Johannesburg – Veteran MP and former chairperson of the portfolio committee on Correctional Services Dennis Bloem has pleaded with the commission of inquiry into state capture, to investigate the “mysterious death” of prisons’ boss Vernie Petersen who died eight years ago.
An emotional Bloem told the commission chaired by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo that Petersen’s sudden death was questionable.
”I am having a personal plea to the commission, please investigate the death of Vernie Petersen because Vernie Petersen was very vocal and against this thing of what is happening, and all of a sudden Vernie Petersen died a mysterious death,” he said.
Bloem said his plea for a probe was to ensure that Petersen’s widow and two children gained closure.
”This thing of Vernie Petersen will never die because he was against corruption and fought against tenders to Bosasa,” he said.
According to Bloem, now Cope’s national spokesperson, Petersen wanted to clean up the Correctional Services Department. Petersen was moved to the Sport and Recreation Department by the-then correctional services minister Ngconde Balfour.
Justice Zondo promised Bloem that the legal team and its investigators would reflect on his request.
Bloem, an MP since 1994, also highlighted to the commission that at a meeting of the portfolio committee in Parliament in October 2008, Petersen informed MPs that he was against the Bosasa tenders and outsourcing of the department’s functions to the controversial company.
”Petersen asked why the catering function was being outsourced because the department had farms, producing its own food, and criticised the Bosasa tenders,” he said.
Bloem said during that same period, Petersen, at a meeting, referred to the resignation of the department’s ex-chief financial officer (CFO) Nadira Singh.
Singh had uncovered corruption and was threatened. According to Bloem, Singh decided to resign with immediate effect.
He said it was the first time that the Correctional Services Department had a qualified chartered accountant as CFO.
Bloem further added that the Correctional Services Department “was a very, very dangerous place”, citing that Judge Nathan Erasmus had also raised objections to the tenders awarded to Bosasa in his reports during his tenure as the inspecting judge of prisons.
He added: “Erasmus is an honourable person, he will give information to the commission.
“Judge Erasmus said to me, ‘Mr Bloem, I am giving you full permission to tell the commission that I am prepared to contribute and help this commission with information’,” Bloem testified.
In 2004, Bloem was elected as chairperson of the portfolio committee on Correctional Services until 2009. He said he was inspired by former Bosasa chief operations officer and self-confessed racist Angelo Agrizzi.
”I know for a fact that is what has happened in the Correctional Services Committee,” Bloem said.
He has since promised the commission that he would dish up more dirt on Bosasa because plenty of issues were still outstanding from his affidavit.
Four more witnesses are scheduled to testify when the commission resumes on Tuesday.