NEWS
10/02/2018 12:02 SAST | Updated 10/02/2018 12:04 SAST

Does Public Protector's Vrede Report Ignore Essentials?

There is nothing about the Guptas, Ace Magashule or Mosebenzi Zwane in her report on the Estina scandal.

Public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane during the release of her report on the inquiry into Nelson Mandela's funeral funds last year.
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Public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane during the release of her report on the inquiry into Nelson Mandela's funeral funds last year.

COMMENT

After almost four years of investigating the controversial Vrede dairy project, the public protector's office has released a report the places the blame on the Free State department of agriculture and ignores the allegations surrounding political heavyweights and their Gupta friends.

In addition, its recommendations do not target Estina, the Gupta-linked company that ran the project. They will face no reprimand from the public protector. And neither will the Gupta family, Free State premier and now ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule, or former provincial agriculture MEC Mosebenzi Zwane.

READ: Guptas And Associates Skim 99 Percent Off R220-Million Farming Project.

The public protector's reasons for this are simple, but irrational. She said she did not have the money or the capacity to deal with the information contained in the thousands of leaked emails (now known as the #GuptaLeaks) from within the Gupta business empire, or with the allegation that the money obtained from the project was used to fund a lavish Gupta wedding in Sun City.

She also said the Hawks are investigating how Estina spent the money – so, essentially, there is no need for her to do so.

The #GuptaLeaks reveal that a draft contract for the project, skewed in Estina's favour, was allegedly drawn up by Magashule's legal adviser, who is said to have ties to the Gupta family. The emails also showed that the dairy project appeared to be conceived during a visit to India, the Guptas' homeland, by Zwane and senior department officials. The trip was signed off by Magashule.

READ: Estina Order A Painful Reminder Of Magashule's Past.

Magashule's legislature approved the deal soon after the trip, and after its approval, the Guptas allegedly took Zwane and his gospel choir on an all-expenses-paid tour to India.

Instead of tackling these issues, the public protector's report delves only into contractual technicalities and legalities between Estina and the department.

Mkhwebane found that the arrangement between the department and Estina was not a public-private partnership as previously stated, therefore flouting Treasury regulations. She also found the department did not follow normal procurement processes, therefore flouting the Public Finances Management Act.

According to her office, there were no documents, policies or measures by the department to ensure proper financial control or risk management for the project. Also, there were no invoices to substantiate the expenditure on the department's financial statements.

No invoices. The project was worth R220-million.

READ: Public Protector's Vrede Dairy Farm Report Finds 'Gross Irregularities'

According to a recent report by City Press, which quoted a preservation order granted to the National Prosecuting Authority's Asset Forfeiture Unit against Gupta-linked companies, of the R220.2-million the Free State government transferred to Estina, only 1 percent was spent on actual farming.

Most of the remaining money went to individuals and entities associated with the Guptas.

"The lack of effective, efficient and transparent systems of financial and risk management as well as internal controls amounted to gross negligence and maladministration," Mkhwebane said.

Now for her recommendations:

She asked that Magashule institute disciplinary action against all implicated individuals – but she doesn't mention who these people are. She also asked the current agriculture MEC in the province, Oupa Khoabane, in effect, to train his staff better and employ corrective measures to ensure this does not happen again.

That's all.