Probe of wasteful projects

2014-07-11 00:00

ANTI-GRAFT investigators were unleashed by the president on KwaZulu-Natal’s Treasury yesterday in a probe into projects worth tens of millions of rands.

The inquiry will focus on spending on a failed jazz festival, on a multi-cultural event in Pietermaritzburg, on the Sharks Board, and on former premier Zweli Mkhize’s “crack team”.

President Jacob Zuma yesterday issued a proclamation that authorised the Special Investigations Unit to start investigating.

The probe will focus on the appointment of a service provider to the “Municipal Infrastructure Crack Team”, tasked with expediting infrastructure bottlenecks.

The “crack team” was Mkhize’s brainchild and was motivated by a need to fast-track stalled development projects in the province.

The proclamation says that the appointment and payment of the crack team’s unnamed service provider may have been “conducted or facilitated by or through the improper intervention of employees of the Treasury”, or contrary to existing legislation and guidelines.

The Treasury listed the crack team in its “catalogue of achievements”, alongside how widespread procurement reforms had bolstered the fight against corruption.

Former finance MEC Ina Cronjé and her department allocated R10 million to the team in this year’s budget.

“The funding allows the team to continue the work of providing support to departments and municipalities …” she said in her speech.

The SIU will also probe some of the Treasury’s well-funded event bungles, most notably the R28 million payment for the Durban International North Sea Jazz Festival that never happened — all efforts to recoup the unspent millions have been unsuccessful.

The botched event, which hit the taxpayer hard, centres on a deal between the Department of Economic Development and Tourism and a consortium to stage the internationally ­renowned North Sea Jazz Festival in Durban.

The festival was viewed as a signature event that would attract tourism and investment to the province.

It was first scheduled to take place in November 2012.

The Treasury was found to have bankrolled months of wrangling between the festival promoters, rights holders and the department.

• R28 million has been paid, of which R16,9 million was spent, but the festival never happened.

• The department, concerned that the entire budget allocation would disappear, ordered the promoters to stop spending the money and demanded a refund, thought to be around R11 million.

• The department has paid millions for the South African rights to the festival which, it alleges, have been swindled by one of the promoters.

A delegation led by Cronjé flew to Rotterdam in the Netherlands to “get a feel for the festival itself” where KZN and South Africa were announced as the next host of the festival that never materialised.

Also in the spotlight is the funding of a multi-cultural event held in Pietermaritzburg, to commemorate prisoners of war exiled on the island of St Helena during a range of South African conflicts.

The total spent on the event, hosted by Premier Senzo Mchunu, was not immediately clear.

His spokesperson Ndabezinhle Sibiya referred all queries to the Presidency.

It’s unclear what the Sharks Board probe will deal with.

Spokesperson for the Presidency, Mac Maharaj, could not be drawn to elaborate on the proclamation document that provided scant detail on the unit’s scope of investigation.

Treasury spokesperson Ntokozo Maphisa said that the department welcomed the investigation.

“The KZN Provincial Treasury welcomes the announcement of the SIU investigation as it will assist in the ongoing fight against corruption in KwaZulu-Natal.

“The Provincial Treasury’s internal audit unit had already commissioned independent service providers to investigate alleged irregular procurement or expenditure relating to the Infrastructure Crack Team and the North Sea Jazz Festival, so too has the Provincial Treasury referred these matters to the South African Police for criminal investigations.

“Both the criminal and independent forensic investigations are at an advanced stage.

“We will assist the SIU in every way possible as, like the SIU, we are determined to root out corruption in the province,” Maphisa added.

Repeated attempts to contact Mkhize and Cronjé were unsuccessful at the time of going to press yesterday.


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