Agric probe

2007-11-24 00:00

Having earlier told the legislature that the reports of forensic investigation into the KwaZulu-Natal Agriculture Department would not be made available to the provincial Parliament, Finance MEC Dr Zweli Mkhize this week explained that this is because the Directorate for Special Investigations (or Scorpions) had requested confidentiality pending possible criminal prosecutions.

With the Inkatha Freedom Party now seeking legal opinion on the matter of access to the report, the opposition parties have expressed their serious concern, and well they might. It may be recalled that when they came to a head, the affairs of the Department of Agriculture created perhaps the greatest furore in the recent history of provincial government. Amid allegations of gross incompetence, wastage and financial mismanagement with nearly R85 million unaccounted for, there were rumours of irregular favours being granted to politicians as well as suggestions that then director, Dr Jabulani Mjwara, who had been accused of running the department as a “personal fiefdom”, was enjoying political protection from a very high level. In April this year, and shortly before disciplinary hearings into their alleged financial misconduct were due to commence, both Mjwara and chief financial officer Petru Mahlangu resigned. At the time it was widely felt that Mjwara had thereby been allowed to escape a proper inquiry and any consequences that might flow from it, and the forensic audit, conducted by independent auditors, has been welcomed as a necessary step towards establishing the truth.

At virtually every point in a now lengthy saga, and particularly in view of its possible political implications, there has been suspicion that the ruling African National Congress has been trying to keep as much under wraps as possible. The latest development — the withholding of the forensic report — can only increase that suspicion. More significantly, it raises some important questions about the governance of the province. The legislature is elected by the people to run the province. A crucial part of its role is to hold provincial officials accountable for the performance of their duties. It certainly cannot perform this function responsibly if it does not have access to the relevant information. A police investigation may be in progress and confidentiality may be necessary, but can the legislature, and more specifically its Standing Committee for Public Accounts (Scopa), not be trusted with confidential information? Democracy is supposed to be government for the people by the people. Who takes precedence, Scopa or the Scorpions?

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