IFP: ‘Lock up Agric officials’

2009-10-07 00:00

MEMBERS of the provincial standing committee on public accounts, (Scopa) have called for legal action to be taken against officials of the Agriculture Department who are fingered in a damning forensic report released in 2007.

The forensic investigation by accounting firm Ernst & Young implicates 15 departmental officials and recommended that they be disciplined for various offences, including misamanagement and financial irregularities.

It is recommended that the department makes financial recovery from seven service providers also fingered in the report. Unauthorised over-expenditure in the 2006/2007 financial year, and the fact that 185 documents that were not provided to the auditor-general because they had gone missing, contributed to the department receiving a disclaimer audit opinion.

Opposition parties in the KwaZulu-Natal legislature, the IFP and the DA, called for the implicated officials to be charged, either criminally or in terms of the Provincial Finance Management Act (PFMA).

The IFP wrote to the Scopa chairman calling for the full forensic report.

Said committee member Alex Hamilton (IFP), “The report has been held back from us for three years.

“There are those (departmental officials) who are walking around free instead of being locked up,”

DA caucus leader John Steenhuisen said that if there are criminal charges against the implicated officials they should be brought.

Speaking to The Witness, acting head of department Siddiq Adam said disciplinary hearings have been held and some implicated officials were issued final warnings.

He added that the department is in the process of recovering money from some officials who were implicated by the report.

Financial irregularities in the department began in 2006 when it emerged that it had overspent its budget by more than R125 million and that more than R85,5 million had gone missing.

The then MEC, Gabriel Ndabandaba, was removed from his position as a result of corruption in the department.

His head of department, Jabulani Mjwara, resigned just a few days before the sitting of his disciplinary hearing relating to the over-expenditure.

Adam told the committee that the department is struggling to find the missing documents that outline how the money was spent.

In his report to the committee, Adam said that part of the R85,5 million in unauthorised expenditure was used for a failed mushroom and rice project that resulted from a visit to China by department officials. The project, which cost R3,6 million, was launched without feasibility studies being conducted.

There was also a R17,2 million planting and ploughing project in the northern part of the province, R10,9 million spent on the Nongoma farm project (King Zwelithini’s farms), which were targeted as flagship projects to encourage women and youth to farm.

According to Scopa resolutions, the report on over-expenditure was not made available then to the relevant officials in the department for action to be taken against people implicated in the alleged irregularities, negligence and mismanagement.

The committee yesterday authorised R8,6 million of the R85,5 million over-expenditure on classical swine fever, which broke out during the 2005/06 financial year.

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