City of Joburg finds no political interference in Afrirent fleet tender

Mayor says investigation confirmed that the payment in question was a product of a contractual relationship

City of Joburg finds no political interference in Afrirent fleet tender

26 June 2019

City of Johannesburg Mayor Herman Mashaba says an investigation by the Group Forensics and Investigation Services (GFIS) unit, led by General Shadrack Sibiya, shows there was no political interference in the awarding of a fleet contract to logistics company Afrirent.

The investigation was launched following an amaBhungane report in November 2018, which linked the tender to the EFF.

amaBhungane reported that the R1.26bn five-year contract was meant for the supply and maintenance of some 2 700 sedans, bakkies and trucks. A payment from Afrirent to a company, which allegedly has links to the EFF, was cited as evidence that the tender had been influenced in exchange for the approval of the 2018/19 budget.

"The forensic report dismisses any notion that there was political interference or influence in the award of the contract to Afrirent through a thorough process which included engaging the amaBhungane journalist who had written the original story.

"The investigation involved interviews with officials involved in the supply chain management processes of the Regulation 32 award, and no official claimed to have been pressured or influenced, politically or otherwise," said Mashaba.

He claimed that negotiations, at the time, around the approval of the 2018/19 budget, were the product of multi-party coalition negotiations.

The investigation confirmed that the payment in question was a product of a contractual relationship between Afrirent and another sphere of government to whom it was contracted.

"This was confirmed independently by both Afrirent and that other sphere of government concerned. The report indicates that Afrirent is a company with contracts to over 30 different departments and spheres of government in South Africa. The reliance, solely upon the timing of the payment, to locate it within the contract between Afrirent and the City of Johannesburg, was profoundly flawed.

"GFIS was not at liberty to define the contractual relationship between Afrirent and another sphere of government or investigate it, beyond refuting its relevance to the City of Johannesburg. It is therefore essential to reiterate that the forensic investigation clears our multi-party government of any wrongdoing on the part of its political leadership," the mayor said.

Mashaba said claims amaBhungane made at the time were reckless and a far cry from the high standard of investigative journalism associated with the publication.

"It is worth noting that throughout the course of this investigation, the journalist had the opportunity to provide any evidence to prove the claims in the amaBhungane article and was unable to do so. Where the report did make material findings of concern, relate to the administration of the City of Johannesburg and its supply chain management processes.

"The supply chain processes to appoint a service provider for the City’s fleet requirements were beset by unnecessary delays requiring constant extensions with the previous service provider. Furthermore, the original tender process was declared invalid by a probity report which found material and fatal flaws in the process followed."

The mayor said the City initiated disciplinary action against various officials and two resigned prior to their disciplinary hearings.

Mashaba said he would seek a meeting with senior editors from amaBhungane to take them through the report, in order to set the record straight and avoid such damaging inferences being made in future.

However, amaBhungane investigative journalist Micah Reddy said Mashaba's claims were contradictory to the findings of the Press Council.

"Mr Mashaba threatened defamation and took us to the Press Council over our fleet story and lost on every charge. The City did not appeal the finding," he told News24 on Wednesday.

Reddy is of the view that the terms of reference for the City's investigation were too narrow to get "to the meat of the issue".

"Group forensics was not able to obtain important records relating to Afrirent and the alleged Malema slush fund, as the report acknowledges.

"With such constraints, the report could not begin to understand the alleged corruption and political interference in the fleet deal, and cannot sustain the claim that the deal was not corrupt. Having failed to examine the role of the EFF and the questionable relationship between the contractor and the EFF - the most damning part of our investigation - it is an impossible leap for the City to absolve itself of any wrongdoing on the basis that the deal was not corrupt," he explained.