A DEGREE OF MYSTERY
Accreditation of Karpowership gas explosion risk consultants suspended after Daily Maverick probe
The company that assessed Karpowership’s fire and gas explosion risks has voluntarily suspended itself from the SA National Accreditation System following questions over its staff’s qualifications.
The SA National Accreditation System (Sanas) has suspended the official accreditation of Major Hazard Risk (MHR) Consultants, the company that assessed the fire and gas explosion risks of several Turkish power ships due to be moored in the ports of Richards Bay, Saldanha and Coega.
The “voluntary suspension” came to light after Daily Maverick lodged a request for information with Sanas in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act more than three months ago.
We wanted to know more about the qualifications held by the Cape Town-based father-and-son risk assessment team, and the employment status of a third, elderly consultant who may (or may no longer) work for the company.
Although the company is charged with responsibility for impartially assessing the risks of explosions and fires at petrochemical industries and other potentially dangerous facilities, MHR has no functional webpage and the only staff listed in the CV documents section of the Karpowership application are Claude Clifford Thackwray (69) and his son, Terence Clifford Thackwray (45).
Despite the complex nature of their work in assessing risks to public safety, neither of the Thackwrays appears to have any tertiary academic qualifications in chemistry.
A degree of mystery
We raised the questions after Thackwray Jnr signed several risk assessment documents for the Karpowership environmental approval process over the past three years — variously claiming to have a BSc Environmental Management (Chemistry) degree or a “partially completed” degree.
Thackwray Jnr later signed a sworn statement as an “independent specialist” at a police station in October 2022, claiming to have completed this degree in 2019.
Curiously, however, Thackwray has steadfastly declined to produce a copy of the qualification when we requested proof.
Whether he has this degree is significant because Sanas accreditation guideline TR 54 requires that a technical manager involved in the risk assessment process for hazardous installations should have a university degree or higher national diploma in the field of engineering or chemistry, while a risk assessor requires a technical or scientific tertiary qualification “with at least two years of tertiary chemistry in the qualification”.
During the Karpowership environmental approval process, Thackwray Jnr has listed himself as a risk assessor and technical signatory and also as the project’s “independent specialist” for major hazard risk assessments.
So, when Thackwray Jnr and Karpowership’s independent environmental assessment practitioner (Hantie Plomp of Triplo4 Sustainable Solutions) failed to produce a copy of Thackwray Jnr’s alleged BSc degree at our request, we contacted Sanas for verification.
Affiliated to the International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation, Sanas is South Africa’s sole accreditation body, responsible for promoting public health and safety and supporting economic growth by accrediting and monitoring health and mechanical laboratories. It also accredits a variety of inspection bodies that assess the safety of electrical installations or major hazardous risk facilities such as fuel or chemical storage facilities.
When we first presented our questions on 16 February, Sanas declined to answer any queries about the Thackwrays, citing the Protection of Personal Information Act.
However, Daily Maverick persisted with its questions and on 31 May (more than three months after our initial request), Sanas acting chief executive Tumelo Baleni, responded.
Baleni was not able to supply proof that Thackwray Jnr had successfully completed his BSc, stating instead that he “is registered for a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Management: Chemistry and is in possession of an IFE Level 4 Certificate in Fire Science, Operations, Safety and Management and had undergone ISO/IEC 170202:2012 Certified Auditor Training”.
In regard to Thackwray Snr, Sanas said he holds a National Higher Diploma in Civil Engineering, while Siegfried “Tienie” Steven held a BSc and BEng Civil Engineering degrees.
We wrote back to Sanas, requesting further clarity, and stating that we interpreted Baleni’s answer to mean that Thackwray Jnr had neither completed his BSc studies nor been awarded the relevant chemistry degree
Sanas responded: “From the documentary proof submitted, we can confirm that he was registered for 2023 towards the degree.”
But Sanas did not provide the date on which he initially enrolled for this degree or stipulate the maximum timeframe in which he is required to complete the degree in terms of Unisa rules.
