Parliament questions acting SecDef’s competence


African National Congress (ANC) Members of Parliament have savaged the acting Secretary for Defence (director general), Tsepe Motumi, effective accusing him of incompetence.

Motumi has been acting as defence secretary since September 2008, following the death, in a vehicle incident, of the incumbent January Masilela.

Yesterday’s unusual and remarkable attack on Motumi came during a hearing of the National Assembly’s Committee on Public Accounts (COPA, formerly SCOPA) on a recent Auditor General’s (AG) report on the Department of Defence. Motumi is ex officio the department’s accounting officer.
Motumi has “failed”

The Times newspaper this morning reports Motumi yesterday admitted to the committee that he had “failed” to do his job.

The AG last year gave the DoD its tenth consecutive qualified audit. For the year to March 31 2009 it noted a continued failure – carried over from previous years – to properly track tangible and intangible assets. “These include transport assets, specialised military equipment, computers, furniture and office equipment, computer software, patent licences and operating rights,” Te Times added.

Beeld newspaper noted the AG was also concerned at irregularities regarding procurement as well as acquisitions “as well as millions of rand in wasted and unexplained spending”.

The department could also not provide supporting documents for about R176 million spent on leased properties. The report reveals that about R118.5 million was spent irregularly and that the department claimed to have spent R193 million on consultants. The AG noted that it had not been possible to verify if the latter amount had indeed been paid to consultants.

When MPs questioned Motumi about this, he could not provide satisfactory answers.

Under intense questioning from ANC MP Mandla Mbili, Motumi admitted to having “failed” to do his job as the department of defence’s accounting officer. Mbili said: “It clearly means the secretary here did not do his job properly as outlined. So you failed in your duties. Can you concede on that?”
“Yes, I did,” Motumi said.

Mbili continued: “You failed in your duties to do what you are supposed to do, then why are you still here then? Tell me why are you still keeping your job? The buck stops with you and in this case this did not happen. Somebody let you down, you let yourself down and the question then is, why are you here; why should you keep your job when you can’t do your job?”

Beeld notes Mbili then called the DoD a “time bomb” adding “it is strategically important and is responsible for all of our safety, but we don’t know what they are doing!”
Booi wades in

ANC MP and chairman of the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans, Mnyamezeli “Nyami” Booi then waded in and told COPA his committee had been similarly frustrated by Motumi. “You are repeating the same things we have been asking and we have been getting the same type of answers,” he charged. In October, Booi’s committee grilled Motumi and other defence officials without success. He and his team were then sent packing.

At the time, Motumi said senior officials responsible for procurement in his department were under investigation by the inspector general.

When questioned about the departmental asset register, Motumi said the department had started work on the register about four years ago and that the task would only be completed in 2012. Business Day reports when asked who had failed to supply the correct information to the auditor-general and what disciplinary action was taken, he merely said that more training had been scheduled for an official.

Business Day says after more than an hour’s largely fruitless questioning, MPs of all parties suggested to chairman Themba Godi, of the African People’s Convention, that the hearing was a waste of time and should be abandoned. Godi agreed and told Motumi he hoped the delegation could return better prepared at a future date. He said the meeting had not been a complete waste “and hopefully this gives you an insight into what we want from you”.

The Times, more populist in style than the Business Day, added that defence minister Lindiwe Sisulu was to be summoned to Parliament to explain why Motumi “was still employed in her ministry after admitting that he had ‘failed’ the department.”

A senior DoD official defended Motumi and his team, saying they were “prepared and ready to deal with all matters raise by the AG including mechanisms, timeframes and milestones…”

A parallel with Thomo

The last public official to receive such a drubbing was former Armscor CE Sipho Thomo who in November was given a dressing down by Booi over the Airbus Military A400M transporter project. Thomo was subsequently suspended and then dismissed by the state arms agency. Bureaucrats are frequently criticised in Parliamentary committees, but usually by opposition parties. Such criticism is usually shouted down by ANC MPs and further damped by committee chairs, who with the exception of Godi are all ANC. It is therefore remarkable when the ruling party turns on an official.

Democratic Alliance (DA) COPA spokesman Mark Steele and party shadow defence minister David Maynier said in a joint statement the meeting “ended in disarray with the acting secretary and his team being told to go away and do their homework before they return to face the committee again”.
“MPs are clearly losing patience with officials who cannot provide explanations for poor financial management as reflected in the auditor- general handing out qualified audits year after year. The (department) has received qualified audits for many years and on the evidence of today’s hearing is a long way from being able to produce a clean audit outcome,” the duo added.
“We therefore believe the time has come for the commander-in-chief, President Jacob Zuma , to intervene and ensure that a competent secretary of defence is appointed as a matter of urgency.… Motumi has been acting for more than three years and has clearly lost the confidence of all political parties.”