The story they tried to stop

2010-12-12 08:11

Mpumalanga Premier David Mabuza’s friend and former business partner, Patrick Chirwa, received R230 million under questionable circumstances to supply tractors to the province’s farmers two years ago.

A forensic audit report leaked to City Press has found that the project – which saw nearly 100 tractors being bought for emerging farmers – was neither budgeted for nor part of the department’s plans.

When the tender was awarded on September 17 2008, Mabuza was the provincial MEC for agriculture, land reform and land ­administration.

Mabuza and Chirwa were business partners in a closed corporation – Above Average Trading Corporation 45 CC – which has since been deregistered. They are still very close.

Mabuza’s department gave Chirwa’s company, Sizwangendaba Investment (Pty) Ltd, the three-year contract to supply tractors and other farming implements to the province’s rural ­communities.

Part of the contract also required the company to manage, operate and maintain the fleet for the province’s food security initiative, Masibuyele Emasimini (“Let’s go back to the fields”).

Internal auditors from the integrity management unit in Mabuza’s office launched a probe after receiving a tip-off from the national anti-corruption hotline and found that the department had not allocated a budget – nor did the project form part of its ­implementation plan when ­­­­­­­­­­­­­Siz- wangendaba was awarded the contract.
The contract included the purchase of 99 tractors and an assortment of 287 farming tools.

The auditors found that the ­department overspent on its 2008/09 budget by R65.7?million due to payments made to the company, and that the trend would continue in the following ­financial years.

They warned that should any of the bidders decide to take the ­department to court, it would be difficult to defend.

The unit gave their report to former agriculture, land reform and land administration MEC Meshack Malinga and departmental head Nelisiwe Sithole ­early this year so that they and members of the bid evaluation and adjudication committees could comment on its findings.

City Press understands that ­before he was sacked as MEC ­during a cabinet reshuffle last month, Malinga had repeatedly approached Mabuza about the ­report and recommended that Sithole be held accountable, but Mabuza did nothing.

Sources in government said the Sizwangendaba tender resulted in irreconcilable differences between Malinga and Sithole – but Malinga was the loser because Mabuza took Sithole’s side.
Malinga declined to comment.

Provincial agriculture department spokesperson Janine Julies could not respond to written questions: “I cannot comment ­because I don’t have the report. I am new in this department and there are new people in the legal unit and the Masibuyele Emasimini project, so I really cannot assist,” she said.

Mabuza’s spokesperson, Mabutho Sithole, also did not ­respond to questions emailed to him, but said the department should answer.

Chirwa initially distanced himself from Sizwangendaba Investment (Pty) Ltd, claiming that he was only a director of another company – Sizwangendaba Development Consultancy CC. Chirwa said his business partner, Harrington Dhlamini, should answer queries about the tender.

When it was pointed out to him that Companies and Intellectual Property Registration Office records indicated that he and Dhlamini were directors for both companies, he said: “I am very surprised that I am involved, but please speak to Mr Dhlamini.”

Dhlamini failed to return calls or respond to messages left on his cellphone. Meanwhile, farmers’ organisations are complaining about broken tractors and implements not being fixed. 

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