South Africa

DAYS OF ZONDO: NEWSFLASH

ANC MPs’ concerns over Bosasa deals fell on deaf ears in parliament

Former ANC MP, Dennis Bloem, has told the State Capture inquiry how members of the parliamentary portfolio committee on Correctional Services were repeatedly ignored in their bid to highlight concerns about Bosasa’s lucrative and allegedly unlawful contracts.

Bloem testified on Friday about how this key parliamentary multiparty oversight structure was allegedly stone-walled and ignored with no consequences and often with the aid of some of his former ANC MPs.

This, he said, was in relation to their persistent criticism of Bosasa deals – a matter that also landed him in serious trouble with his then fellow ANC MPs, some of whom allegedly accused of him of compromising the ruling party.

Bloem was an ANC MP until he moved to Cope in 2009 and continued to serve on the portfolio committee until 2014.

He said the committee was extremely opposed to a decision by Correctional Service to outsource catering at the country’s prisons as it was simply a waste of money and not a priority.

The department had much more pressing needs, like staff salaries, tending to overcrowded prisons and providing safe facilities for juveniles.

The multi-party committee questioned and opposed the catering deal and Bloem said he personally brought it to the attention of the then Correctional Services Minister, Ngconde Balfour as the executive authority.

Balfour, he told the Commission, was allegedly more set on protecting the then Correctional Services Commissioner, Linda Mti who was allegedly on Bosasa’s payroll.

Bloem said when the department appeared before the committee in parliament, Balfour at times allegedly interjected, offering instead to respond to questions himself.

Later, in private meetings, Bloem said that Balfour would then remind him that Mti is a “comrade” and should therefore not be “harassed”.

Balfour, he said, was never keen to interfere with the operational issues and could not be swayed by the corruption concerns either.

Bloem said he and fellow ANC members on the committee had brought their concerns to the attention of various ANC structures in parliament, including the ANC study group and the ANC caucus in order (privately among ANC MPs) but nothing would come of that either.

This was because Correctional Services simply repeatedly failed to account to the committee or to provide documents to satisfy its decision-making and spending.

At one stage the committee rejected a Correctional Services budget. I was then called to the chief whip’s office and in there I was reprimanded for compromising the ANC.”

The chief whip at the time was Mbulelo Goniwe, Bloem said.

Justice Zondo remarked that it was concerning that a portfolio committee, as a constitutional structure of parliament and which played a very important role, could have been ignored without consequence.

Based on his testimony on Friday morning, Bloem had a torrid time trying to ensure that parliament played an effective oversight role over the spending habits of a seriously compromised Correctional Services.

Earlier testimony before the Commission by several current and former Bosasa staff thus far showed how the company allegedly paid off senior staff, including Mti and other National Correctional Services Commissioners as well as a former CFO, Patrick Gillingham.

Bloem’s office at parliament was burgled twice and he endured threatening telephone calls at times.

He described how a then fellow ANC MP, Winning Ngwenya, was allegedly once sent to his office to try and set up a meeting with Bosasa.

When Bloem said he wasn’t interested, Ngw enya allegedly told him, “Ke Nyuku,” which he understood to meanwas his chance to make money.

Former Bosasa chief operating officer, Angelo Agrizzi, earlier testified that Ngwenya was allegedly among those paid off through the company’s R6-million- a- month bribery scheme with payments of R45 000 a month.

Bloem said the portfolio committee, despite its best efforts, was unable to help turn the tide against years of “havoc “at Correctional Services.

During that time the department was a “free for fall with things not done by the book”.

Bloem served on the parliamentary portfolio committee on Correctional Services for 20 years until 2014 and has extensive knowledge of both the department and the Bosasa contracts.

He shared with the Commission some of his first-hand knowledge of two Bosasa deals, one of them, a R600-million plus catering deal.

He said there was no justification for this service to be outsourced as Correctional Services grew had its own chicken, meat and vegetable growing facilities.

As part of the oversight role, Bloem said he physically visited various prisons where Bosasa had been hired to provide catering to investigate the extent of their work.

There he found absolutely no justified reason for the company’s presence as Correctional Services traditionally had its own chicken, meat and vegetable growing facilities to provide meals for prisoners.

And, even with Bosasa’s R200m plus a year contract, the system had remained in place with inmates still doing the preparation, the cooking and serving of the food.

Sondolo IT (a Bosasa subsidiary) had one little office in the middle of the kitchen,” he said of his visit a few years ago.

This deal, he said was just a “money laundering” scheme.

Correctional services did not prepare inmates food, this was done by prisoners themselves and that did not change once Bosasa arrived.

Bosasa never brought staff to do anything. The inmates were still cooking. It was business as usual,” Bloem said.

If this contract was to be suspended or stopped now, Bloem said there would be no interruption as prisoners would simply continue to do the work.

Justice Zondo, visibly disturbed about these claims then asked that the Commission’s investigators to immediately investigate whether this was still the case – that Bosasa could potentially be paid for doing nothing – nothing – as this involved taxpayers’ money.

The Commission resumes on Tuesday. DM

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