Mpumalanga legislature silent on corruption allegations

No word on action after recordings of secret meeting filed.

The Mpumalanga provincial legislature failed to explain why it has failed to take any action against one of its senior managers on allegations of corruption.

In August 2016, the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU) requested the legislature to report one of its employees, George Mthimunye, for possibly influencing a tender process during an “illegal meeting” with bidders in a tender for the installation of an audiovisual system in the Mpumalanga legislature chamber.

The details of the secret meeting emerged during a disciplinary hearing of one of the managers of the legislature, Josia Silinda in 2017.

Silinda’s representative, NEHAWU’s Isaac Mahlangu, as part of his defence, produced the transcript of an audio where Mthimunye and another legislature employee, Thabo Pienaar are possibly discussing the legislature tender with representatives from a company called Pro Sound in Johannesburg.

According to Mahlangu, the audio and transcripts were admitted into records of the hearing of Silinda on the 16th August 2016.

The legislature’s Bid Evaluation Committee (BEC) had already recommended a company called Bakhusele to be awarded the tender after it complied with all the tender specifications, but Mthimunye possibly favoured another company called Execube.

According to the transcript, Execube also complied with the specifications, but their price was higher than that of Bakhusele.

In the audio, the participants are heard raising concerns that Bakhusele’s bid was meeting all the requirements, including the price.

“There is only one bug in that, there is another company that is compliant,” says Peter Watson from ProSound, according to the transcript.

“No, but they are in sanitation,” says Thabo Pienaar, another Legislature senior manager who possibly accompanied Mthimunye to the meeting.

In the audio, Mthimunye is heard mocking Bakhusele.

“Here I am talking of people who are implementing audio and video system.  I am not talking about sanitation and engineering.  I have done that work for 18 years,” says Mthimunye, according to the transcript.

“So am I correct that our resolution is we propose Execube as choice number one,” asks Pienaar according to the transcript.

“Yes,” responds Mark Malherbe, the Technical Director at Pro Sound according to the transcript.

“After adjudication we will then contact them and then ask for a joint meeting between us and you to re-negotiate the pricing,” says Pienaar according to the audio transcript.

Mthimunye, according to the transcript, was the chairperson of the Bid Adjudication Committee, which would make the final decision on which company got the tender.

When the BAC eventually held its meeting, it recommended Execube as the winner, in contrast to the Bid Evaluation Committee recommendation which favoured Bakhusele.

Silinda, who was the Acting Secretary of the legislature at the time, referred the matter back to the BAC so that they can reach a consensus, and they both recommended Bakhusele, which was eventually appointed.

It was around this time that the Legislature appointed Linda Mwale to be the legislature Secretary.

Mwale suspended all the managers, including Silinda. He charged the latter on the allegations that he had appointed Bakhusele irregularly. Mthimunye was the star witness in Silinda’s case and six other senior managers.

Inappropriate place

Pro Sound’s Malherbe admitted that it was wrong for the company to engage in the discussions with the legislature.

“As Execube had previously purchased from us, it was suggested that I speak to them to see if they could reduce their price in any way to accommodate the Legislature budget.  Naively and with hindsight being an exact science I should have declined but felt that I would be assisting by doing this.  As it turns out this discussion never took place as Bakhusele were appointed.  Categorically nothing underhand was intended nor envisaged by this offer as we had nothing to gain by directing any appointment,” said Malherbe in a response to an enquiry.

When asked if their participation in the illegal meeting could be construed as interfering with the legislature tender processes, Mahlerbe admitted that they could be misconstrued as having participated in the legislature procurement processes.

“We were not part of a decision process, our impression was that MPL had already decided who they wanted but had certain issues that they were looking for advice on, as we were the system designers it did not seem an unreasonable request at the time. Again with hindsight it could be incorrectly construed that we were part of this process,” he said.

During Silinda’s suspension, Mwale cancelled Bakhusele’s contract and appointed Pro Sound, the same company that Mthimunye held a secret meeting with to install the system.

Malherbe believes that there was no conflict that they developed the specifications and were also given the tender.

“The context on this process was entirely different in that this time around it was a bid that was to essentially rescue the Legislature from the last aborted process. In other words in would take an intimate knowledge of the system design to maximize the utilization of the partial installation left by Bakhusele.  On this basis we did not believe that the same conflict existed as there would have been during the first tender process,” said Malherbe.

Law enforcement

Mahlangu believes that Mthimunye’s conduct constitutes corrupt practices and requested the legislature to report him to the law enforcement agencies.

“You are now therefore aware of the said meeting which Mr Mthimunye attended. This then places a duty on you, in terms of section 34 of the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act no 12 of 2004, to report the alleged offence to any police official. We therefore call upon you, within 7 days from receipt of this letter, to report Mr Mthimunye to the police,” said Mahlangu in a letter to the legislature on 17 August 2018.

In a letter to NEHAWU, Mwale says that Mthimunye did nothing wrong.

“The contents of the transcript were interrogated and no wrong doing by Mr G Mthimunye was found. There is therefore no basis on which the employer can lay criminal charge against Mr G Mthimunye,” said Mwale.

Legislature Speaker, Violet Siwela’s office failed to respond to written media enquiries.

Mthimunye’s five-year contract was coming to an end on 28 February 2019, and the legislature was contemplating renewing it for another five years.

Meanwhile, Mwale lost all the cases against Silinda and other six senior managers that he had suspended soon after his appointment.

To date the legislature has failed to explain how much it has spend on the cases, but it is estimated that it could well be over R20 million in the cases that took almost four years to complete.

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