Wednesday’s Scopa hearing, supposedly into the South African Police Service’s (SAPS) irregular, fruitless and wasteful expenditure, will go down as a turning point in the public exposure of the deep and disturbing extent of the rot in two of the country’s key institutions, SAPS and the State Information Technology Agency (SITA). It was also a surreal experience as Keith Keating, a former cop and the man at the centre of SAPS/SITA capture allegations, pitched up to sit in on the hearing. It was a day of shocking revelations of death threats to senior SITA officials, collapsed financial controls as well as industrial-scale corruption amounting to billions of rand which, suggested the new National Police Commissioner, Khehla Sitole, posed a threat to national security. After the four-hour grilling, SAPS and SITA vowed to stop or reverse irregular procurements awarded to Keating. It all turned into accountability on steroids. By MARIANNE THAMM.
Where to begin?
Perhaps at the start of proceedings when a high-level SAPS delegation, including newly minted National Police Commissioner, General Khehla Sitole, and other top brass in police Supply Chain Management, Strategic Management and Forensic Auditing, filed quietly into Scopa committee room V454 at 09:00 on Wednesday. They were accompanied by SITA suits including CEO Setumo Mohapi and CFO Rudzani Rasikhinya.
Also present were Independent Police Investigative Directorate Executive Director, Robert McBride, and head investigator, Matthews Sesoko. Sesoko is currently probing former acting National Commissioner Khomotso Phahlane on charges of fraud and corruption which relate to his alleged acceptances of kickbacks paid via a Pretoria car dealer to himself, his wife, Brigadier Beauty Phahlane, as well as his sister Josephine during his time as head of SAPS Forensics and while head of the entire SAPS.
McBride and his investigators were in turn being hounded by a posse of North West province-based cops, led by Major-General Jan Mabula, who were allegedly rallied by Phahlane, but who have subsequently been ordered by the courts to back off.
And then there was the surprise guest, who must have slipped in when no one was looking – the man in the centre of IPID’s investigations and a separate SITA investigation involving evergreen contracts worth around R6.1-billion and awarded to three of his companies between 2010 and 2017, Keith Keating himself.
Keating strategically seated himself on the periphery of the room facing SAPS and SITA officials. He had a clear line of sight of SAPS officials as they prepared to deliver an 11-page document.
They needn’t have bothered printing it. In the end, as the temperature – literally, physically and metaphorically – rose in the room, the document was turned into hand-held fans.
If it were not all so utterly tragic, one might have been able to charge for the spectacle of the great unravelling that began to take place:
What was clear was that the multiparty Scopa members, as well as the deceptively affable chair Themba Godi, must have agreed beforehand to allow the DA’s Tim Brauteseth – himself a former forensic investigator – to lead what turned into a deep and unexpected interrogation of SAPS and SITA and how both these institutions have been corroded by wide-scale corruption and malfeasance.
SAPS command did not even have time to suggest that their presentation be made as Brauteseth went straight for the jugular shortly after Godi’s welcomes. Brauteseth zoned in on one component of a network of potential irregular procurements – that of Rofin forensic lights for SAPS – which Keating’s Forensic Data Analysts (FDA) had engaged SITA to maintain at the cost of around R9-million per month.
While SITA had sent a wad of documents to Scopa committee members ahead of Wednesday’s meeting, SAPS had simply handed in a quarter of a page. Brauteseth began by asking SITA where the procurement documents for the 3,573 items SITA serviced for SAPS might be found.
No one had an answer.
“Who had bought these items?” Brauteseth continued.
By then the SAPS delegation knew they had been ambushed with nowhere to hide as current Deputy National Commissioner for resource management, Lieutenant-General Stefan Schutte, battled to answer questions.
Then came the bombshell.
Brauteseth asked SITA whether Keating had signed a declaration in August 2017 that FDA had not been involved in any corrupt or collusive activities with SITA, its employees, customers or their staff, suppliers or “any organ of the state”.
Yes, yes, he had.
Could anyone explain then a trip in October 2011 to the UK by SAPS Supply Chain Management members supposedly to attend an RFID (Radio Frequency Identification Process) conference?
Neither could anyone in the delegation explain how the members travelled, who had paid for the trip, expenses or any entertainment (including a visit to a brothel called Babylon in Vienna) that the members might have enjoyed.
And then Brauteseth pulled out enlarged photographs of two SAPS members posing in the trophy room of Old Trafford, the home of English Premier Soccer League team Manchester United, with Keating and Jerenique Bayard. Bayard is the project director at Unisys and who has supplied millions of rand worth of cameras to SAPS.
The second photograph featured all four men, in front of Old Trafford, with their names emblazoned on the back of their custom Manchester United soccer jerseys.
Was it a coincidence, asked Brauteseth, that Keating had taken the SAPS Supply Chain members on the jaunt six months after an order for equipment had been placed by FDA for millions of rand worth of forensic cameras and other equipment?
