The former chairperson of the parliamentary committee on correctional services, Dennis Bloem, tearfully urged the commission of inquiry into state capture on Friday to investigate the passing of former commissioner of correctional services (DCS) Vernie Petersen, who he described as a “corruption buster”.
Petersen passed away in 2011 while he served as the director-general (DG) of the national department of sport and recreation (DSR).
In 2008, the former minister of correctional services, Ngconde Balfour, transferred Petersen from the DCS to the DSR. Petersen had spent a year at the DCS.
Urging the commission to investigate his passing, Bloem claimed that Petersen died under mysterious circumstances.
He said Petersen had been very vocal against Bosasa, which had scored lucrative tenders with the DCS.
Bloem described Petersen as “a corruption buster” who wholeheartedly hated corruption and was very experienced in matters within the DCS.
Petersen took over as commissioner from Linda Mti who has been implicated in alleged corruption leading to the department awarding tenders to Bosasa. Petersen was then succeeded by Tom Moyane, who was sacked as Sars commissioner last year.
Bloem told the commission that when Petersen was redeployed to the DSR, the committee he chaired was neither informed about the decision nor taken into consideration and was not given any reason for his redeployment.
He said the committee only learned about the decision through media reports.
“[Petersen] was the best national commissioner in the department,” Bloem said.
The committee had been “very surprised” by the decision, Bloem said, which was “a blow” to the department, he added.
Apparently, when Balfour was asked why Petersen had been redeployed to DSR, the minister said his skills were needed elsewhere.
“Everybody was shocked but we knew it was because he fought against corruption in the department of correctional services,” Bloem said.
Bloem further said that when Petersen took over Mti, “there was only havoc” within the department.
He claimed that Bosasa was hampering the function of the DCS because during Mti’s tenure “there was no control, there was no discipline” within it.
The “havoc” within the department was evidenced by regular protests staged by members of the police and prisons civil rights union who were unhappy with what was happening at the time, Bloem said.
Further evidence of the “havoc” was the quality of audit reports that the department received, which he said were only qualified audit reports “year in, year out, that is why I described it as havoc”.
Internal controls within the department lacked, and were “weak” and regulations were “flouted”, Bloem said, “it was a free for all that was happening in the department”.
However, he said the “havoc” within the department predated Mti.
“If the investigators can go back and check what has happened, they will find more damning things than this Bosasa issue under the leadership of Khulekani Sithole,” Bloem told the commission.
He said the only person who made an attempt “to bring the department in line” had been Petersen.
During his testimony on Friday, Bloem also told the commission about an anonymous letter he received in which he was “attacked” for being vocal against Bosasa.
In the letter, Bloem was questioned why he was fighting Bosasa, which was supposedly creating job opportunities for many and that him doing so was a way of promoting white monopoly capital.
Evidence leader, the commission’s head of legal, advocate Paul Pretorius, noted to the commission’s chair, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, the irony of the statement that Bloem’s opposition to the company headed by Gavin Watson, Bosasa, was a way of promoting white monopoly capital.
Bloem, however, said his parliamentary office was broken into – twice – and that the letter and other valuable items were stolen.
Bloem also testified about how a member of his committee, Winnie Ngwenya, allegedly told him that Bosasa officials wanted to meet with him, which he said he refused.
Bloem says that Winnie Ngwenya told him that owners of Bosasa wanted to meet with him but he refused. Winnie told him, "Chairperson ke Nyuku". #StateCaptureInquiry
— State Capture Commission (@StateCaptureCom) February 1, 2019
“After [former Bosasa COO Angelo] Agrizzi’s testimony about how people were bought, I got a clearer picture as to why this happened,” Bloem told the commission.
He further testified that when he was vocal about the allegedly corrupt tenders Bosasa was awarded by the DCS, he would receive many threatening calls from private numbers.
“I have tried to keep it away from my wife [and my] my family so that it does not affect them,” he said.
He said on one Friday he received a call, with the caller telling him that he was being followed and “we are going to finish you” and that his response had been: “Please come, I’m waiting for you.”