AGRICULTURE, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson claimed yesterday to have uncovered corruption in the fisheries branch of her department related to the allocation of quotas, transfer rights and preferential treatment to certain businesses.
"We have engaged the forensic services of an internationally recognised auditing firm to do a forensic investigation of the fisheries branch," she said at a parliamentary press briefing.
She then flew to Pretoria to brief senior government officials on developments concerning widespread corruption within the branch.
Her claims come during the week that the public protector's office was awaiting Ms Joemat-Pettersson's responses to its investigations about the initial awarding of the R800m fisheries protection and research tender to Sekunjalo Investment Holdings late last year.
Earlier this year, Democratic Alliance (DA) MP Pieter van Dalen laid a complaint with Public Protector Thuli Madonsela after seeing a forensic report related to the awarding of the tender that showed a number of irregularities. Sekunjalo voluntarily withdrew from the tender in February after Mr van Dalen released the report to the media.
Mr van Dalen claimed the report said there was no evidence that the bid adjudication committee had considered that there was a major conflict of interest in awarding the contract to Sekunjalo.
However, Mr van Dalen claimed the report acknowledged the apparent conflict of interest as Premier Fishing, a subsidiary of Sekunjalo, had existing fishing rights and the contract included safeguarding the sea, which meant it would have been tasked with policing rival fishing companies, a clear conflict of interest.
Another irregularity in Sekunjalo's bid was that its sister companies, Premier Fishing, Premier Fishing Consortium and Sekunjalo Marine Services all submitted separate bids for the same tender, citing one common annual report as their supporting documentation.
The previous holder of the tender was Smit Amandla Marine, which has since handed over the eight vessels to the South African Navy, which is helping to police the seas, in Simonstown. The vessels will remain there until a new fisheries tender is awarded.
Ms Joemat-Pettersson would not say how many officials were implicated in corruption nor how much was involved.
However, she said investigations were at a sensitive stage and people had to be placed in witness protection.
Last month the department's director-general Langa Zita was suspended and Ms Joemat-Pettersson said the investigation of his involvement in the corruption was continuing.
Ms Madonsela told Business Day that the investigation was nearing completion.
"We have given the minister until the end of the first week of August to get back to us with some additional information. The report should be released no later than August 20."
Mr van Dalen said: "The minister always makes promises to clean up corruption once the allegations become substantive. While I hope she does put an end to corruption in her department, I look forward to what the public protector has to say."
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