Company claims awarding of contract for surveillance project was irregular

Joburg’s multimillion-rand camera surveillance project has landed in the hands of a security company operating in some of the world’s bloodiest conflict countries, plunging it deep into controversy.

The city is to get 107 new surveillance cameras to boost security ahead of the 2010 World Cup, but the awarding of a tender to run the initiative for the next three years may end in a nasty court battle.

CueIncident, the company which has run the city’s 109-camera project for the past seven years, claims the tender was irregular and unfair.

It has instructed its lawyers to send the council a letter demanding answers. The municipality has until Monday to reply or face a possible court interdict.

CueIncident is being replaced by Omega Risk Solutions and, by the end of November, will be forced to retrench some 120 workers.

Eleven months after calling for tenders, the council announced its decision at the end of last month. CueIncident’s bid was R98-million while Omega’s was R69-million.

The large difference raised suspicion at CueIncident. Sources said the company believes operational costs have been slashed and may jeopardise the standard of security.

Omega, however, is adamant that its prices are in accordance with industry standards and that CueIncident was overcharging.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo last year, Omega saw some of its staff arrested in connection with a foiled military coup. The company, which established a South African division four years ago, claims its workers have been cleared.

Omega also operates in Iraq, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Angola and Mozambique, and has offices in the US, UK, Australia and across Africa.

In SA, Omega was embroiled in a controversial security contract with the Nelson Mandela Bay municipality in the Eastern Cape. That project is up and running, with Omega providing security guards for the city centre.

Omega CEO Alex de Witt says the directors of the South African division have come from some of the country’s top security firms and have more than 100 years’ combined experience.

One of the concerns raised by CueIncident is that Omega had not shown the council how it would run the project. A small site at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in Pretoria and a running initiative in Gabon, West Africa, were allegedly used. It is unclear whether a council delegation visited the Gabon site while considering the tender.

But De Witt argues that Omega in existence for more than 20 years does business with companies like Nissan, BMW, General Motors, the SA Mint and De Beers. He said the Gabon project similar to Joburg’s was a great success.

“We do tenders on a daily basis with the biggest companies. We can’t afford a branding risk. Everything was done 100% correct from our side and from the council,” he said.

Sources said another concern was that a former CueIncident director, Thys le Grange, had joined Omega just before the tender was announced to start up its technology division.

The outsourcing of the technology component prior to Le Grange’s move illustrated a lack of experience, the sources said.

De Witt, however, said Omega had partnered up with an experienced company, Multivid, and Le Grange’s experience would prove valuable. He said the tender came as a coincidence after his move.

There are also questions of how soon Omega could set up its 216 cameras and where they will operate from.

It is believed that Omega has held talks with CueIncident to discuss taking over some of the equipment but this is unlikely to happen.

CueIncident has sent a detailed list of questions to the council. This was their full reply:

“The City would like to place it on record that due processes were followed during the adjudication of the tender.

“As stated in your inquiry, the City has received a letter from attorneys representing CueIncident. Discussions are ongoing between the City and CueIncident legal representatives.

As a result of this, the City is not in a position to engage on this matter through the media. At an appropriate time a media statement will be released to clarify this matter.”

CueIncident’s initial five-year R160-million contract ran out in 2005 and they were asked to continue on a month by month basis.

They have not been renewing technology for fear of losing the contract which had a negative impact on investors.

“At best this is because of incompetence. At worst there is something sinister going on,” a source said at the time.