‘Cabal’ killing Agriculture

2018-07-03 17:47
Agriculture MEC Themba Mthembu is concerned about levels of corruption within the agriculture department.

Agriculture MEC Themba Mthembu is concerned about levels of corruption within the agriculture department. (Clive Ndou)

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KZN Agriculture MEC Themba Mthembu, whose department is expected to drive economic growth in the province, has spoken out against a politically connected “cabal” threatening to run the department into the ground.

In an exclusive interview with The Witness, Mthembu, who was appointed in 2016, said he inherited a department whose executive powers had been “outsourced” to a powerful cabal in the province.

“When I arrived there was no proper management structure in place, even in key areas such as supply chain management. Instead, unqualified people were placed in positions requiring skills they didn’t possess — this was done deliberately to allow the looting of resources.

“Previous MECs who attempted to fix the department were quickly removed and when I insisted that there should be a proper leadership structure in the department, I became very unpopular,” he said.

The department has one of the highest number forensic reports in the province with damning findings that had not been acted on. “It was not only that the findings of the reports were persistently being ignored, there was a deliberate suppression of the reports. This was done to protect certain companies and individuals that are part of the syndicate that has been looting the department’s resources.

“There has been a lot of ganging up and collusion at the department’s senior levels, with low-ranking officials made to be scapegoats,” Mthembu said.

Early this year some departmental officials resigned amid fraud and corruption allegations, with at least two being dismissed for colluding with suppliers in a corruption scandal involving about R5 million. The premier’s office has launched a forensic investigation after about R100 million meant for the department’s drought-relief programme was allegedly misused.

Mthembu said he has since requested a regular update on all matters involving corruption in the department.

“I know that my stance on this matter is very unpopular. As we speak, I know there is a campaign to tarnish my image.

“We won’t be able to deal with challenges being faced by the department if we are scared of exposing those who are corrupt,” he said.

The department, whose other task is to empower youth with agriculture skills as part of the province’s response to runaway youth unemployment and a slowed economy is — like the rest of provincial government — currently caught within the ANC internal battles.

Jacob Zuma supporters controlling the provincial cabinet are embroiled in a power struggle with party members who supported President Cyril Ramaphosa during last year’s ANC presidential race.

While Mthembu believes the department is capable of achieving its objectives, he conceded that ANC infighting has become a major threat.

“Dealing with the political situation should be a priority. Many people view this problem as an internal matter, but the fact is that if the political situation is not properly managed it will collapse not only this department, but the entire provincial government,” he said.

Mthembu, who is also the provincial secretary of SA Communist Party (SACP), has been drawn into the ANC power struggles, with some members of his own party accusing him of siding with the Zuma camp in the province.

“I’m surprised that there would be those who would attempt to tarnish my image,” he said.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg

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