The Standing Committee on Public Accounts (SCOPA) has expressed concern over deviations in spending by the Department of Defence amounting to over R100 million in the last five years.
In a committee meeting between SCOPA and the Department of Defence on 12 June, Chairperson of SCOPA Nelson Themba Godi said the Committee had noticed that the special dispensation on deviations, which should cater for emergencies and exceptional circumstances, was actually becoming a new normal in departments.
The ANC’s Vincent Smith pointed out the R109 million deviation in the 2015/16 financial year identified by the Auditor-General. He further noted that the officials responsible were said to have received letters of reprimand. Siphiwe Sokhela, CFO, Department of Defense, said the deviation was an asset management contract for Mpumalanga Department of Education and that the officials involved were in the procurement space and still occupied their positions. Management is awaiting a forensic audit report on the matter.
Smith said the retention of people who cost the Department and the fiscus R109 million was problematic and said he could not understand why the forensic audit was being conducted almost two years later.
He referred to the R3.7 million deviation for catering contract for Colenso Mess School of Logistical training. He noted that an investigation was said to have been finalised but the matter was with Legal Services for comments. He asked what Legal Services has to do with a finalised investigation. Sokhela said having the matter with Legal Services was part of a determination process by the Inspector-General of Defense on whether a board of inquiry should have to be instituted. This was in line with the nature of the Department and consistent with military judiciary channels. The delays in finalisation was due to backlogs in the system as well as delays in the appointment of military court judges.
Smith said it was unacceptable that almost three year down the line, there seems to be no consequence management and officials involved in such huge deviations were still within the supply-chain management space.
He also pointed out that during the last Armed Forces Week commemoration where there was a R4 million deviation for the acquisition of additional mobile ablution facilities as well as R2.3 million for transport. He noted a Treasury report at that time which stated that the deviations were approved but not justified. Lt Gen Bongani Mbuli, Chief of Logistics, Department of Defense, said the deviations resulted from an increase in attendees a week before the event.
The DA’s David Ross expressed alarm at the irregularities and said the Department of Defence was expected to live up to expectations and was clearly failing to do so. The delays in taking decisions and implementation could be seen as deliberate attempts to enable corrupt practices.
The ANC’s Ezekiel Kekana said it was problematic that the Department of Defense, although part of security cluster, was in transgression with the law and added that the buck stopped with the CFO, as the accounting officer.
Sokhela said accountability mechanisms within the Department of Defence would be improved and made reference to 10 military officers who were recently fired and their cases referred to the justice system for prosecutions after being found to have flouted procurement processes. He said that defence intelligence and the military police work very closely with South African Police Service to deal with any misconduct arising.
As SCOPA Chairperson, Godi said he was underwhelmed by the responses from the Department of Defence and hoped the Committee would have a proper engagement with the Department going forward. Consequence management had to be strengthened and lack of accountability should not be normalized, he concluded.