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ACC DEMANDS ANSWERS FROM AG ON FUNDUZI ENGAGEMENT

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MBABANE – The ACC is demanding from AG Timothy Matsebula, documents for the appointment of Funduzi Forensic Services (Pty) Ltd.

Funduzi Forensic Services is the company that was contracted by government to conduct an investigation into irregularities relating to procurement, in particular the acquisition and distribution of medicine to public institutions. The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has since written to the auditor general (AG), where they gave his office seven days to release all the documents that were used in the appointment of Funduzi Forensic Services, which exposed serious irregularities in the procurement of drugs.

Speech

The report compiled by Funduzi was tabled by the Minister of Finance, Neal Rijkenberg, in Parliament when he presented his budget speech for the financial year 2024/25. It is yet to be scrutinised by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), a parliamentary watchdog on government spending, before being debated by Parliament in it entirety. However, that process may be impeded as the foundation process of the report has now been subjected to scrutiny by the ACC.  Last week, the PAC had to suspend its sittings for consultations after the Prime Minister, Rusell Dlamini, sharply criticised the AG’s reports, further questioning his competence.

Developments

In the latest developments, the Acting Commissioner of the ACC, Maphevu Mkhatshwa, wrote a letter to the AG, dated May 13, 2024, in which he cited Section 11 and 12 of the Anti-Corruption Commission Act No. 3 of 2003, and the Prevention of Organised Crime Act (POCA) of 2018. Among the sheath of documents required by the ACC is the authority to procure from Funduzi Forensic Services and other companies, as well as the technical and financial evaluation reports of the companies awarded the tenders. The ACC also wants documents from the initial stage, where the request to procure was made to the Eswatini Tender Board (ETB).

Then, it requires the response that was given by the tender Board. It further requires the request for proposal (RFP) to suppliers, as well as the response to that request by the suppliers. The AG has been required to then produce the request to procure from Funduzi Forensic Services and other awarded companies and the authority that was subsequently granted. He is then required to produce the technical and financial evaluation reports of the companies awarded the tenders to procure.

Submit

The ACC further wants Matsebula to submit the ‘request to waive threshold’, which was granted by the Eswatini Public Procurement Regulatory Agency (EPPRA). He is also required to provide variation contracts and supporting documents as well as contracts between his office, Funduzi and the other awarded companies.“Your institution will also be required to provide us with an affidavit (s), outlining the provided information and any other information that will be discussed between our investigators and your officer/s in respect of this investigation.”
Matsebula was given seven days to respond to the letter. This newspaper sent questionnaires to Matsebula yesterday, seeking to know if he was cooperating with the ACC, but he had not responded at the time of compiling this report.

ACC Director Jabu Phakathi could not be reached for comment. Meanwhile, contention on the appointment of Funduzi first played out at the High Court, where SwaziPharm Director and Indonesian Consul Kareem Ashraff, wanted the Funduzi report to be released. In that application, Ashraff also questioned the appointment of Funduzi. However, the matter fell off after the report was made public.

Misled

Ashraff had alleged that the auditor general misled Government Tender Board to appoint Funduzi Forensic Services (Pty) Ltd. In view of the fact that this was a limited tender, Ashraff submitted, that the AG allegedly submitted that a recommendation that Funduzi Forensic Services should be appointed.  “There was no public advertisement of this tender, and consequently, it follows that the auditor general provided information to the tender Board to the effect that Funduzi had the requisite technical knowledge and experience to carry out an assignment of this nature. He must, therefore, have had prior knowledge of Funduzi. Acting on the strength of this representation, the tender Board appointed Funduzi,” argued Ashraff in his court papers.

Meanwhile, Funduzi Director, Zakhele Dlamini, had dismissed Ashraff’s assertions as a witchhunt, because he had not even seen the report when he made the allegations. Zakhele, in a letter written to the Times last week, said it was unfortunate that the Office of the AG was being dragged all over the place, following the investigation which was sanctioned by the 11th Parliament. “The 11th administration passed the motion that a forensic investigation be conducted in the downward spiral of the Ministry of Health, resulting in thousands of emaSwati losing lives.

“They instructed the Office of the Auditor General to conduct this investigation. The Office of the Auditor General, which is the Supreme Audit Institution (SAI) of Eswatini is mandated by Section 207 of the Constitution of the country to carry out all audits where public funds have been collected and or used,” Zakhele said. He explained that the Office of the Auditor General of Eswatini enjoys certain privileges and immunity to fully power it and enable it to have more direct and robust audit work. This publication has also seen a letter written by one of the suppliers cited in the report, directed to the chairperson of the Civil Service Commission, also complaining about the award of the tender. Questions were sent to the CSC seeking to know if such a letter was entertained, but there were no answers forthcoming. While battling the court applications and resistance to its reports, the AG also has to contend with the prime minister’s doubts of  his reports and competence.

The criticism emanated from audits about the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and how it handled COVID-19 funds during the time when the Prime Minister, Russell Dlamini, was chief executive officer there.The PM said professional auditors had found that the NDMA books were unqualified (clean audits), yet Matsebula said millions of Emalangeni were unaccounted for.

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