'Why didn’t you protect taxpayer money?'- Zondo asks former Free State agriculture head

Chairperson of the judicial commission of inquiry into state capture, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo. (Alon Skuy/Gallo)
Chairperson of the judicial commission of inquiry into state capture, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo. (Alon Skuy/Gallo)

A lack of planning ahead of the establishment of the controversial Estina dairy farm project not only compromised the project, but wasted taxpayers' money.

This was revealed on Friday as former Free State Department of Agriculture head, Peter Thabethe, continued with his testimony before the state capture commission of inquiry.

On Friday, the commission tried to understand why Thabethe did not conduct the relevant due diligence while planning for the project. In his testimony on Thursday, he indicated that he had conducted "desktop research" on companies that specialised in dairy production in New Zealand, the Netherlands and India.

Thabethe said he came across Paras, the partner company in the project, during his research.

From the company's website, Thabethe said he contacted Paras and was put in touch with the CEO – a Mr Kumar.

Based on this interaction, Thabethe organised a trip to India with Ashok Nayaran, advisor to former Free State premier Ace Magashule, to visit the company.

Evidence leader for the commission, advocate Leah Gcabashe, asked Thabethe why he did not do further research on other companies and methods of dairy production in South Africa and overseas.

Thabethe said his desktop research included other companies overseas, but he was looking for one that would suit a developing country like South Africa, and Paras seemed best.

Thabethe said that after his visit to India, Paras came to South Africa where discussions were held about going into business together. After these discussions, Estina approached Thabethe's department saying they had a relationship with Paras.

While Thabethe said he acquired an agreement, signed by both companies, that they were partners, Thabethe had done little due diligence on Estina before going into business with them.

He said the government had processes to check tax compliance and registration status. Other than this, however, nothing else was done.

Because of this, Thabethe seemingly missed the fact that before 2012, Estina was not registered as a business that dealt with agriculture or farming.

Thabethe said he missed this because his focus was on Paras, not Estina.

Zondo asked Thabethe whether, being a head of department with access to millions of taxpayer money, he should have made more of an effort to protect that money and go beyond government regulation to ensure its safety.

"Why didn't you protect taxpayer money?" Zondo questioned. 

Thabethe said he needed time to think about this. The commission then adjourned for lunch.

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