AmaBhungane: Free State IT staff transferred in favour of politically connected company
The information technology (IT) unit of the Free State Department of Police, Roads and Transport was purged, allegedly to make room for the outsourcing of its operations to a politically connected consortium. Now the unit is in disarray, a whistleblower has claimed. By Tabelo Timse and Sally Evans for AMABHUNGANE.
A whistleblower has told amaBhungane that IT at the Free State department of police, roads and transport services had deteriorated because of the “forced” transfer of 20 qualified and experienced IT employees and the “incompetence” of the consortium that took over – the politically connected TAD Consultancy and Services.
AmaBhungane has seen emails sent by staff to management in February, highlighting their concerns.
These include a faulty air-conditioner in the server room, intermittent or no access to staff emails, insufficient internet data, and computer viruses.
An employee complained in one email: “This will have a negative impact on 2016/17 financial year audit.”
The department awarded TAD a multimillion-rand information and communication technology (ICT) tender in June last year.
Part of the contract was outsourced to a local company, BBTech, as well as Tech Mahindra, a “solutions partner”.
National Treasury has ruled that the tender was irregular.
BBTech is responsible for establishing a “state of the art” building to house the Parys Traffic Management Infringement centre.
After TAD won the ICT contract the department started the internal transfers of employees. Between June and October last year a total of 34 employees were moved to various divisions in the department.
Some were instructed to relocate from Bloemfontein to work at the province’s new Traffic Management Infringement centre in Parys.
The IT unit was apparently the hardest-hit. On October 12 2016, nearly 20 IT staff were allegedly instructed to hand over all IT-related equipment and to vacate their offices “with immediate effect”.
A source with knowledge of the events told amaBhungane that IT staff members were then “frog-marched” from the building.
However, it seems that problems soon started to emerge.
“Staff in the department are frustrated because of the (poor) services… With the removal of competent IT staff everything has come to a grinding halt,” the department whistleblower told amaBhungane.
The same source claimed the shake-up was meant to “pave the way” for the TAD-led consortium to take over the department’s ICT directorate.
But staff queried the process, saying they had not asked to be transferred.
In January the Public Servants Association (PSA) demanded that the department halt the process until consultation had taken place.
The PSA told amaBhungane that “feedback from the General Public Service Sectoral Bargaining Council was that all (transfers were) stopped”.
But a source claimed that from a week after the alleged purge on October 12 last year until the present, TAD and BBTech have “(taken) over the running of the (Department of Police, Roads and Transport) ICT services … and this might even extend to other departments”.
The whistleblower claimed the transfer of staff was “a very systematic process, carefully planned and executed”.
It is no coincidence, he claimed, that one of the few people who survived it was Matsobane Tlhapolosa – a former TAD employee.
In March amaBhungane reported that before he moved to the department of police, roads and transport Tlhapolosa worked for TAD. He is now the acting deputy director of the department’s ICT operations.
TAD is owned by Deena Pillay, who served as Free State premier Ace Magashule’s secretary when he was the provincial sports minister in the mid-1990’s.
Since Magashule’s appointment as premier in 2009, Pillay and his family have secured dozens of state contracts in the Free State. Several source have also claimed that Tlhapolosa is Magashule’s nephew. His mother is apparently Magashule’s sister.
Tlhapolosa and Magashule are members of a closed “Magashule Family” Facebook page. Magashule’s spokesperson, Tiisetso Makhele, did not respond specifically to questions on his relationship with Tlhalopolosa.
Tlhaloposa, Pillay and BBTech’s Tankiso Mosia did not respond to questions at all.
AmaBhungane previously revealed that the so-called “One Stop ICT Fusion Centre” tender was awarded without the requisite legal approval from the State Information Technology Agency (Sita).
Last week National Treasury told amaBhungane it has declared the ICT tender irregular.
Treasury spokesperson Yolisa Tyantsi said: “Free State has already conceded that fact and has applied for the condonation thereof.”
Critics of Magashule’s say the “ICT Fusion Centre” contract is an example of how an informal but allegedly entrenched network of businessmen and government officials aligned to the premier have benefited under his administration.
That impression casts a shadow over Magashule’s ambitions for the national stage, come the ANC’s elective conference later this year.
He has been touted, as a possible candidate for one of the ANC’s “top six” positions.
AmaBhungane understands that after staff members questioned their transfers, the head of department, Sandile Msibi, launched an internal investigation overseen by Norman Selai, the department’s controversial chief director of corporate services.
One source claimed the investigation was a smokescreen to justify the subsequent mass transfer.
The source alleges that Msibi, and other senior officials, created “a false alarm that information was being stolen and leaked” and brought in the State Security Agency to “supposedly vet and investigate” all IT staff.
Some employees were allegedly “harassed” and had to submit to lie detector tests carried out by the State Security Agency.
The source claims that no results from the lie-detector tests were given to staff. It was after the probe that Selai gave IT employees their transfer letters in October.
In a November email to the PSA a department employee claimed: “We have been transferred because we were working [to] put the interests of the department first.”
The department did not respond to any of these allegations either.
The HOD and Selai are controversial figures said to be part of Magashule’s inner circle. Msibi is a former Mangaung municipal manager who was abruptly removed by Magashule in 2011 after the South African Municipal Workers Union accused him of corruption, incompetence and ignoring labour agreements.
The premier immediately appointed him the head of department.
Selai was embroiled in a scandal linked to the purchase of overpriced diaries while he was the municipal manager in the Ngwathe (Parys) Municipality.
He was suspended and later resigned after a report by the Auditor General, tabled in the Ngwathe council in 2011, found financial irregularities including assets worth R55-million that could not be accounted for.
Selai was appointed to his current position in 2012, despite an outcry from opposition parties.
Before they were instructed to vacate their offices in October last year, the affected IT employees received letters informing them their “transfer requests” had been approved.
In a November 2016 email to Jantjies Jack, the PSA’s Bloemfontein liaison officer, said one employee said she felt she was under pressure to sign an acknowledgement that she had received a letter of transfer from Msibi.
The employee and a colleague were among the first to receive transfer notices, on 30 September 2016.
“We met him (Selai) and he told us that he is not going to keep us for long, that he has decided that he is going to transfer (us) two ladies to Road Safety with effect from 1 October 2016.” She added: “(Selai])told us that ‘he is not going to work with people who think they know better’.
“We signed the letters because we did not want to be intimidated and re sa batle ho sebediswa ha bohloko mosebetsing wa government ya rona kaofela (to avoid working in a hostile environment).
The PSA’s Odie Odendaal told amaBhungane that his association is still awaiting the outcome of an investigation into the reason for the allegedly irregular transfer process. DM
Photo: Ace Magashule at the ANC’s 53rd conference in Mangaung, 17 December 2012. Photo: Greg Marinovich / Daily Maverick.