NEWS & ANALYSIS

PP's probe into role of politicians in Vrede Dairy Project welcomed – Roy Jankielsohn

DA MPL says there are at least three main political role players in this project

DA welcomes Public Protector's probe into the role of politicians in the Vrede Dairy Project

19 April 2018

The DA cautiously welcomes the new probe launched by the Public Protector into the role of politicians in the controversial Gupta-linked Vrede Dairy Project. The political architects of this project cannot be allowed to avoid accountability after criminal charges were instituted against Department of Agriculture officials, various companies and individuals.

There are at least three main political role players in this project, namely the former Premier of the Free State, Ace Magashule, and former Agriculture MECs, Mamiki Qabathe and Mosebenzi Zwane.

Magashule has admitted that he and Zwane travelled abroad in order to identify a partner for this project. Estina was identified as a partner in spite having no experience in agriculture. We are aware that the contract between the provincial government and the implementing agent and partner in the project, the company Estina, was drafted and signed in the office of the Premier. This contract blatantly benefited Estina at the cost of the intended beneficiaries and taxpayers.

It was Zwane who attempted to supply the Gupta wedding flight’s landing with an alibi under the pretext of a meeting between an Indian Minister and himself as Free State Agriculture MEC. It has since come to light that R30 million allocated to the Vrede Dairy Project may have been abused to pay for the Gupta wedding.

A 2013 National Treasury Investigation Report indicated that the Head of Department and the Chief Financial Officer of the department were involved in serious financial misdemeanours. Magashule who appointed HODs in his capacity as Premier, refused to take any action.

While the report also indicated that there were serious breaches in supply chain rules as well as the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA), Magashule and Qabathe continued to appropriate funds to this project.

It was Qabathe who submitted a resolution to the Free State Executive Council in 2014 to allow Estina to withdraw from the project without any penalties, even after this company breached the terms of the contract. The approval for this resolution would have been signed by the Premier.

It was also clear that the beneficiaries were only identified after the DA requested lists of these individuals in the Legislature. This implies that the project was initially approved and implemented by politicians with only one beneficiary in mind, namely the Gupta-linked Estina.

It is clear that these politicians have a case to answer for and we are hopeful that a further investigation into their culpability may assist with extending possible criminal charges to ensure political accountability.

The DA is hopeful that the report on the new probe will be an improvement on the previous report into this matter.

Issued by Roy Jankielsohn, Leader of the Official Opposition in the Free State Provincial Legislature, 19 April 2018