Officials may dodge the law

2009-11-02 00:00

SERVICE providers and staff of the Agriculture, Environmental Affairs and Rural Development Department of KwaZulu-Natal who have benefited from financial irregularities may dodge having to repay the money as a result of missing contracts and other documentation.

A forensic investigation into the department undertaken by Ernst & Young in the 2004/05 and 2006/07 financial years detailed a number of irregularities on the part of the department’s management at the time.

The report recommended that 15 officials in the department be disciplined in respect of various offences and that money be recovered from certain officials and seven service providers.

The acting head of Agriculture, Siddiq Adam, said his department has tasked the state attorney to institute the recoveries.

However, this is easier said than done, as the Finance portfolio committee heard on Friday.

Adam said recoveries will be virtually impossible to effect as there are no records, documentation or contracts showing that certain service providers did work for the department.

It would also be difficult to prove that some officials embezzled the department’s money.

The committee was told that records could have been deliberately removed from the department by officials who did not want to be traced for their financial irregularities or mismanagement, or the department could have had poor record-keeping systems.

It is alleged that a light delivery vehicle was spotted at the department’s head office at Cedara on Christmas Day being loaded with boxes of documents. However, MEC Lydia Johnson said that this was just a rumour as no one has so far come forward with information that could be acted on.

The 15 officials implicated in the forensic report include the former head of department and former chief financial officer, three deputy managers, a manager, a senior administration clerk, an assistant manager, a chief control engineer, an extension officer, an extension assistant and a senior agricultural scientist. Most of the names and the divisions they work in were not disclosed at the portfolio committee meeting.

The “nature of charge” for the former HoD in the Ernst & Young forensic report is listed as “financial irregularities/mismanagement, financial irregularities Nguni cattle”.

It said the former HoD has already resigned and the matter has been “referred to the state attorney for recoveries of money owing in respect of Nguni cattle [R13 100] and funeral expenses of R126 506,76”.

“There is no other supporting documentation to institute any further action,” reads the report.

It said that for the financial irregularities/mismanagement charge against the former chief financial officer, there are no recommendations for civil recovery and no supporting documentation or evidence provided by the forensic auditors to enable the department to successfully initiate any other recovery steps against him.

Most of the other implicated officials were handed final warnings after disciplinary hearings,

An exception was a deputy manager who was found guilty of negligence and financial irregularity

The state attorney was tasked to recover R126 506,76 from the official.

The portfolio committee was told that the state attorney has been tasked to recover R1 834 680 from service provider Afgri, but the department was advised by counsel not to proceed because documentation such as the contract between the service provider and the department cannot be found.

The department was also advised that it runs the risk of attracting further legal costs.

The state attorney was also instructed to recover a total of R405 844 from six other service providers implicated in the forensic investigation.

Adam told the committee that the R7 million, three-month contract with a consortium to strengthen the supply chain management division for the department to be ready ahead of the start of the planting season did not pay R70 000 for clerks tasked with faxing quotation requests to clients; they were paid R20 000 a month.

He said the figure was equivalent to the salary package of an assistant manager.

Committee member Happy Blose criticised departmental officials, saying the government will no longer change MECs while officials remain in the department.

Blose said the officials know the causes of the failings in the department, and added that officials will be changed this time around, not MECs.

She said the committee members need a full report on the consortium contract and expressed dismay at its unavailability.

Blose added that while the committee has not been provided with a full report it is strange that The Witness is in possession of the report.

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