Construction firm scored R15m Limpopo 'Covid-19 shack' tender using fake construction experts

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News 24

A contractor in Limpopo was awarded a R15 million government tender to build temporary housing units using falsified qualifications of people who never worked for the company.

The use of the falsified documents boosted the contractor's chances of securing the contract to build temporary houses in Talana Hostel and Burgersfort Ext 10.

Irregularities were uncovered in the Special Investigating Unit's probe into the Housing Development Agency's awarding of the tender to construction firm Aventino Group CC.

A contractor in Limpopo was awarded a R15 million government tender to build temporary housing units (TRUs) after submitting falsified CVs, work history and qualifications of people who never even worked for the company.

This was uncovered by the Special Investigating Unit's (SIU) probe into the Housing Development Agency (HDA) which awarded the tender to construction firm Aventino Group CC to build 192 temporary units in Talana Hostel and Burgersfort Ext 10 in Limpopo.

On Wednesday, the SIU briefed Parliament on its investigations into construction tenders for TRUs across the country.

The housing units came into the spotlight when Limpopo Premier Stan Mathabatha was heavily criticised and embarrassed when he handed over more than 40 shacks to residents in August 2020.

Mathabatha subsequently reported the matter to the SIU for investigation.

At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Limpopo Department of Co-operative Governance, Human Settlements and Traditional Affairs identified several densely populated informal settlements where social distancing would be difficult.

Talana Hostel and Burgersfort Ext 10 were prioritised, and in May 2020, the department appointed the HDA as an implementing agent to procure and appoint a service provider.

SIU chief national investigations officer Leonard Lekgetho told MPs, in July 2020, Aventino's scope of work was extended.

The additional work included the construction of 152 pit latrines at Burgersfort Ext 10 as well as the supply and installation of three 10 000 litre water tanks with four taps.

"The value of the extension to the contract was R3 019 531.03. The total value of the contract went up to R15 392 203.03," Lekgetho said.

The SIU reviewed the documents that Aventino submitted to support its proposal.

Aventino submitted the names of a professional team which included an architect, engineer, construction health and safety agent, professional construction project manager, construction health and safety manager and director.

Lekgetho said:

The team traced and interviewed the professional team. They all denied working for a company called Aventino. They also stated that they did not give Aventino permission to use their names when bidding for any work. They further indicated that their CVs, work history and qualifications were falsified.

Furthermore, he added members of the bid evaluation committee (BEC) and bid adjudication committee (BAC) were not aware of the misrepresentation.

According to Lekgetho, the BEC and BAC members assumed the contractor had engaged with these professionals.

"[The] BEC and BAC did not conduct any form of due diligence on the CVs, qualifications or credentials of the team members, they accepted the information at face value. However, they are of the view that had the misrepresentation been identified during the sitting of the committees, Aventino would have been disqualified," he said.

In September 2020, the SIU conducted site inspections and found all 40 structures at Talana Hostel were completed.

At Burgersfort Ext 10, there were only half-built structures.

Lekgetho said counsel had been appointed and an application lodged at the Special Tribunal to set aside the contract between Aventino Group CC and the HAD.

"Based on the misrepresentation and fraud, the SIU is to recover R2 577 640.00, the amount of money that was paid to Aventino," he added.

Investigations into the matter led to the arrest of the company's director, Constance Mohlala, project manager Raymond Maoto and four BEC members from the HDA.

All six have been charged with fraud and corruption.

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