Something fishy about Gariep project

2013-06-16 06:01

The Free State provincial government is facing questions over a Gariep fish-breeding project for which it had set aside millions of rands.

The Chinese government has also donated money to the project.

But years after it was initiated, the operation has not yet taken off properly.

Questions about whether millions of rands may have been lost are now being asked. As part of the fish-breeding project, indoor fish cultivation plants have been built in Free State towns. This part of the project is being run by Econofish.

It is understood that this company has so far only received R11.6?million from the Free State agriculture department for the work.

It was reported earlier that the initial budget for the project was R40?million and that China had set aside R60?million over a few years to breathe new life into the project.

The fish-breeding station at the Gariep Dam, where luxurious offices and other facilities have been built, was nothing more than a ghost town when City Press visited it this week.

It is unclear exactly how much money has been pumped into the station, which appears to be just an empty shell and is not producing any fish.

City Press was told the fish-breeding station is “just like having a brother in jail” – nobody wants to talk about?it.

Weathered fishing nets against a wall and a broken rubber boat were seen on site.

Nobody was working there, except for officials in charge of access control.

The MEC for agriculture, Mamiki Qabathe, said in her budget speech for 2013/14 that fish cultivation plants would be built in Springfontein, Koffiefontein, Bethulie, Petrusburg, Zastron and Fauresmith.

It seems that this part of the project is on track, although the fish plants aren’t in production yet.

In Springfontein, Ashraf Brown, a beneficiary on whose property a fish-cultivation plant has been built, said nothing has come of promises that the plant would be officially opened by Qabathe last year.

An inside source said the fish at the Koffiefontein plant will be big enough to sell in five months. After that, the other plants will also be set into full production.

Detailed questions were sent to the Free State agriculture department, with no reply.

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