Why funding for the Vrede dairy farm project couldn't just be halted

The Vrede dairy farm turned out to be a cash cow for the politically connected Guptas. (Conrad Bornman, Netwerk24)
The Vrede dairy farm turned out to be a cash cow for the politically connected Guptas. (Conrad Bornman, Netwerk24)

Former Free State finance MEC Elzabe Rockman has told the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture that it was not easy to stop funding the collapsed Vrede dairy farm project because the cattle needed to be taken care of.

Rockman was responding to criticism from Roy Jankielsohn, a member of the Free State legislature, who said the provincial government continued to fund the project to the tune of R20m per year. 

This after Estina, an IT company, withdrew from the project in August 2014 when the project was taken over by the Free State Development Corporation, he told the commission in July.

During his testimony, Jankielsohn said: "Senior people in the government knew what was happening in Vrede, they cannot deny that they knew what was taking place there.

"In spite of that, they continue to appropriate provincial government funding for that project and still do so today."

He said the cancellation clause in the contract between the Free State government and Estina stated that the project would only be cancelled if the government ran out of funds.

However, this never happened. 

But Rockman hit back, saying that nothing could have been done from their side because National Treasury had already initiated an investigation. 

"Mr Jankielsohn says we did not do anything, but, realistically, what else do you want us to have done at that stage? National Treasury had already initiated an investigation.

"We can't initiate another investigation. If we had stopped the funding at that stage, then what? … What was going to happen to the animals on the farm? They were going to do what, die?"

She said at that time, everyone wanted to be "right and no one was trying to find solutions".

"The animals were there, and they had to be fed," Rockman told the commission, adding that stopping funding would not have made all the problems disappear. 

"It is much more complicated than just to say we should have stopped the funding."

Rockman told the commission that at no point had anyone at a political level, be it the minister of finance or his deputy, raise the Estina matter with her as finance MEC.

"It was not as easy as Mr Jankielsohn made it out to be," she said.

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

One hundred black emerging farmers were promised five cows each as part of the empowerment scheme but never received them, News24 previously reported.

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