Investigations into the R15.3 million Talana Shack project, which raised a stink in Limpopo last year, have revealed that, among many other discrepancies, the lucrative tender was obtained through fraudulent means, the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) revealed on Tuesday afternoon.
The project, which sent shockwaves throughout the province and beyond, was awarded by the Limpopo provincial government, and involved the construction of 192 transitional residential areas, popularly known as Talana shacks. It was awarded to a company called the Aventine Group CC.
According to a media statement by the SIU, one of the grave mistakes made by the company was forging documents by industry experts with no links to the company in order to influence the direction of the bid.
In July 2020, Limpopo Premier Stanley Mathabatha took the matter to the SIU, to investigate allegations of impropriety in the awarding of the tender. This after he came under serious criticism from the public, which questioned government building tin shacks for residents 26 years after the dawn of democracy.
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The tender, according to MEC for cooperative governance, human settlements and traditional affairs (COGHSTA), Basikopo Makamu, was awarded in an endeavour to “decongest” the population of Talana in Tzaneen during the national state of disaster.
The SIU was directed by President Cyril Ramaphosa to investigate allegations of corruption, malpractice, maladministration and irregularities in the procurement of goods and services during the Covid-19 state of disaster.
MEC Makamu had identified a number of densely populated informal settlements in the province, which made it difficult to observe social distancing as per Covid-19 regulations. Makamu gave priority to two settlements, Talana Hostel in Tzaneen and Burgersfort Ext 10.
According to the SIU, their investigations revealed that COGHSTA appointed an implementing agent, the Housing Development Agency (HDA) for the establishment of transitional residential areas. HDA then appointed service provider Aventino to construct 192 units at a total cost of R12.3 million.
An extension of scope, according to the SIU, was approved to include the construction of 152 pit latrines and the installation of three water tanks (10 000 litres), for an additional fee of R3 million. This took the contract value to R15.3 million.
The SIU said their investigations revealed that the service provider only managed to construct 40 shacks at Talana Hostel and submitted two invoices totalling over R2.5 million, which were paid between April and October 2020. The report further indicated that at the Burgersfort Ext 10 site, no structure was completed at all.
Spokesperson for the SIU Kaizer Khanyago said that, in line with the SIU Act 74 of 1996, the SIU had referred evidence pointing to criminal action on the part of the director of the Aventine, Constance Mohlala, to the National Prosecuting Authority for further action.
“As a result, Mohlala was arrested by the Hawks in December 2020 and she is facing criminal charges for submitting fraudulent documents to influence the direction of a tender. Furthermore, the SIU made a referral to the HDA recommending that the service provider be restricted from doing business with government.
“We are currently in the process of instituting civil proceedings in the Special Tribunal to review and set aside the R15.3 million contract and recover financial losses suffered by the state,” said Kganyago in a statement.
Yesterday, the Limpopo provincial government welcomed the outcome of the SIU investigations report and said: “The premier has noted the report by the SIU. For now, we do not have a detailed response as we are awaiting a formal presentation of the report by the SIU to the premier. The meeting is planned for somewhere next week. Following the planned meeting, the OTP will issue a detailed statement on the matter.”