Hellen Zille knew her story on the 1-billion communications tender

Following Sunday Times report on 14 August 2011 that Helen Zille’s Western Cape province had “awarded a communications tender worth a potential R1-billion to an advertising agency [TBWA] without following proper procedures and regulations”, I wrote a blog post in which I criticised the newspaper.

Headlined Why Does the Media Ignore Facts? and first published at I like What I Write in 17 August 2011, I said:

“And assuming Zille’s denial and detailed response to the allegations are true, it might then be correct to believe that something happened at the time of writing and that the journos concerned – as the report was written by two journalists – had deliberately ignored the facts provided to them at the time of their inquiry into the said allegations. Zille claimed all processes were followed and that the provincial government had nothing to hide and because of the serious allegations levelled in the Sunday Times report against her government, she will approach the South African Press Ombudsman with a complaint against the newspaper. And I hope and pray that her assertion that the report was inaccurate, unfair and unbalances as expected of news is proved just that by the Ombudsman.”

Zille criticised the newspaper at the time, saying “Someone with an axe to grind leaked one selected document out of a whole process to give the impression that there had been a breach of regulations or some sort of corruption where there was none”.

She asked why the newspaper “chose deliberately not to present the facts as presented to them”. It is not clear whether she had since laid a formal complaint with the Press Ombudsman as she had indicated she would.

This week Public Protector Thuli Madonsela ruled that the tender was legal, and withdrew her earlier draft finding which had reportedly indicated that the contract was invalid and should be cancelled. The final finding(s) came after Zille submitted her comments to the protector which were, it seems, taken into consideration and accepted by Madonsela. The latter criticised the department for failing to keep the minutes of the bid committee meetings, which amounted to maladministration.

Zille said at the time of the allegations that she was “confident that the bidding process was transparent, fair, equitable, competitive and cost effective. TheWestern Capegovernment has nothing to hide and will give the auditor general full access to any documentation or officials required for his investigation”.

TBWA CEO Derek Bouwer also set the record straight following the allegations. Writing in the Sunday Times on 21 August 2011, Bouwer rejected Sunday Times claims that the awarding of the contract was marred with irregularity, and thereby awarded in a corrupt manner (my emphasis).

As expected and despite Madonsela ruling this week in Zille’s Western Cape’s favour, it seems the ruling ANC is not satisfied with the protector’s findings. ANC provincial secretary in the Western Cape Songezo Mjongile, one of the complainants, said he was disappointed by the report. Mjongile said there “are substantial issues that have been watered down.”

He said the ruling party would take the report to the standing committee on public accounts in Parliament, and possibly take legal action, according to media reports.

In early last month the ruling party called for Zille to resign after the draft report was leaked to the media which at the time had indicated that the contract was invalid and therefore should be cancelled.

But Zille refused and rejected calls for her to resign, saying: “I had undertaken to resign if the tender were found to be corrupt. It is common cause that there was no corruption whatsoever, and I regard these resignation calls as normal political posturing that should be treated as such”. Which is true.

It is quite clear from the Public Protector’s final findings that there was nothing sinister about the awarding of the contract; that there was no corruption in the awarding of the contract, no political involvement, interference or manipulation in the procurement process, that Zille was not personally involved in the procurement process as had been alleged and that the presence of special advisers on the tender bid evaluation committee made no difference to the outcome of the evaluation noted in Geoff Budlender SC’s legal opinion sought by Zille’s office.

So for Western Cape’s Cosatu Provincial Secretary, Tony Ehrenreich to want to cast doubt on the protector’s findings is a bit ridiculous especially when it does not seem to apply the same principle when one of its members – especially the ANC members – are involved in alleged corrupt activities.

What’s worse is ANC considering to refer the report to Public Service Commission and the Auditor General, as Mail & Guardian reported yesterday [8 June 2012].

This is an edited article first published on my Facebook Notes on June 2.


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