Former MEC Mosebenzi Zwane again appeared before the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into allegations of state capture on October 12. He first appeared on September 25.
Ace Magashule had been appointed Free State Premier on May 6, 2009. Zwane was MEC of human settlements for the province from 2010 to 2011. As MEC, Zwane was tasked with procuring low-cost housing for poor people for an amount of R1.4 billion.
Zwane, who has been linked to the Guptas and the Vrede Dairy Project scandal, was later appointed minister of mineral resources by former president Jacob Zuma, a position he held from September 2015 to February 2018.
Procurement process for RDP houses
Contractors had been appointed to build RDP (Reconstruction and Development Programme) houses in 2009/2010. Magashule then promised to build larger RDP houses than had previously been built. This led to a dispute with the contractors, as they had determined their expenses on smaller houses.
Read: 12-year wait for housing in Free State (Aug 2012)
That old database of contractors was scrapped, and a new tender process was opened. Essentially, a public procurement tender was invited on April 26, 2010. It collapsed some time before July 28, 2010.
Some 361 contractors submitted bids. However, while the tender was still open, Zwane submitted a list of 106 contractors to Exco for approval on June 30, 2010.
Evidence leader Paul Pretorius SC summed it up: there were two parallel processes – an open public procurement process where tenderers would be evaluated according to certain criteria, and then a list of contractors based on the discretion of certain individuals.
Pretorius tried to determine how the list of contractors was decided, particularly as the tender was still open.
The Free State bid adjudication committee had decided that various databases should be consolidated to arrive at the list of contractors. However, consolidating the various databases would have resulted in a figure way over 300, let alone the final list of 106.
This final list of 106 included contractors who had not qualified under the open tender process. It also included contractors who had never submitted a bid in the first place.
Pretorius was not able to obtain any clarification from Zwane on how the list of 106 contractors was compiled, but it does raise the possibility of an unlawful procurement process.
Advanced payment system
Zwane suggested in 2010 that the department should “help” the contractors with materials.
He could not explain what he meant by “help”, even when Pretorius explained that this would mean purchasing the materials from the suppliers, which would require the department to fork out money.
Pretorius said the province lost hundreds of millions in a short period of time. Ultimately the department lost R600 million. Pretorius also put it to Zwane that this process was illegal.
Zwane accepted no accountability, nor responsibility, including not ascertaining a proper legal opinion on the legality of the process.
Zwane insists that the advanced payment system is not illegal as long as there is a contract. Pretorius had to remind him that there was no contract.
Zwane’s testimony has been contradicted by three witnesses.
The session had to end before the legality matter was finalised.
Accountability and responsibility
Throughout his testimony, Zwane never gave a yes or no reply. His explanations were long-winded, muddled, and often contradicted previous answers.
Commission chair Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo and evidence leader Pretorius frequently had to request clarification.
- Zwane: “Chair, I thought I tried to explain this before …”
- Zondo: “Yes, you may have tried and I did not understand. Please try again.”
Zwane took no responsibility and instead resorted to declaring that he was not a lawyer but a lay person and that he relied on the officials in the department.
Pretorius commented that the manner in which Zwane answered the questions raised even more questions.
Zwane was given “fair warning” by Pretorius that the legality of the advanced payment system will be continued the next time he appears before the commission.