Zwane denies selecting contractors for controversial Free State housing project

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Former Free State Human Settlements MEC Mosebenzi Zwane has denied that he had a hand in selecting contractors for the province’s R1 billion Housing Project in 2010. Zwane, who was testifying for the second time at the State Capture Commission explained how it came to pass that more than 300 contractors bid for the project, some of whom had been disqualified from an earlier disputed open tender process.

Zwane has been fingered by a number of officials as being the mastermind behind a scheme to fast-track the delivery of houses within the 2010 financial year which saw R600 million paid to service providers for little value for money.

Zwane says he believed all contractors had been vetted when he approved a consolidated database after the department’s open tender system was discontinued. He says the database was compiled by the province’s bid evaluation committee, bid adjudication committee, and then-accounting officer, Mpho Mokoena.

“I went through the criteria list we had been given by EXCO, whether there were young contractors, the disabled and women and I approved because I had given this task to competent officials who had been doing this work, some for over 15 years when I was not even there and at that particular time there had never been a dispute about their work. So, I did not go through those details because I was not even favoured by the detailed work that they do behind closed doors.”

Contractors presented for approval 

Zwane was quizzed about a list of 109 contractors he presented for approval to the provincial EXCO in June 2010 without disclosing that the open tender process was still running. He said that list was to secure a database of contractors for the completion of low-cost houses for the 2009/2010 financial year.

Zwane disputed that he and the EXCO chose to irregularly select contractors while deliberately allowing the open tender system die an unnatural death as proposed by Commission Evidence Leader Paul Pretorious.

“When the dispute came we cancelled contracts of people. There were milestones that still had to be finished. It would have been irresponsible for me, as the MEC, to leave those milestones and continue for a new tender that will build new houses. We needed to find a way of ensuring that the milestones uncompleted as they are should be completed and to my knowledge, Chair. There was no parallel processes in terms of this allocation.”

Paying suppliers upfront

With regards to whose idea it was to pay material suppliers upfront, Zwane told Pretorious that he simply asked a question of officials regarding how the department could help contractors with materials as part of fast-tracking the delivery of low-cost houses. He denies that he gave the instruction that an illegal advance payment system be implemented.

“Obviously, by providing materials to contractors, they would need to be bought correct. That is one-way chair. How else do you do it? Do you go and steal it from them? No, the department could have negotiated and stood as a guarantor for the contractors. What I am bringing to the fore is that it is not a given that this was the only option that is why I put this question to  people who are learned.”

Oversight of department officials 

Zwane acknowledged that he never saw a legal opinion on the scheme saying he left the question of the legalities to officials. He said he did his best to practice oversight over department officials, saying then-Head of Department, Mpho Mokoena, specifically should take responsibility for the advance payment system.

“If I were to ensure that every time I play my oversight I actually have an external person to actually qualify what the person who has been appointed to advise me, this person under his control has a number of people who are capable of advising him. Soundly, I am sure I would be in this commission for a different reason of having wasted government money when there were people in the department who are trusted to do the same work.”

Zwane is to continue his evidence to the commission at a date still to be determined.

Zwane’s testimony at the commission: