Youth Agency paid R6?million to fly Cubans to failed festival

2011-10-10 00:00

MORE than R6 million in taxpayers’ money was spent to charter a jet to fly 262 members of the Cuban Young Communist League and their interpreters to South Africa for the National Youth Development Agency’s (NYDA) abortive festival last December.

Details of the spending are contained in document obtained by Media24 Investigations that show that the NYDA dished out lucrative contracts to politically-connected businessmen and squandered millions of rands on their disastrous World Festival of Youth and Students, which cost R106 million in lottery and public funds.

Shocking details of the NYDA’s excesses have been revealed for the first time in hundreds of pages of documents obtained after a 10-month legal battle using the access to information law.

One of the country’s foremost forensic scientists, Andre Prakke, says it is clear that proper bookkeeping procedure was not followed and that it is probable that large-scale theft and fraud were committed.

Prakke, who studied the documents on behalf of Media24 Investigations, said proper tender procedures were not followed. For example, few of the contractors submitted tax clearance certificates, which is obligatory.

The festival led to fierce criticism against the NYDA which is being investigated by the Public Protector.

Among the documents obtained is an agreement signed in November last year between NYDA CEO Steven Ngubeni and Cubana, Cuban’s national airline.

The NYDA paid R5,6 million to hire a 260-seater Ilyushin aircraft to fly members of that country’s Young Communist League to and from South Africa.

The NYDA signed a further contract whereby 42 Cuban interpreters accompanied the Young Communists to South Africa at an additional cost of R440 000. Renting of interpreting equipment for the festival ran into several millions of rands.

During the festival, the Cubans backed the denouncement of air strikes in Libya by “imperialists”, supported nationalisation in Zimbabwe and threw their weight behind the SA Students Congress calls for immediate land redistribution.

Several senior NYDA officials also hold positions within the ANC Youth League. Just three weeks ago, one of the NYDA’s directors admitted that the agency is nothing but an “ANC Youth League-dominated gravy train”.

The opening and closing ceremonies at the festival cost R9 million and were awarded to businessman Julius Mekwa, who recently provided free facilities for Julius Malema’s supporters during his disciplinary hearing in Johannesburg.

A company belonging to a Springs policeman got a catering contract of more than R20 million — some R6,5 million paid in advance.

The documents also show that several million rands was spent on flags, banners, “military-style” caps, rain ponchos, balloons, confetti and “cheerleaders/models”.

The festival goers consumed more than a million rands of Valpré mineral water, delivered to the NYDA at inflated prices.

Another company, which has a prominent ANC Youth League lawyer as non-executive chairman, was paid R300 000 to provide “Central and West African food” — and a R90 000 headstone.

Ngubeni admitted that “proper procedures” were not followed in all cases, but nevertheless defended the way the money was spent.

Ngubeni said the NYDA had no choice but to bring the Cubans to SA. He said: “Cuba has been one of the biggest and strongest supporters of the World Festival. It is a condition of the World Federation of Democratic Youth that all host countries should transport and accommodate the Cubans.”

He said there were 227 Cuban delegates and 40 interpreters and chartering a plane was the most economical way of getting them to SA. The cost for the festival rose from R72 million to the final, audited figure of R106 million. Delegates played kissing games in the sun as they waited for something to happen.

Last week the NYDA said it had received a “clean audit” from the auditor-general for the festival’s and its own operational spending and Ngubeni said the organisation hoped to lay the controversy over the festival “to rest”. However, the auditor-general noted at least R26 million of irregular expenditure relating to the festival and highlighted other problems such a lack of normal tender procedures.

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