16 April 2024 | 12:58 AM

Businessman plays his ace

Key Takeaways

The former personal assistant of Free State Premier Ace Magashule has clinched provincial state contracts worth just more than R200-million in the past two years and is now described as one of the most successful businessmen in Bloemfontein.

Deena Pillay, described as an “ANC comrade”, managed Magashule’s office in the mid-1990s during his stint as provincial sports minister. He then branched out into business.

But it appears that he was not particularly successful before Magashule’s elevation to premier in mid-2009.

According to company records, 12 of 16 companies that Pillay previously served as a director are out of business and only those registered since 2010 are still operating.

Of the four in which he still has active directorships, one involves his brother, Dhilosen Pillay, who is also chairman of the Free State Liquor and Gambling Board and chief executive of Phakisa Major Sports Events, which runs the Free State government’s controversial race track outside Welkom.

But Pillay’s most successful companies are ostensibly owned and directed by his wife, Ravatha Pillay, the sole shareholder and director of TAD Consultancy Services and Bombenero Investments. Both these companies deal mainly with Free State government departments and municipalities.

Contact person

Although neither a director nor a shareholder on paper, Pillay appears to be heavily involved in TAD’s operations and is listed as the company’s contact person. Established in 2004, TAD specialises in project management and consulting.

Its main focus areas are agriculture, engineering services and information and communication technology solutions and services. Bombenero, formed in 2006, focuses on digital media production and ICT solutions and services.

The Mail & Guardian has seen a combined business plan for both companies that outlines medium- and long-term projects.

The plan, apparently an internal company document, shows that between 2010 and 2013 the companies will receive work in the Free State amounting to R174.8-million.

Current projects listed include:

    • A comprehensive disaster management project for the Maluti-a-Phofung municipality worth nearly R50-million;

 

    • A document management project for Magashule’s office valued at R3.6-million;

 

    • A maintenance and managed services project for the risk and disaster management centre of the Mangaung municipality for nearly R22-million;

 

    • A comprehensive access control and CCTV surveillance project for Pelonomi Hospital on behalf of the provincial health department for R6.3-million;

 

    • A public information platform for Magashule’s office for just less than R30-million; and

 

  • A comprehensive security project for all Free State government hospitals for more than R12-million.

The business plan outlines upcoming business opportunities, including comprehensive access control and CCT surveillance for the provincial police and roads department for more than R7-million, and a performance management project for the Mangaung municipality worth nearly R19-million.

‘Hand-picked’

Questions of due process surround some TAD contracts. A few months ago, the Free State Times reported that TAD was “hand picked” for Pelonomi Hospital’s R6.3-million surveillance contract.

Industry experts told the newspaper that the project should not have cost more than R3-million. The department defended bypassing normal tender procedures saying the project was “an emergency”.

Weeks after landing the contract, TAD sponsored an orphans’ Christmas party thrown by the Ace Magashule Foundation, a charitable organisation established last year to fight social challenges in the Free State. Pillay sits on the foundation’s board and serves as its treasurer.

In August, the Free State Times and Volksblad reported that TAD was given a 10-year, R25.7-million lease contract without a tender. The lease will accommodate the Free State Training and Development Institute, a project run by Magashule’s office.

This contract, combined with those outlined in the business plan, totals just more than R200-million.

The M&G sent questions to provincial government spokesperson Wisani Ngobeni, who said there was no indication that the premier had done anything wrong.

“The premier does not play any role in the supply chain management, including procurement processes, of provincial government departments or municipalities. This responsibility is executed by the relevant provincial departments and municipalities.”

‘Not worthy of comment’

Ngobeni added: “The Free State provincial government is well aware of the campaign initiated and sustained by Free State Times to discredit Premier Magashule. Its claims are not worthy of comment.”

The Pillays had not responded to questions by the time of going to print.

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The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism, a non-profit initiative to develop investigative journalism in the public interest, produced this story. All views are ours. See www.amabhungane.co.za for all our stories, activities and sources of funding.

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Before joining the amaBhungane team in 2017, Micah was the national coordinator for media freedom and diversity at the Right2Know Campaign. He holds a Masters in African Studies from Oxford University and a BA Honours in History from Wits University.

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