According to Sanas, the decision to suspend MHR’s accreditation was made voluntarily (at the request of the Thackwrays) and was based on “loss of personnel”.
This appears to refer to the apparent resignation of Siegfried “Tienie” Steven, a registered professional engineer who was previously listed on the Sanas scope of accreditation as the company’s technical manager and joint technical signatory.
So we asked Sanas when it last verified whether Steven was a “permanent employee” of MHR Consultants, as required by Sanas’s accreditation criteria.
Sanas responded that Steven (aged 81) was officially removed from the list of MHR staff in August 2022, apparently because he had resigned/retired.
Oddly, Steven had a different story when Daily Maverick contacted him on June 12 to find out exactly when he retired/resigned —and why?
“I still work for them,” he insisted.
“They might have fired me…” he suggested, apparently light-heartedly. “But I’m still working for them as a consultant and sign their documents… But I’m not a full-time employee… When they [the Thackwrays] require me, I go in and sign some documents.”
We also asked Sanas to confirm how long MHR Consultants’ accreditation would be suspended for — and what requirements it would need to meet to regain accreditation.
According to Sanas, a decision on whether to reinstate MHR’s accreditation, would be taken “should they reapply to be accredited, [and] subject to confirming that they meet all the set requirements”.
So, considering that Sanas was not able to verify Thackwray Jnr’s alleged BSc chemistry degree, we made a final attempt to verify this on 12 June by phoning him and sending a list of questions via email.
But, once again, he declined to answer any questions.
“We are not interested in talking to you. Do not call me again… I do not want to speak to you,” he stated.
When we invited him to explain why he seemed so reluctant to provide proof of his alleged qualifications or explain why the company’s Sanas accreditation had been suspended, Thackwray Jnr asserted: “You are a dishonest person.”
We asked him why he thought this was the case. He did not oblige, declaring: “This call is being recorded!”
We welcomed that assurance — but then Thackwray’s line went dead.
How could all this affect the Karpowership environmental impact assessment (EIA) approval process?
Karpowership and its consultants have made much of the fact that the Thackwrays’ company is accredited by both Sanas and the Department of Employment and Labour.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Saldanha harbour powerships plan ‘fatally flawed’, says Environmental Affairs
Although the Sanas accreditation was formally suspended on 12 May (after the final EIA reports were submitted to the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment), Sanas rules state that:
“An organisation shall, upon suspension or withdrawal of Sanas accreditation/compliance, immediately cease to issue certificates and any other materials displaying the Sanas accreditation/compliance symbol, the combined mark or containing references to Sanas accreditation/compliance.”
Sanas rules further provide that organisations that are placed in voluntary suspension “shall give an undertaking to adequately address the circumstances that caused the request for suspension within three months of the effective date of suspension”.
The company is also obliged to inform its affected clients of the suspension, “and the associated consequences without delay” and to provide Sanas with a list of valid certificates that have been issued under certification before suspension.
Read more in Daily Maverick: All three Karpowership ‘emergency plans’ back on the table for late approval
Now that its Sanas and Department of Labour approvals are both suspended, what status can be attached to the Thackwrays’ reports, which suggested: “The risks associated with the (Karpowership) Major Hazard Installation (applications) were found to be acceptable…”?
We put this question to Hantie Plomp, the Karpowership environmental consultant who previously assured us (in writing) that Thackwray Jnr has the requisite BSc degree.
But in response to our questions this week, Plomp said: “Triplo4 provided responses on 05 January 2023, as received from MHR Consultants. Please reach out to MHR Consultants directly to clarify queries regarding MHR’s employee and company-specific information.”
However, a potentially more serious issue relates to Thackwray Jnr’s sworn undertaking that he is the holder of a BSc chemistry degree: The National Environmental Biodiversity Management Act makes it an offence to knowingly make false statements within the framework of the act.
Thackwray Jnr may now be required finally to break his silence about this degree of mystery. DM
To read all about Daily Maverick’s recent The Gathering: Earth Edition, click here.