Bhisho blaze compromises financial probe

A fire at Bhisho’s Office of the Premier which destroyed important documents has compromised a seven-year investigation into supply chain irregularities in various government departments.

Eastern Cape premier Phumulo Masualle’s office was hit by fire Picture: SUPPLIED

On Friday afternoon, employees had to be evacuated after a fire engulfed the archives section of the building.

The facility housed thousands of supply chain management documents which were undergoing digital scanning for archiving.

Premier Phumulo Masualle was attending the ANC policy conference in Johannesburg at the time. The fire took place just hours after Gauteng premier David Makhura’s offices also went up in flames.

It is understood that most of the documents related to irregular expenditure by provincial government departments and municipalities.

The premier’s office confirmed that some of the charred documents formed part of director-general Marion MbinaMthembu’s investigation into possible irregularities in government procurement.

The investigation was focused on transgressions committed since 2010.

Provincial government spokesman Sonwabo Mbananga said yesterday: “An assessment [of the effect] of the fire on the [investigations] is being undertaken and will become clearer in coming days.”

Some of the reported irregular expenditure committed in recent years includes millions spent on the Nelson Mandela memorial and funeral in 2013.

The OR Tambo district municipality was identified recently by auditor-general Kimi Makwetu as one of the biggest culprits of irregular expenditure in recent years.

It had incurred R1.4-billion in irregular expenditure since 2012.

Masualle rushed back to his office yesterday, where he and provincial police commissioner Lieutenant-General Liziwe Ntshinga assessed the damage.

“We are worried about the information lost because all information stored is critical to government,” Masualle said later.

“We have to give accounts of all the things we do and the documents are a repository of that information.

“When documents are lost or damaged, [as] we have lost these, it [has a negative effect] on our ability to account.”

Asked who was being investigated and whether the fire could be related to such probes, he said: “I would not reveal who was being investigated, but we have had instances of irregular expenditure which we had to investigate.

“I won’t be able to say whether it is related [to the fire] until we establish the cause.”

Masualle said his office had been storing some of the documents electronically. He was hopeful that some could be retrieved from electronic storage.

Masualle said he found it odd that his office had caught fire the same day as Makhura’s office.

He said the provincial government remained fully functional.

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