Keating appeared to sink deep into the vinyl chair, possibly regretting that he had opted to attend.
ANC Scopa committee member, the delightfully tetchy Mnyamezeli Booi, unable to hold back, lashed out, chastising officials for coming to a Scopa meeting without having answers.
“When you are being asked a question, then reply. It should be on your fingertips, not in your office. Let’s be clear about that,” snapped Booi.
Eventually SAPS and SITA executives murmured that yes, the trip could be regarded as suspicious and irregular.
From that point onwards it was like watching a pit latrine collapse on itself.
Both Khehla and SITA CEO, Setumo Mohapi, acknowledged that the scale of the alleged corruption due to irregular procurement practices involving Keating was an urgent and pressing matter that needed to be dealt with.
Mohapi, who later informed the committee that he had received death threats since SITA had initiated two investigations in February 2017, told committee members that the agency was exploring avenues of finding legal leverage to cancel or void contracts awarded to Keating.
At some point everyone in the room became aware of the portly man in the white shirt.
Booi, clearly infuriated, requested Scopa chair Godi to ask Keating to leave.
Why was he there in the first place, committee members demanded to know. How did he get in? Was he there trying to psyche out SAPS and SITA officials? He should move to the other side of the venue where he could not stare down officials.
Even the Guptas didn’t have the gall to pop in and observe committee meetings and commissions of inquiry, someone else remarked.
No one on Wednesday could answer why Keating had been appointed as a sole supplier of a variety of goods and services to SAPS and SITA from 2010 to 2017 and amounting to R6.1-billion while the Public Finance Management Act made it quite clear there needed to be compelling reasons for the contracting of sole suppliers. There had also been no competitive bidding for any of the products and services Keating’s companies offered to SAPS and SITA.
Some of the work Keating rendered, the committee heard, also related to the entire SAPS IT infrastructure, the location of which, the delegation admitted, was presently unknown. What this means is that the country’s criminal justice system could be in the hands of one person who might be able to press a button and make it all disappear.
Khehla, towards the end of the meeting, admitted this posed a threat to national security after Brauteseth reminded officials that the Auditor General had stated that the SAPS intangible asset register could not be located.
The more committee members learned of the scale of the alleged corruption surrounding the procurement of business with Keating’s companies, the angrier they grew.
Police were colluding with criminals!
Keating has captured SAPS and SITA!
Put him in jail! Arrest him now!
This was a repeat of early corruption when colonists traded mirrors for land, said one member.
“Why aren’t the Hawks here? This love of money is criminal, it is an embarrassment to our country,” said another.
Keating remained seated, betraying nothing, laughing occasionally, sometimes shaking his head in disagreement.
Committee member Vincent Smith suggested that Khehla immediately terminate all contracts with Keating’s companies.
“We’re coming for Keath Keating,” McBride later told committee members after outlining IPID’s investigation into Phahlane and how this had deepened and widened to reveal large-scale corruption within the SAPS.
It was clear, said committee members, that a shadow world existed, inhabited by some members of the old security establishment who were still active and were undermining SAPS and other institutions in democratic South Africa. This they did by targeting vulnerable or greedy individuals in the system in order to milk it for vast personal gain.
Both Mohapi and Khehla assured committee members that they viewed the shocking revelations and the findings of two SITA and the IPID investigations as grave and serious and would, after the meeting, immediately implement procedures to undo the damage that has been done, including taking legal action. Already several members of SITA have been fired, suspended or are facing disciplinary hearings.
Wednesday’s Scopa meeting was a sterling example of the power of the oversight role Parliament can and should play in demanding accountability from government officials. The gargantuan extent of the alleged corruption in SITA and SAPS, as revealed at the hearing, is now public knowledge. But in order for this deep root of criminality to be thwarted the country needs an NPA and Hawks capable of protecting the state and taxpayers’ money from predators from within its own ranks and in the private sector.
The tide is turning.
It is time now for law enforcement agencies to step up. Our new National Commissioner does not have big shoes to fill. Every single one of his predecessors has left office in disgrace. Khehla made a good impression on Wednesday but he has an uphill battle, not only fighting endemic crime in the country but within the ranks of SAPS and government itself.
Of course, the political head, Minister of Police and Tweets, Fikile Mbalula, might find himself invited to Scopa to explain what he plans to do to root out the rot and to account for the scandalous state of affairs. Under Godi’s guidance and chairmanship, Scopa has emerged as a formidable source of resistance to unfettered abuse of state resources.
Leaving the Scopa committee room this writer accidentally found herself alone in the lift with Keith Keating.
After a rather awkward silence I asked: “So, how was that for you?”
He seemed surprised and mumbled: “I plan to fight back. It’s not true”. DM
Main photo: DA’s Tim Brauteseth – himself a former forensic investigator – lead what turned into a deep and unexpected interrogation of SAPS and SITA and how both these institutions have been corroded by wide-scale corruption and malfeasance. (SABC)
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