South Africa

Biscuit War

Mantelli’s wins court order against public protector

Mantelli’s wins court order against public protector
The Western Cape High Court has ordered that the public protector’s office finalise a report by 31 January 2020 involving Mantellis and tender irregularities at SAA. (Photos: Gallo Images OJ Koloti | Bakers website) | Mantelli’s savoury cracker / Mantelli’s Direct Paarl Facebook)

After a biscuit tender crumbled between Mantelli’s and SAA subsidiary Air Chefs in 2014, owner Simon Mantell approached the public protector’s office to investigate the matter. Five years later, Mantelli has hauled the office to court since the report is still not finalised.

The office of the public protector has been slapped with a court order to finalise a report on tender irregularities at SAA after a complaint was lodged by biscuit factory owner *Simon Mantell in 2014.

The office was then still under Thuli Madonsela.

The case was briefly heard at the Western Cape High Court on Wednesday, 27 November.

Acting Judge Hayley Slingers ordered that the public protector’s office finalise the report by 31 January 2020. A cost order was also issued in Mantell’s favour.

The public protector’s office missed two previous deadlines to finalise the investigation.

In the responding affidavit, “limited resources” and “heavy backlogs” were cited as a few of the causes for the delay. The affidavit also stated that the Public Protector Act does not indicate time-frames for investigations.

Mantell says he supplied the office with sufficient evidence to conduct the investigation.

Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane was not present at the hearing but was represented by advocate Shafia Mohamed.

Mantell was present with his legal advisers, attorney Timothy Maughan and advocate Guy Elliot.

The case has a complicated history but it boils down to a tender dispute between Mantell’s company Mantelli’s and Air Chefs, a division of SAA.

The saga began in 2013 when Mantelli’s made a bid for a savoury crackers tender, then held by Baker’s Wheatsworth crackers owned by Umbrella company AVI Limited.

In February 2014, after a 10-month process, Mantell was told that his company had won the R5-million contract. He was set to supply Air Chefs with roughly 365,000 packs of crackers a month.

According to his founding affidavit, Mantell was ready to sign the supplier agreement, but in a turn of events was told the tender award was a “mistake”.

Instead, AVI Ltd would continue holding the contract and Mantelli’s would be a “preferred supplier”, meaning they were next in line should Wheatsworth’s contract end.

The tender advertisement did not mention this.

In a meeting with acting Air Chefs CEO Martin Kemp, Mantelli queried whether AVI Limited had submitted a tender application. Kemp initially could not confirm nor deny whether an application had been made.

After filing a complaint with SAA, an internal financial audit was conducted which found zero foul-play by SAA or Air Chefs. What followed was an external investigation by auditing firm Indyebo Consulting.

Indyebo’s findings were presented to Mantell in a botched document where huge chunks of the text were blacked out with ink, he claims.

The dispute was escalated to the National Treasury where yet another investigation took place. It found that the bidding process had been handled dubiously.

Treasury’s finding affirmed the Indyebo report, which Parliament made public in 2016.

The original Indyebo report had recommended that Air Chefs “consider reissuing the tender or negotiat[ing] the terms with Mantelli’s”.

Mantell alleges this was not the case.

In 2015, SAA ordered another independent audit after Treasury’s findings were released. This time, ENS Forensics was contracted to conduct the investigation.

But, according to Mantell, ENS “chose to do a superficial investigation without supervision and guidance and then let it languish as a draft report from July 2015 until… today.” DM

* Disclosure: Simon Mantell is a columnist for Daily Maverick.

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