Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Mmusi Maimane has labelled the conclusions of Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s report into the Vrede dairy project a “mind-boggling whitewash”.
Mkhwebane released her report on Friday, which highlighted procurement irregularities, “gross negligence” and maladministration at the Free State Department of Agriculture.
Maimane on Friday said the DA, as the original complainants, has asked their legal team to consider the report more closely, as they immediately found problems at face value.
“It is frankly mind-boggling how it could be that, after an almost four-year investigation into the Vrede dairy project… Advocate Mkhwebane found only that the Free State Department of Agriculture contravened the prescripts of the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA).
“There has been a large amount of evidence of grand corruption and money laundering relating to Vrede that is already in the public domain.
“Yet, none of this seems to have been investigated by the Public Protector.”
He also said the report was not sent to the DA as the original complainant, as was past practice.
‘Grand project of looting’
An affidavit used to secure search and seizure warrants last month revealed that the Free State’s agricultural department – under then MEC Mosebenzi Zwane – paid R220-million to the Guptas, in what the Asset Forfeiture Unit (AFU) called a “scheme designed to defraud and steal monies from the department”.
A hundred black emerging farmers were promised five cows each as part of the empowerment scheme, but they never received them.
Maimane said he took the intended beneficiaries to meet with the Public Protector in December last year and she promised to act in good faith.
“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.”
He also claimed Mkhwebane ignored their submission that the project originated in the office of Free State Premier Ace Magashule, and made no mention of the involvement of the Guptas and how they benefited.
“Similarly, the remedial action recommended in the report proposes to discipline the implicated officials, but she makes no recommendations whatsoever on the action to be taken against the political principals who orchestrated this evil project – Mosebenzi Zwane and Ace Magashule.”
Maimane vowed that the matter would not end there, and said the intended beneficiaries deserved full accountability.
Last month, the Hawks conducted search and seizure operations relating to the matter at both Magashule’s offices and the provincial Department of Agriculture.
Two specialised units of the Hawks were granted warrants to search for specific documents and electronic data linked to the criminal case.
Magashule, who is also ANC secretary general, would not respond directly to questions at the time on his role in the failed Vrede dairy farm, now under curatorship.
He said investigations must be left to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and other law enforcement agencies.
“There is a universal principle that no one is guilty until proven otherwise.”
“So, let the law take its [course] in relation to the Vrede dairy farm and any other acts of corruption and unlawfulness.”
The farm was gifted to the Gupta-linked Estina in 2013 under a free 99-year lease by the provincial agriculture department.