Bid to hijack Ezemvelo

2018-10-31 15:37
Ezemvelo KZN wildlife

Ezemvelo KZN wildlife

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A clandestine deal that would have seen Swazi king Mswati III benefit from KwaZulu-Natal’s natural treasures was scuppered after a concerned whistleblower raised the alarm. 

The public accounts committee (Scopa) heard on Tuesday that Environmental Affairs MEC Sihle Zikalala halted the deal by Ezemvelo players in April.

The agreement, which was already signed between Ezemvelo Wildlife former acting CEO Bhekisisa Khoza, who has since left the organisation, and certain Ezemvelo board members, would have seen the management of both the organisation’s eco-tourism and conservation portfolios being moved to a trust controlled by private individuals.

The deal was intended to raise money, but the dividends that were to go back into the province’s nature conservation were not clear.

Briefing Members of the Provincial Legislature (MPLs) during an Ezemvelo Wildlife presentation to Scopa at the legislature, Environmental Affairs head of ministry Kwazi Mshengu said Zikalala early this year called for an urgent meeting with the Ezemvelo board after being tipped off about the deal.

“The MEC only became aware of the agreement after a whistleblower brought the matter to his attention,” Mshengu said.

Ezemvelo, which receives an allocation from the provincial government, is currently struggling to generate enough income to sustain the organisation.

The organisation’s acting CEO, Sthabiso Chiliza, told the committee that the trust would have taken over control of the running of Ezemvelo’s affairs in return for the injection of R1,4 billion into the organisation’s coffers.

“Some of the individuals who would have served as members of the trust were at the time of the agreement Ezemvelo Wildlife board members. The then acting CEO would also have been part of the trust.

“The agreement was reversed in April following an instruction from the MEC after he had been briefed by the board on the matter,” he said.

The board members involved in the controversial deal had already registered a company called Royal Rhino, Elephant and Reserves of South Africa Ltd, which would have taken over the management of the assets currently under Ezemvelo.

The company would have employed a person to spearhead a fund-raising campaign that was anticipated to have raked in millions of rands.

DA MPL and member of Scopa Francois Rodgers said while there was evidence that certain processes unfolded shortly after the deal came to light, there was nothing suggesting that any action was taken against the culprits.

Chiliza told the committee that action was taken against the culprits and that Zikalala had, shortly after being briefed about the matter, asked the deputy chairperson of the Ezemvelo Wildlife board, Pat Lebenya-Ntanzi, to institute disciplinary steps.

“The acting CEO left at the end of June while some board members were replaced. Employees who knew about the agreement but had failed to report it were issued with warning letters,” he said.

Zikalala reshuffled the board shortly after learning of the controversial deal, dropping all the board members linked to the controversial project.

In his 2017/18 report, the auditor-general took the Ezemvelo Wildlife management to task after he picked up that the organisation had invested R60 million with Ithala and Grindrod banks — both of which were not accredited to do business with government entities.

Scopa acting chairperson Sipho Nkosi said while the committee was impressed with the improvement in the manner which the organisation had been managing its finances in recent years, they were concerned about matters raised in the AG’s report.

“It is true that there has been an improvement as Ezemvelo has moved from a qualified to an unqualified report.

“However, matters being highlighted by the AG are of a serious nature and as a committee, we would want to see those issues been address as a matter of urgency,” he said.

KZN assets controlled by a few

The deal would have resulted in Midmar Dam and other natural assets in the province currently being managed by Ezemvelo Wildlife on behalf of the South African public being put under the control of individuals whose agenda has never been disclosed.

Other individuals who would have benefited include:

Swazi King Mswati III

Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini and other traditional leaders.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  ezemvelo kzn wildlife

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