DAFF withdraws Sekunjalo maritime patrol vessel tender inquiry

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Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Tina Joemat-Pettersson will not establish an independent committee to investigate the controversial Sekunjalo tender for the maintenance of the Department’s patrol vessels, and will instead ask the President for a more general commission of inquiry into the overall effectiveness of the fisheries department.

According to the Democratic Alliance, this was revealed by Deputy Director-General of Fisheries Sue Middleton and came to light in yesterday’s Portfolio Committee Meeting. According to the DDG, Minister Joemat-Pettersson will be asking President Jacob Zuma for a general commission of inquiry into the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF).
“Instead of a white-wash, the Department has dispensed with the investigation altogether,” stated Pieter van Dalen, the Democratic Alliance’s Shadow Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

In November 2011 Joemat-Pettersson announced that an R800 million tender had been awarded to the politically-connected Sekunjalo Consortium to take over patrolling operations on South Africa’s coastlines following the end of Smit Amandla’s five-year contract. A subsidiary of Sekunjalo, Premier Fishing, has fishing rights on the South African coast, representing a potential conflict of interests. The contract has since been withdrawn.

Last month Joemat-Pettersson called for an investigation into the awarding of R1 billion worth of contracts dating back to 2005 to man and maintain her department’s research and patrol vessels.

Business Day reports Joemat-Pettersson’s legal advisor as saying that Smit Amandla should be investigated as contracts were allegedly awarded without a tender process. She would also like to know more about a company called Pentow Marine, which is a Dutch associate of Smit Amandla.

In 2000, the then Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism awarded Smit Pentow Marine a five-year ship and crew management contract, after a tender process. Although Smit Pentow Marine became Smit Amandla in 2005, a new tender was not issued in April that year but the original contract extended for another five years.

Director-General of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Langa Zita said that he would “like the authorities to investigate the context in which the relationship between Smit Pentow Marine’s and its then BEE partner, Dudula Fishing, was terminated and whether there was no corruption in the way in which Smit Amandla was brought in.”

On March 8, the DA received notification from the Public Protector that she would be investigating the Sekunjalo tender to “ascertain the process followed to date and the status of the tender process.” This satisfied the Public Protector who then withdrew her investigation pending the outcome of the independent investigation initiated by the Minister.
“Now that the Minister has reneged on her promise, we trust that the Public Protector will make good on her initial promise to investigate,” van Dalen said. “I have today written to the Public Protector to brief her on these developments and request that she begins her own investigation without delay.”

The South African Navy has taken over the management of the DAFFs’ maritime patrol vessels, with effect from April 1, following the signature of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Joemat-Pettersson and the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Lindiwe Sisulu.

The fleet includes the fisheries research vessels Africana, Algoa and Ellen Khuzwayo and the patrol vessels Sarah Baartman, Lilian Ngoyi, Victoria Mxenge and Ruth First.

The shipping management functions agreed to in the MoU include the crewing of the vessels, the technical management of these vessels (maintenance, repair and life cycle management); provisioning; bunkering; operation; accounting and safety and seaworthiness of the ships.

The Navy will carry out these duties for a period of twelve months, according to the MoU. “In order to perform the shipping management function the Department of Defence shall take over the control of the DAFF fleet of vessels for the duration required for it to perform the shipping management function,” the MoU read. “This function shall be carried out by the SA Navy during the interim against a monthly re-imbursement of all expenses incurred by the SA Navy, in the execution of the functions.”