Mosebenzi Zwane. Picture: REUTERS
Mosebenzi Zwane. Picture: REUTERS

Mosebenzi Zwane on Monday blamed the Free State human settlement department’s officials for an illegal R600m prepayment to contractors that took place under his watch.

Zwane, who previously served as minister of mineral resources under former president Jacob Zuma, was being grilled by the Zondo commission about his role in a controversial R1bn housing project the province ran during the 2010/2011 financial year.

Three witnesses, including Mpho Mokoena, who was human settlement head of department at the time, have laid the blame squarely at the door of Zwane for the prepayment scheme, saying it was an idea he championed and saw through to its implementation.

But Zwane turned the tables on Monday, saying Mokoena was the accounting officer.

According to testimony, Zwane planted the prepayment scheme idea in late 2010 in an attempt to ensure the department spent its annual housing expenditure grant.

This was after then-minister of human settlement Tokyo Sexwale warned that the province’s low grant spending was worrying and that it ran the risk of losing the grant to better-performing provinces.

Zwane held a meeting with contractors and came back to the office to meet officials. He then introduced the prepayment idea, which would result in the department buying building material for the contractors directly from suppliers.

About R600m was spent as part of the scheme for “little to no benefit to the department”, according to the commission’s evidence leader, advocate Paul Pretorius.

Pretorius put it to Zwane on Monday that the scheme was, in fact, illegal and not in line with the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA).

Zwane disagreed: “The advance payment or prepayment in terms of SA law is not an illegal issue. If you have an advanced payment there should be a contract that indicates you are going to do an advanced payment, in which case you must administer an advanced payment.”

He would make an immediate U-turn when Pretorius insisted that “in this case, there was no contract”.

Zwane abandoned this defence and turned his sights to officials, particularly Mokoena, who he accused of having a “fractured relationship with the truth”.

The ANC national executive committee member accused the commission of being unfair for wanting him to take responsibility for the R600m prepayment.

He admitted to having been presented with a written plan of how the scheme would be carried out, but said he did not interrogate it because he trusted the officials. That they were now accusing him of failing in his oversight role was disingenuous, Zwane said.

It was Mokoena, said Zwane, and not himself, who should face the music.

“I find some of the facts from HoD Mpho Mokoena amazing because he knew about legislation and as an accounting officer had powers to overrule me on issues of illegality,” said Zwane.

“He should have asked me in writing and report me to Treasury of both province and national. He comes here saying he feared that I would have said he should resign.

“But the same HoD I gave instruction that every official should cancel their December leave, but he says ‘I cannot’, did I fire him? No, I did not.

“Now I find his relationship with facts a bit fractured. The HoD should have acknowledged that he was an accounting officer and was aware of PFMA, to say the least.

“This scheme continued beyond my term as an MEC in that department. Why did they continue when I was not there any more? I left in early February. In May, Mpho Mokoena was still signing these cessions. So, if I have to entertain what [he] was saying [at the commission], he should have stopped this thing in February because ‘it’s MEC Zwane’s scheme’. But he did not,” he said.

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