What the public protector's Vrede Dairy probe failed to investigate
Busisiwe Mkhwebane's report, released with absolutely no fanfare, recommends that the Free State premier institute disciplinary action against 'all implicated officials'
The leaked e-mails that showed the Gupta family had significant control over the Vrede Dairy Farm contract between Estina, a company linked to the family, and the Free State agriculture department, did not form part of the public protector’s investigation of the project.
This is according to the final report on the public protector’s investigation, quietly placed on its website on Friday.
The public protector details in the report that she noted the news reports on the e-mails, but that it did not form part of the scope of the investigation.
It was one of the aspects that were not investigated due to “capacity and financial constraint”.
The #GuptaLeaks revealed last year that at least R30m paid to the Guptas via the farm ended up funding the family’s lavish Sun City wedding in 2013 — but this did not form part of Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s probe.
The report also makes it clear that it did not look at how the money transferred to the private partner, Estina, was spent, as the Hawks was investigating this.
Mkhwebane’s office also did not investigate the matter relating to beneficiaries whom the project was intended to assist but did not, due to a lack of information.
It also did not investigate the issue of value for money obtained by the government in terms of the agreement as this was investigated by the national treasury.
The report was released on Friday without the usual press conference, at which Mkhwebane could have answered questions on the report, and was merely published on the public protector’s website.
The release of the report comes as speculation is rife that President Jacob Zuma, who has been accused of selling the state to the Guptas, is expected to either resign or be removed as president of the republic.
It also comes less than a month after the National Prosecuting Authority announced it would investigate the farm project after the Asset Forfeiture Unit said it had seized the farm in a bid to recoup about R1.6bn in looted state funds.
The report found that the allegation was not substantiated that the province’s agriculture department improperly entered into a public-private partnership agreement for the implementation of the Vrede Dairy project.
It makes it clear that the department did not enter a PPP with Estina in the context of the requirements of the National Treasury.
Mkhwebane did, however, concur with the accountant-general’s observations of procurement irregularities.
The observations made by the public protector include that the head of the department did not follow the normal procurement process as prescribed by the Constitution, the Public Finance Management act and Treasury’s regulations, that the payments to Estina were not in line with Treasury prescripts, that the agreement between Estina and the department seem to be invalid due to non-compliance with procurement processes, and that the department had failed to comply with sections of the PFMA.
The observation was also made that the accounting officer of the department proceeded to ignore the accountant-general’s recommendation, and continued to pay a further R143.95m to Estina.
The report also found that the allegations that the department failed to manage and monitor the implementation of the terms of agreement in the project were substantiated.
It said it was difficult to determine whether the allegation that prices for goods and services were inflated because, among other reasons, Estina did not follow public procurement processes when procuring the services of service providers.
The public protector also did not have enough financial and other resources to conduct a comprehensive investigation to determine fair market value for the goods and services that were procured, nor was she provided with the invoices and proof of payment for goods and services procured by Estina on behalf of the department.
Her remedial action includes that the Free State premier, who is currently ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule, should institute disciplinary action against “all implicated officials involved in the project”.
The Free State’s head of department of agriculture must also, among other actions, ensure that the officials in the supply chain management division and the management department are trained in procurement and deviation.
Corrective measures must also be undertaken to prevent a recurrence of the failure in the management process; and policies should be developed, and current policies be revised, for the implementation of internal control measures in line with Treasury’s prescripts and regulations.