Shock finding of abandoned files

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Millions of personal and confidential documents belonging to government employees and private companies have been discovered lying scattered and unprotected in a jumble of boxes sprawled across an East London warehouse floor.

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A Saturday Dispatch investigative team saw about 5000 boxes containing abandoned documents.

The Protection of Personal Information Act (2013) protects the integrity and confidentiality of personal information and stipulates that there be adequate measures and controls to prevent unauthorised people from accessing private information.

Reporters saw documents, which reach into the private lives of thousands of government employees and citizens, in a warehouse in the defunct Da Gama factory in Wilsonia this week.

Landlord Gwyn Bassingthwaighte said they were owed R1.4-million in unpaid rent and that the documents had been attached by the Sheriff, which means they are now technically owned by a private company.

Some of the documents included homeowners’ addresses of a security firm, gun licences and serial numbers for 108 firearms, vehicle registration, details of teachers asking for housing allowances and claiming overtime, salary slips, police affidavits detailing speeding fines, personal banking details, certified copies of ID books, tax certificates, travel claims, and tender applications rich with business information, including biographies of individuals.

The documents are the property of the Eastern Cape department of social development and department of education.

The warehouse is used as a rented storage facility.

The team entered the warehouse on two occasions. Nobody stopped us and nobody was seen guarding the documents.

After questions were sent to the two departments, the warehouse was immediately locked.

The documents are from as recent as last year but go back to 2005.

The businessman once in charge of this mess, Francios de Lange, owner of Sable Scanning Technologies in Pretoria, told Saturday Dispatch yesterday the documents were classified as “live” and “original”.

Documents detailing the 2010 tender bid from Tyeks Security Services CC was found as well.

Tyelovuyo Buhlungu, owner of Tyeks, was stunned when told.

“I did not know about this. I should think that they would dispose of these documents. Someone could steal this information.”

Bassingthwaighte said Sable Scanning signed a five-year lease and had the business to store and scan government documents.

“But about a year ago we caught the department of education sneaking out their documents. Once we had caught them, we had the remaining documents attached,” said Bassingthwaighte.

“This means those documents are now ours. We can do whatever we want with them now. I’ve approached the departments and given them an opportunity to come get the documents.

“All they have to do is take out a lease for the space now being used and pay the outstanding rent.

“I’ve met with the departments in Bhisho many times. Since our meetings it has just been silence from them.

Gcobani Maswana, spokesman for the Eastern Cape department of social development, said: “The department is aware of the matter. It is now sub judice, therefore we cannot comment on the matter further.”

Education spokesman Malibongwe Mtima said: “As the department, we had a contract with Sable Scanning stating that they would look after and scan our documents. We are now considering the legal route as they [Sable Scanning] have reneged on the contract by leaving our documents there. We have not removed documents.”

De Lange denied being at fault and said that he was not awarded a tender. He said that a tender was put out by the education department in 2013 but was never awarded to anyone.

He claimed that he was subsequently directly approached by the department and asked to store and scan their documents.

He said he was asked for an RFQ (request for quotation) and his quote was approved but he only received a contract which lasted for six months.

“The department of social development came to me after learning only half the warehouse was being used. They only contracted us to store documents and not to scan them.”

He said the contract ran out and and he sent further contracts to the education department, but they did not sign, and instead came in the eight trucks and took most of their documents.

Social development came to look but never took their documents which were by that stage attached.

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