South Africa: North West province's agriculture department 'collapses'

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Sat Mar 25 16:13:29 UTC 2006

NW department 'collapses'

Yolandi Groenewald

24 March 2006 07:00

North West province's agriculture department has effectively collapsed
after the arrest of four top officials on corruption charges relating to
the issuing of tenders and fraudulent claims. The woes of the stricken
department have led to a war of words in the North West government, with
provincial finance minister Maureen Modiselle ranged against Premier Edna
Molewa and provincial agriculture minister Eliot Mayisela. The four
arrested directors are among seven department officials suspended
following a forensic audit. At least six businessmen were also arrested
and released on bail.

The Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Environment has denied it
is on its last legs. But Modiselle told Parliament in January that it is a
non-functioning entity because of corruption. The National Assemblys
agriculture committee heard the department had collapsed because of fraud
and corruption and was unlikely to spend more than 2% of its R140million
budget this year. When asked why the agriculture department had grossly
underspent its budget in the past year, Modiselle told Parliament that,
simply speaking, there is no Department of Agriculture in the North West.

According to her research, a mere 1,2% of the departments estimated
R55million grant had been spent, and only 0,8% of the R91million
infrastructure-development grant had been spent by the beginning of the
year. Molewa hit back, saying the provincial ministers report was not
factual, wrong and grossly misleading. Molewa, the provinces former
agriculture minister, is said to retain strong links with the agriculture

A source in the department told the Mail & Guardian that tensions between
the premier and Modiselle had been mounting since the parliamentary
hearing. But head of the finance department Phineas Tjie, who accompanied
Modiselle to Parliament, denied this. He said there had been no backlash
from Molewa or anyone else in government. We have not had any trouble, he
said, refusing to comment on Molewas earlier rejection of Modiselles
parliamentary presentation. Mayisela insisted that any allegation that his
department was not functioning is unfounded.

He said that, to date, the department has spent about 90% of its current
budget compared to about 96% of its budget in 2004/5. The rationale behind
the statement made by the provincial minister for finance is unknown and
has not been explained to the department, said Mayisela, adding that it is
not true and unsubstantiated. He said the national Department of
Agriculture had approved a conditional grant of R44,7million for North
Wests land care and comprehensive agriculture support programme for
2006/2007. His department had also received a R427,8-million budget
allocation from the province.

The national department and provincial treasury would not make conditional
grant and budget allocations to a non-existent department as that would
constitute a fruitless and wasteful expenditure in terms of the Public
Finance Management Act, he said. Mayisela denied that his department had
special ties with Molewa, saying she treats the department in the same way
as she does others. Since August last year, six directors in the
department have been suspended on allegations of corruption, fraud and
maladministration following a forensic audit by private auditors Ramaithe
Fivaz. Three service providers from Rustenburg -- Letsapa Boweni,
Gwendoline and Ralph Welsch -- were charged with fraud in February.

The three allegedly made fraudulent claims to the department, which were
allegedly approved by co-accused Phindi Mokoena. Mokoena, the departments
director of entrepreneurial development, also faces similar charges
relating to deals she did with service providers Hennie Weideman and
Aggrey Mwase. Weideman and Mwase have also been charged with fraud, along
with another Rustenburg businessman and farmer, Tshapelo Tshepe. The chief
director of agricultural services, Mogomotsi Kgantsi has also been
charged, together with the director of policy planning, Lovejoy Malambo.

A source inside the department said more arrests are expected, and that
ex-employees of the department might also be implicated. The process of
forensic investigation has continued and resulted in further suspensions,
Mayisela said. The department continues to cooperate closely with the
forensic investigators and the police. Emily Mogajane, former head of the
department, was also suspended in August for flouting provincial policy
and exceeding her authority ... in respect of language policy at the
agricultural colleges.

The National Education Health and Allied Workers Union, which has been
calling for a forensic audit since 2004, believes Mogajane was suspended
because she initiated steps to address corruption and fraud in the
department, including appointing the Ramaithe Fivaz forensic audit. Nehawu
is calling for her immediate reinstatement. Despite winning her
disciplinary hearing inside the department last year, Mogajane is still on
suspension, because the department challenged the hearing in the Labour
Court. The case is due to be heard this week. Mogajane would not comment
on the state of the department, as her Labour Court hearing was scheduled
for Friday.

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