A leaked protected disclosure document has revealed that MTN could oust Vodacom as the provider for a lucrative South African Police Service (SAPS) cellular service contract.

City Press reported that Vodacom has held the contract for 25 years and that the change of operator is unwelcome news for high-ranking SAPS officials.

The disclosure by deputy national police commissioner of asset and legal management, lieutenant-general Francinah Vuma, also highlighted other investigations she had conducted that implicated senior police officers and minister Bheki Cele.

The document is addressed to President Cyril Ramaphosa and other high-ranking law enforcement agency officials, including the head of the Hawks, Godfrey Lebeya.

Vuma noted several attempts from her seniors to sway certain contracts in favour of specific companies, which she said she had rejected.

Vuma explained that Cele had accused her of approving and awarding “a bigger part of the cellphone contract to MTN, at the behest of the deputy minister [of police, Cassel Mathale]”.

She added that Cele said MTN was poised to fund the Economic Freedom Fighters.

According to Vuma, Cele instructed her to keep him informed and not to finalise the matter before she had received his go-ahead, adding that she has received extensive criticism since.

“I’ve received countless enquiries from the minister himself and from his emissaries, complaining that I’m moving very slowly on the matter,” Vuma wrote.

“I explained to the minister and his emissaries that I was following due process. I was even instructed to send a status quo report to the minister’s emissary on June 30, 2022.”

She added that she is now forced to avoid phone calls and meetings due to pressure from the minister.

According to City Press, police insiders revealed in November 2021 that Vuma had recommended MTN as it provided superior coverage and competitive pricing, much to the dismay of top SAPS decision-makers.

The fact that high-ranking officials in the SAPS wanted the selection of MTN changed raised suspicions that top officers could be illegally invested in swaying the deal, leading to the following allegations:

  • Vodacom received irrational preference from the SAPS management;
  • There were complaints that Vodacom had been chosen by the SAPS, even though MTN offered better pricing and superior network coverage, and in terms of the ongoing review, MTN had been identified as the most suitable service provider.

Police minister Bheki Cele has not disclosed any interest or gifts from Vodacom, or any telecommunications provider, in parliament’s annual register of members’ interests.

MyBroadband contacted Cele, Vodacom, and MTN for comment. Vodacom and MTN did not immediately answer questions about the allegations.

A police ministry spokesperson told MyBroadband that it is aware of the allegations, adding that it could not provide further comment as it is still studying the contents of the document.

Update: A Vodacom spokesperson told MyBroadband that it had requested access to the relevant information so it can evaluate the process followed by the SAPS in its awarding of the contract to MTN, adding that the process had not yet been finalised by the SAPS.

This is not the first time SAPS’s telephonic services have been in the spotlight.

In February 2022, the Gauteng High Court denied a leave to appeal from the State Information Technology Agency (Sita) against a court decision that found it had illegally awarded a contract for maintenance and support of telephonic services for the SAPS.

The High Court decision meant that Sita had 30 days to sign a contract with Gijima and its partner Advanced Voice Systems to the value of R160 million.

It previously claimed that the amount was over its budget. As a result, Sita awarded the contract to the Indian multinational firm In2IT.

In2IT had made a bid to offer the same services for R89 million, around R71 million less than the entities which met all the requirements.

MTN secured a contract with National Treasury to provide mobile communications services to government in March 2021.

All state entities will be able to use the RT15-2021 contract.

Cell C was also appointed as one of the preferred mobile communication service providers to the South African government for the next five years.