Abland. In the past, Tlakula had introduced Mufamadi to colleagues as her business partner and there were rumours the two were in a romantic relationship. Madonsela concluded that Tlakula failed in her duties by not declaring the conflict of interest and recusing herself from the procurement process.
“During the evaluation of the bids by the executive committee, there was no way in which Tlakula could not have been aware of this fact as the evaluation and the adjudication of the proposals was done by the executive committee which included and was chaired by her,” found Madonsela. “Tlakula only declared her interest in Lehotsa Investments in the Commission’s annual and general declaration of interests forms in compliance with the annual financial disclosure framework which is a standard disclosure of interest form and which did not relate to a specific procurement transaction. This declaration said nothing about her business relationship with Hon Mufamadi. The declaration only covered Lehotsa as a company in which she has shares and not the names of her co-directors or shareholders.”
Tlakula maintains she has done nothing wrong. “How can I be conflicted in a company that I don’t have any interest in?” she asked on radio on Monday. She has a different definition of “conflict of interest”. Because her company did not have a direct interest in the bids and did not profit from awarding the contract to Abland, Tlakula argued the criticism was unfounded. Madonsela countered, “Such argument is in fact a source of concern. It would have been reasonably expected that the chairperson of a body such as the Electoral Commission should understand that things that can undermine objectivity transcend financial interests.” (The report suggests the two clashed regularly and at one point it accuses Tlakula of being “not entirely honest”.)
The money suggests Mufamadi benefited, even if Tlakula did not directly. In addition to being awarded the lucrative contract, Abland was paid millions for providing turnkey services to get the offices ready for use. It also got that contract without going through the necessary tender requirements.
For United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa, the report was a vindication. Along with anonymous IEC employees, he brought the issue to Madonsela in October 2011. “I’m of the opinion it would be difficult to retain her services. She would just be a liability given the damning report,” Holomisa told Daily Maverick. “The image of the IEC is gone.”
The Democratic Alliance (DA) also has its doubts. Its MP Manny de Freitas wants an urgent meeting with the portfolio committee on home affairs to discuss the matter. In the report, former chairperson and deputy chairperson of the Electoral Commission, Brigalia Bam and Thoko Mpumlwana both raised concerns that South Africa’s lauded institution could be tarnished.
Madonsela has recommended the speaker of Parliament consult the Electoral Committee on what action to take against Tlakula before advising the president on how to act. Parliament, the IEC and President Zuma now need to decide on whether to suspend Tlakula.
Madonsela also wants the Electoral Commission to review and possibly cancel the Abland lease and turnkey agreements and will ask the national treasury’s chief procurement officer to consider a forensic investigation. Signaling that the problems go beyond Tlakula, the Public Protector also suggested other role players in the Commission and IEC executive may need to be disciplined.
The institution responsible for ensuring free and fair elections now faces a deficit of trust. Madonsela titled her report “Inappropriate Moves”. Ahead of the 2014 vote, there’s not much time to move to restore the IEC’s credibility. DM
Photo: Electoral Commission CEO Pansy Tlakula is seen at a news conference at the Results Operations Centre in Pretoria, Monday, 16 May 2011 where she briefed reporters on the IEC's readiness for the local government elections. Picture: Werner Beukes/SAPA

Daily Maverick

Pansy, say it ain’t so

Ever calm and thoughtful, Pansy Tlakula was a palate cleanser in South Africa’s often foul tasting political banquet. The possibility of her suspension from the Electoral Commission over a failure to disclose conflict of interest in a lease agreement would have enormous repercussions on the political landscape: the loss of a steadfast hand on the tiller of next year’s elections. By STEPHEN GROOTES.

