By Jeanette Chabalala for News24
Two multimillion-rand software and support contracts between the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) and global giant SAP have been set aside.
On Tuesday, the Special Tribunal declared the contracts, which were signed in 2015 and 2016 respectively, “constitutionally invalid” and set them aside.
Judge Lebogang Modiba ordered the DWS not to use any of the software licences under the agreements.
She ordered SAP to pay the DWS R413 121 283.40 in respect of both contracts.
She added that within five court days of the date of the order, SAP has to pay the department R263-million.
In September 2018, a proclamation was published for the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) to probe allegations that the purchase of the SAP licences for more than R500 million was not necessary and they were procured without the correct tender process being followed.
There were also allegations that R35 million in kickbacks were paid after the DWS procured the SAP service on 26 July 2016.
The SIU began work in September 2018 and immediately “uplifted” computers and documentation from the department.
The unit found that the contract value was approximately R950 million, excluding value-added tax (VAT), consisting of R450 million for the SAP licence fees, plus maintenance over five years.
It also found that no needs analysis was conducted and that there was no budget for the purchase of the SAP licences.
There was also no “virement” or approval of the payments to SAP.
The State Information Technology Agency (SITA) was not consulted and, in fact, SITA had advised the department against proceeding with the contract, News24 previously reported.
The SIU also found evidence that the 2015 agreement with SAP was irregular and ought to have been set aside.
The unit said it made “disciplinary referrals” to the department against two senior officials.
“The SIU was informed that [a disciplinary hearing] against one senior official has been concluded and judgment is expected within this week, while the DWS is considering disciplinary action against the other official. The SIU has also referred evidence pointing towards criminality to the NPA (National Prosecuting Authority), AFU (Asset Forfeiture Unit) and SARS. The referrals are in line with the SIU Act 74 of 1996,” it said in a statement on Wednesday.”
By Paul Vecchiatto for Bloomberg
A South African law-enforcement agency said its investigation into some of the health-equipment contracts awarded by the government during the Covid-19 pandemic found almost two-thirds of them were irregular.
The Special Investigation Unit probe found that 2,803 of 5,467 deals worth 14.3 billion rand ($935 million) were improper, according to a statement emailed by the presidency on Tuesday. President Cyril Ramaphosa authorized the investigation into the contracts in mid-2020.
“It is unacceptable that so many contracts associated with saving lives and protecting livelihoods were irregular, unlawful or fraudulent,” Ramaphosa said in the statement. “This investigation demonstrates our determination to root out corruption and to deal with perpetrators.”
The National Prosecuting Authority and other law-enforcement agencies may use the SIU’s investigations to file criminal charges against people in the public and private sectors, the presidency said.
Think that the use of a specific emoji colour is fine? Think that a black smiley used by a white person is acceptable? Think that sending an image of an eggplant is perfectly normal? The courts in countries like the USA and France say no, and it’s very likely that these rulings are soon going to make their way into South African courts and organisations. According to Nicol Myburgh Head: CRS Technologies HCM Business Unit, emojis can be used as evidence against employees and companies in a court of law.
“The inappropriate use of an emoji is going to make an appearance in this country very soon,” he predicts. “People must become far more circumspect in their use of emojis and images when engaging in communication with fellow employees, otherwise they run the risk of being accused of discrimination or harassment, among other things.”
If a white person uses a black smiley in their communication with a fellow employee, that could be perceived very negatively, no matter what thought process may have been behind its use. For some, this could be seen as ‘blackface’ or as a form of discrimination, and it could cause immense distress among employees.
“Of course, any use of an emoji requires context,” says Myburgh. “Labour law looks at the balance of probabilities. Was the emoji used in a negative context or was it part of the flow of conversation? Did it have a racial intent or was it meant to be a way of connecting with someone? If a person, according to the balance of probability, has a reputation for making racial statements, then this use case could be used as proof to take them to a tribunal.”
The same applies to the use of apparently innocuous emojis such as the eggplant. Yes, that could just be a vegetable, but it could also be innuendo and sexual harassment and the same rules apply. Different people see things in different ways and this is influenced by age, gender, culture and situation. For Myburgh, the best way to avoid being caught in the emoji trap is to keep them out of the workplace entirely.
“If you want to avoid a court case or office in-fighting, just don’t use emojis,” he adds. “Of course, that isn’t going to happen; this is neither practical nor realistic so instead adopt the same strategy as you would with verbal conversations – be aware, be careful and be respectful.”
Another example of how emojis could potentially impact on a company or a career is in their interpretation as a tacit agreement. The thumbs up emoji, for example, could be used to make an argument that verbal or visual confirmation was given to something.
“You may be just saying ‘noted’ but the reader may see the thumbs up and think, ‘wow, I got the job’,” concludes Myburgh. “The rule of thumb in any office environment or communication is to stay away from emojis that could have harmful or offensive connotations, such as eggplants, tacos, hearts, kisses, thumbs up, rude gestures or certain types of animals. That way you can avoid unnecessary conflict and an extremely unpleasant court case.”
Staples and Office Depot, the number one and two largest office supply retailers in the nation, have agreed to sell corporate contracts that generate about $550-million in sales as they await approval of a proposed merger of the two retailers.
Essendant of Deerfield, Illinois, will pay the Framingham retailer about $22,5-million for the business, if the merger with Office Depot is completed.
Regulators have been concerned about corporate contract business; together, Staples and Office Depot control 70% of the US market for business customers.
In December, the FTC took legal action to kill the deal, saying a merger would “eliminate beneficial competition” that helps keep the cost of office supplies low. Staples said it would fight the commission in court, and proceedings are expected to begin in mid-to-late March.
“We’re pleased to reach this agreement with Essendant as we continue to work to complete the acquisition of Office Depot,” says Staples chief executive Ron Sargent .
“Our agreement with Essendant strengthens a national competitor.”
Staples and Office Depot last received European approval for its merger after the companies agreed to divest some of its operations there. Regulators in China, New Zealand and Australia have also approved the merger.
By Megan Woolhouse for www.bostonglobe.com