There were no Guptas mentioned, no political principals disciplined, and no comprehensive investigation into the Vrede dairy project.
These were the take-outs from the Public Protector’s long-awaited report into the Vrede dairy farm – the farm given to the Gupta-linked Estina in 2013 under a free 99-year lease by the provincial agriculture department.
Of the R220.2 million transferred to the project by the Free State government for the agricultural project, only 1% of it – R2.45 million – was spent on actual farming.
Most of the remaining money went to individuals and entities associated with the Guptas.
The #GuptaLeaks revealed last year how at least R30 million paid to the Guptas via the farm ended up funding the family’s lavish Sun City wedding in 2013.
The Public Protector’s remedial action proposes to discipline the implicated officials but makes no recommendations whatsoever on the action to be taken against the political principals who orchestrated this project.
Her report has been met with mixed reactions. While the Democratic Alliance has described it as “mind boggling”, “unconscionable” and a “white wash” the IFP has applauded Advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane for having released it, and called for swift implementation of the remedial action contained in the report.
The initial complaint into alleged maladministration by the Free State department of agriculture and rural development was laid by the Democratic Alliance’s Roy Janklesohn on September 12 2013.
Although Mkhwebane’s report identifies procurement irregularities, gross negligence and maladministration related to the controversial dairy farm, the Public Protector also notes her own office’s lack of resources and financial capacity as some of the “constraints” hindering her office from “conducting a comprehensive investigation to determine the fair market value for goods and services procured”.
Mmusi Maimane, DA leader said on Friday that “there has been a large amount of evidence of grand corruption and money laundering relating to Vrede [Dairy Project] that is already in the public domain. Yet none of this seems to have been investigated by the Public Protector”.
“When I took the intended beneficiaries to meet with the Public Protector in December last year, she promised to act in good faith and to conduct a comprehensive investigation,” added Maimane.
He added that the Public Protector had failed to send a copy of her report to the DA, as the original complainant, “as per past practice”.
The report itself finds that the Free State department of agriculture and rural development did not adhere to treasury prescripts and lack of financial control in the administration of the Vrede Dairy Project
Maimane said: “It is frankly mind-boggling how it could be that after an almost four-year investigation into the Vrede Dairy Project, Public Protector Advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane found only that the free state department of agriculture contravened the prescripts of the Public Finance Management Act."
“It is therefore unconscionable that her report is nothing more than a whitewash of a grand project of corruption and looting. Neither the people of Vrede or the Free State are any closer to seeing justice for being robbed of R220 million to line the pockets of the Guptas,” said Maimane
Mbongeleni Joshua Mazibuko, IFP deputy national spokesperson applauded Mkhwebane for having released the widely awaited report.
Mazibuko went on to “urge Free State Premier Mr. Ace Magashule to act very swiftly to implement the remedial action”.
The Public Protector’s remedial recommendations
The report recommends that the Premier of the Free State province “initiates and institutes disciplinary action against all implicated officials involved in the Vrede farm project while the head of the Free State department of agriculture has been tasked with “ensuring that all officials of the supply chain management division and management of the department are trained on the prescripts of the national provincial treasury respect of procurement and specifically in respect of deviations.”
When asked for comment, the spokesperson for the premier of the Free State, Tiisetso Makhele, was said not to be available and Setjaba Maphalla, communications manager for the premier was in a “day-long meeting and no one could respond to the press”.
Maimane challenged the recommended remedial action saying, “the Public Protector chose to ignore our submission that the project originated in the office of the premier of the Free State, and made no mention of the involvement of the Guptas and how they benefited from this project. This stinks of a complete whitewash.”