SAFTU condemns Public Protector’s report on Vrede Farm

The South African Federation of Trade Unions strongly condemns the report released by Public Protector, Busisiwe Mkhwebane, which purports to be an investigation into “Allegations of maladministration against the Free State Department of Agriculture – Vrede Integrated Dairy Project”.

The report is an insult to the intelligence of all South Africans, which confirms the view that she has betrayed the principles of her office, and who has been captured by those corrupt individuals she is supposed to be exposing.

Mkhwebane says nothing about the allegations in the #GuptaLeaks that the “irregular” transactions that she refers to included paying R30 million to fund the Guptas’ Sun City wedding. She makes no reference to the court papers filed by the NPA’s Asset Forfeiture Unit showing that of the R220 million of government money given to Estina for the project, only R2 million went to the Vrede Dairy Farm itself.

The rest was channeled to the Guptas and their associates, with R10 million landing straight into the personal bank account of Atul Gupta, R19 million being used to buy luxury cars, R30 million as a deposit for a private jet and R100 million which went to various Gupta companies.

Her report is nothing but a feeble attempt to exonerate the main politically prominent figures in the scandal and switch attention on to minor players who have committed relatively minor offences and are now convenient scapegoats.

The report attacks “maladministration” and “gross negligence” by some Free State government officials, but fails to look at all into the roles of senior players in the project, such as Free State Premier and ANC Secretary General, Ace Magashule, former Free State agriculture MEC, now Minister of Mineral Resources, Mosebenzi Zwane and – most striking – any members of the Gupta family.

Mkhwebane’s lame excuse for this is that her investigation into the matter was limited due to “capacity and financial constraints”.

As Rebecca Davis writes in the Daily Maverick (9 February 2018): “Here’s what Mkhwebane’s team didn’t investigate: why between 50 and 100 cattle purchased for the farm with taxpayers’ money had mysteriously died; why local beneficiaries supposed to benefit in the project did not; what happened to the money transferred to Estina; and the involvement of the Gupta family in the project.”

There is no mention for instance of allegations against Zwane, that he planned the move with the Guptas on a trip to India in 2012 and subsequently had it approved by Magashule.

The report deals only with lesser infringements, such as that the Free State Department of Agriculture did not follow normal procurement processes, that the payments to Estina were “not in line with Treasury prescripts” and they failed to monitor the implementation of the agreement.

The report finds that “no documents and/or policies or measures were provided by the department that proper financial control and risk management of the project were in place”.

One of the few suspects that Mkhwebane names is Free State agriculture accounting officer, Peter Thabethe, who knowingly signed an authorisation to deviate from the correct supply-chain management process and “was not clear on the grounds that justified him deviating from the prescribed process”. In so doing, the Free State Department of Agriculture contravened the Public Finance Management Act.

While the Public Protector is right to condemn any such irregularities in the Vrede Dairy scandal, she is in effect restricting her accusations to junior officials and covering up the allegations of really serious criminal acts of fraud and corruption committed by their political leaders, which the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and the Hawks are now following up.

Mkhwebane’s recommendations for remedial action are confined to action against these lesser players. Magashule, she says, must take “disciplinary action against all implicated officials”. He must “ensure that he conducts a reconciliation of the number of cows initially procured” with the cows counted on a Public Protector visit to the farm in April 2017.

The head of the Free State Department of Agriculture is tasked with training officials on procurement regulations and teaching them how to implement future projects.

While SAFTU fully agrees with Rebecca Davis that “The Public Protector’s findings and recommendations on the issue would appear to fall well short of what would be expected from a corruption scandal of this scale”, this is an under-statement. It is a deliberate attempt to avoid levelling any accusations against the leading culprits who have already been identified – Magashule, Zwane and the Guptas.

SAFTU insists that all those against whom there is evidence in the Estina deal, and all the other serious cases of corruption exposed in Mkhwebane’s predecessor, Thuli Madonsela’s ‘State of Capture’ report, the #GuptaLeaks and Jacques Pauw’s ‘The President’s Keepers’ must face prosecution.

There must be no exceptions, especially political leaders, who not only benefited individually but were additionally responsible for crimes committed on their watch by their junior officials.

The campaign against every one of those guilty of corruption, fraud, money-laundering and tender manipulation, fro the junior officials right up the the Presidency must be brought before the courts, tried and if guilty punished severely for the theft of billions from the people of South Africa.

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