Public Protector quietly releases Vrede dairy report, finds 'gross negligence'

Johannesburg - The Public Protector (PP) has quietly released a report on the Vrede dairy project in the Free State, highlighting procurement irregularities, "gross negligence" and maladministration related to the controversial project.

In what is arguably advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane's most politically sensitive report to date, the PP has recommended as remedial action that Free State Premier Ace Magashule should "initiate and institute disciplinary action against all implicated officials involved in the Vrede dairy project".

Some of the procurement irregularities highlighted in the report include that:

 - the payments to Estina were not in line with Treasury prescripts

 - The agreement between the Free State's provincial department of agriculture and Estina, the Gupta-linked company that executed the project, seemed to have been invalid

 - The head of department (HOD) did not follow the normal procurement processes, as prescribed by the Constitution, the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) and National Treasury procurement regulations.

"The evidence outlined earlier [in the report] points to gross irregularities in ensuring the effective and efficient performance of the agreement and resulted in maladministration," Mkhwebane found.

The report also states that the project was mired by "gross negligence".

Unlike reports released by Mkhwebane's predecessor, Thuli Madonsela, the latest PP report was apparently released without a preceding notification to the media or to the public, and no media briefing on the report seems to have been scheduled as yet.

As this story was published, a statement was issued on the report by the PP.

The report follows on the back of the Asset Forfeiture Unit's (AFU) recent court application for a court order to freeze assets worth around R220 million, belonging to individuals who'd benefited from the ill-fated project, including members of the Gupta family and some of their associates.

Last month the Hawks also conducted search and seizure operations at both Magashule's offices and the provincial office of the department of agriculture.

- Read: Hawks raid Magashule's office over Vrede dairy case

An affidavit has also revealed that Free State's agricultural department – under then MEC Mosebenzi Zwane – paid the R220m to the Guptas and some of their associates in what the AFU calls a "scheme designed to defraud and steal monies from the department".

One hundred black emerging farmers were promised five cows each as part of the empowerment scheme, but they never received them.

Gifted to the Estina in 2013 under a free 99-year lease by the provincial agriculture department, the farm has been one of the most scandalous transactions between the Guptas and a government entity.

- Read: Inside the Gupta heist

The #GuptaLeaks revealed last year how at least R30m paid to the Guptas via the farm ended up funding the family's lavish Sun City wedding in 2013.

- Read more: The Dubai laundromat: How millions milked from Free State government paid for Sun City wedding

*This story has been updated to include information that the Public Protector sent a statement and the report to media as this piece was published. 

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