Analysis: DA vs Sunday Times – who stuffed up?

By Sipho Hlongwane 15 August 2011

Following a tender irregularity report in the Sunday Times that named top Democratic Alliance aides, the Western Cape government said that it was actually the paper that was full of it. So whose mea culpa is it? Did the Western Cape government just get a dose of the “factional battles fought via the media” tactic? By SIPHO HLONGWANE.

Somebody stuffed up really badly. That ‘someone’ is either in the Western Cape Premier Helen Zille’s office, or at the Sunday Times.

According to the Sunday Times, the Premier’s office awarded a multimillion rand communications tender to TBWA\Hunt\Lascaris without following proper procedures and regulations. The Sunday Times said that the tender covers all the communications needs for all 10 provincial departments. The tender covers organising name tags and access cards for the provincial government’s 77,000 employees, taking care of business cards, all signage for the provincial government, including name plaques, and branding of provincial government vehicles; and designing banners, corporate gift wrapping, exhibition stands, leisure-wear for business units, corporate uniforms and protective clothing.

The weekly paper continued to say: “The tender was not publicly advertised or placed on the government tender bulletin, as required by Treasury regulations. A scathing review compiled by the province’s own treasury found that the process to appoint TBWA ‘revealed a lack of control measures and good governance principles’. But the same department endorsed the tender process anyway, saying the flaws amounted to a ‘learning experience’.”

What had initially been a R1.5 million tender covering the Premier’s office was expanded to encompass all 10 departments, according to the Sunday Times.

The paper explicitly names DA chief strategist Ryan Coetzee, Gavin Davis, Paul Boughey, advisor to the Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille; and Helen Zille’s communications director, Nick Clelland-Stokes as being on the committee that decided on the tender.

On Sunday, Helen Zille’s office issued a statement, rubbishing the Sunday Times story. The statement said that there was no truth in the suggestion that there was anything improper or “unprocedural” in the way the tender was awarded.

“Not only did we confirm to the journalist that the tender was advertised in Die Burger and the Cape Argus, we sent the journalist a scan of the actual advert that appeared in print,” the statement said. “It was made clear to the journalist that the bid was not for the Premier’s office.”

“It was advertised by the Department of the Premier on behalf of the entire Provincial Government. The R1 billion price tag is an absolute fabrication. It was made clear to the journalist that the estimated total communications spend of the Provincial Government is between R50 million and R70 million per year. Using the average extraction rate of 18%, this means that the agency could earn between R9 million and R12 million per year for their professional services. This cost would most certainly be reduced as a single agency will allow the Provincial Government to leverage economies of scale and bulk discounts from the industry,” the statement said.

The premier’s office forwarded scanned clippings of the tender advertisement to the Daily Maverick. They will be laying a complaint with the Press Ombudsman, according to the media statement.

Responding to the allegations via Twitter, Zille said, “ST story. There will be no cover up. DG [director general] asking AG [auditor general] for tender process audit. I am confident process right.” She later tweeted, “If there was any corruption, I will resign. If there was maladministration there will be consequences.”

The Sunday Times said that they had been alerted to the “tender irregularity” by a whistle-blower who intends to take the matter to the Public Protector.

Assuming for a moment that there was indeed a source (though Zille’s media statement would suggest that the entire thing was pulled out of the rear end by the journalists concerned), is the Western Cape government falling for the same sort of tricks that plague the ANC? Are we seeing another factional battle playing out via the media? Just a few weeks ago, The Star also found itself exposed after a source claimed that the police was about to arrest public protector Thuli Madonsela for corruption. The story turned out to be untrue – but contained enough circumstantial evidence to cause a national furore. The most blatant example of this was when reports surfaced in the press that Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe had a love-child. This too turned out to be complete lies.

In each of these cases, it strongly appeared as if the media had been used to fight factional battles within an organisation. The same could be happening in Cape Town. Ryan Coetzee and Nick Clelland-Stokes didn’t get back to us when we asked whether or not they believed that this is what was happening. We’re left to speculate on whether this might be the case or not. The Western Cape government still has many ANC-aligned officials in its ranks who would no doubt enjoy seeing the DA-lead provincial government taken down a notch or two, and perhaps also earn the gratitude of Luthuli House, where the Western Cape ANC definitely isn’t in the best of positions. It could also be a sign of good, old-fashioned friction within the DA itself.

Or the Sunday Times really did screw this one up royally. That would be a huge problem for the paper. Just days ago, the press ombudsman ruled against the paper in a complaint brought by Phumla Masilela, whom the paper alleged was Minister of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Sicelo Shiceka’s girlfriend, and that she had confirmed that he had visited her in a Swiss jail.

In 2008, Anton Harber was asked to form a commission by the Sunday Times to investigate systemic gatekeeping and policy failures at the paper’s newsroom following a string of highly embarrassing story retractions in 2007 and 2008. The Sunday Times then mired itself even more in controversy by refusing to release the report of the Harber commission. To find itself caught short again will do nothing for its already depleted reputation.

It seems heads might roll over this. Only time will tell whether they will roll in Cape Town or in Rosebank. DM

Join the counter-revolutionary expansion movement. iMaverick.

Read more:

  • DA aides in contract row in TimesLive;
  • Western Cape Government’s communications tender – the facts in Cape Gateway.

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