A PRELIMINARY probe into a government shipping contract awarded to Smit Amandla Marine (SAM) has so far unearthed alleged tender fraud amounting to between R1.6-billion and R2-billion.
Briefing the media in parliament yesterday, acting director-general of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Sipho Ntombela said a provisional forensic audit by Ernst & Young indicated that something wrong has happened in the procurement of goods and services from SAM by the Marine Living Resources Fund.
The contract and subsequent extensions, signed between 2000 and March this year, related to the management of a fleet of seven vessels for research purposes as well as to combat illegal fishing along the country's coastline.
The contract was first signed by the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) but was transferred to the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries last year.
"From the looks of it ... the basis of all these statements is saying there is a possible case for collusion between officials of the department and some individuals outside of the department," Ntombela said.
However, the R1.6-billion to R2-billion may just be a drop in the ocean as only 474 invoices relating to the contract had been investigated.
The department was yet to sift through another 650 invoices submitted by SAM prior to 2006. It has also been reported that a number of invoices were destroyed or hidden in a bid to cover up tender irregularities.
Ntombela said of the 474 invoices probed, anomalies noted included:
- Hand-written changes to invoice numbers and on one invoice a date had been erased;
- ·Descriptions on some invoices were for the same service and it appeared that the same expenses claimed by SAM were charged twice;
- In 222 instances, invoices worth more than R750-million had not been approved but payment had been made;
- A total of 292 invoices worth more than R1-billion did not have VAT charges; and
- Sixty-five duplicated invoices to the value of more than R234-million were identified.
Ntombela said the main agreement also appeared unusual and unfavourable to the state.
This was because of the lengthy period of the contract, the unusual payment provisions and the fact that no contract price had been specified and the amount payable had been left up to the contractor to determine.
Ntombela said the forensic investigation would continue alongside a police investigation.
Documents had also been handed over to the public protector.
"Further investigation will have to take place. At this stage the report does not touch on any individual who might have been involved," he said.
Ntombela said neither the DEA nor SAM had been consulted regarding the report as investigations were still under way.
SAM spokeswoman Clare Gomes said the company was drafting a response to the allegations.