I’m often asked if I’m ever driven to tears by our politics, and if so which emotion I feel at the time. There were plenty of occasions when the tears came from frustration, there’ve been others, more recently, when I simply felt fed up with an untenable and wrong situation. And there’ve been others when the tears come from laughter. But today, the tears are coming from disappointment. We have very few people in our public life we trust completely, who we must trust completely. And when one of them falls, we’re all that much weaker for it.
I’ve known Pansy Tlakula for many years. She may not know this of course, but I’ve been one of those people who have bugged her for a sound bite, called her at some unearthly hour of the morning begging for an explanation of some arcane electoral point. Sitting in a live radio studio, waiting for the green light indicating her phone line was connected, the calm would immediately descend. Good, calm radio was on its way, delivered by someone who really has natural authority. If she were speaking at a conference, I’d stay.
And I was always rewarded. There was always something. Something that made you realise, in this country, this South Africa, there are people who really are impressive. Clever. Thoughtful. Able to deal with anything. She was one of those people who, when the chips were down, when you’d been following Julius Malema for a full week, could somehow cleanse your political palate in five minutes. You realised we were all going to be all right, because she was in charge, she would make sure everything worked properly.
Everything she touched, worked. Periodically, I would find myself in the cavernous election results centre at the Pretoria Showgrounds, surrounded by hundreds of my colleagues, all jostling, competing, laughing and gossiping. These were my happiest days as a journalist. Politicians you’ve been on the campaign trail with hugging you, Gwede explaining in great and excruciating detail why your predictions were wrong, Zwelinzima (may he now campaign in peace) laughing with you, Blade cracking jokes. And the numbers are coming in. The new political playing field is being set for the next five years. Power is being assigned. The people have spoken, and now the great listening begins.
The person at the centre of all this since 2002 has been Pansy Tlakula. She’s been organising these amazing gatherings of South Africans, from Umgeni to Umhlanga, from Tembisa to Houghton, everyone would gather in the same place, at the same time, to do the same thing. Knowing that their vote would count, properly. Trusting the people in charge.
And now we all feel let down. Because of some stupid building lease. Because Tlakula, who as an advocate, really really really should know better, didn’t disclose conflicts of interest. Because when the Public Protector came knocking, the IEC’s top officials didn’t respond properly. They didn’t hand over all the information that was needed. They didn’t just put their hands up and promise to deal with everything immediately and at once. Instead, expensive lawyers were involved.
It’s one of those moments when you feel the stuffing being knocked out of you. When the ground moves because everything you thought you knew is no more. It’s when you realise there really was a political conspiracy against President Jacob Zuma, or that no one will be punished for Waterkloof Air Force Base, or that the DA now controls a town in the North West. You suddenly have to question everything else you thought you knew.
It’s horrid.
What’s worse is what could follow. Under the Constitution, as Thuli Madonsela points out in her report the Electoral Commission (without Tlakula) and the speaker, Max Sisulu, now have to get together to work out what to do. Their advice goes to the President. Already, the DA and the United Democratic Movement (it was UDM leader Bantu Holomisa who laid the original complaint here) have already asked for Tlakula to be suspended.
It’s hard to argue against them. Quite frankly, if I had to pick between a dishonest chief judge and a dishonest IEC chair, I’d pick the judge. Some things have to be sacrosanct. Like Caesar’s wife, the head of the IEC has to be purer than pure, above reproach, better than all of us. Not someone who cocks up a bloody lease agreement. I mean really. Who does that? Bheki Cele?
So now Zuma will have to decide what to do. And the real question will be, as it always is in politics, if Tlakula goes who will replace her.
Here’s a little homework for you. Think of five South Africans who are neutral enough, respected enough, authoritative enough, and trusted enough to do that job. People who everyone, from the EFF and Agang, to the ANC and the DA, through to the Freedom Front Plus and the IFP will trust.
Still thinking? Me too.
And now, Zuma might have to find someone, just months before an election. As parties have already started to campaign, as people are already considering how to win this group over, and how to stop that group wearing blue shirts. When, already, politicians have started to lose their marbles.
Normally, you would simply pick someone else from the Electoral Commission to take over. But several of their number also don’t come out of this smelling particularly good. So some more thinking may be required.
There will now be some, those with their eyes very much on what happened up north recently, who will already start to question whether next year’s elections here will be credible. I won’t be one of them. I will miss Pansy Tlakula, sure. I will miss her steadiness and her firm hand on the unpredictable tiller that is this country at election time. But the processes in place at the IEC, the other people who are there, have grown in her image. The image I had of her before I read Madonsela’s report. I have faith in them. I have faith in the institution.
I also have faith in another fact, a process I know to be true. It’s that if you think a service delivery protest can be bad, it will be nothing compared to the anger of this electorate should it feel its vote has been scorned, has been trifled with, treated Zanu-PF style.
So next year’s elections will happen, on time. They will be credible. They will be well run. But probably not by Tlakula. DM
Grootes is the host of the Midday Report on Talk Radio 702 and 567 Cape Talk, and the Senior Political Correspondent for Eyewitness News. He’s been part of the political hack pack since before the Polokwane Tsunami, and covers politics in a slightly obsessive manner. Those who love him have recommended help for his politics addiction. He quotes Amy Winehouse.
Photo: Electoral Commission CEO Pansy Tlakula speaks at a news conference at the Results Operations Centre in Pretoria, Monday, 16 May 2011 on the IEC's readiness for the local government elections. Picture: Werner Beukes/SAPA









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