Officials loot R1bn from poor

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Copy of ND Mishack Radebe (39990478) INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS Meshack Radebe is the MEC for agriculture and environmenta affairs in KwaZulu-Natal.

Durban - A forensic audit report into corruption and maladministration in the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Agriculture and Environmental Affairs lifts the lid on how a small, yet powerful, group of officials - in cahoots with service providers - have looted nearly R1 billion from the coffers.

In some instances officials were found to have stolen seeds and fertiliser meant for poor communities and worth millions of rand. They then sold these in neighbouring countries including Mozambique and Swaziland, splitting the loot among themselves.

In other cases officials have been found to have hired out departmental tractors, which are meant to be given to communities free of charge, for a minimum of R400 a time.

This is according to MEC Meshack Radebe, who has promised to make public an audit report detailing wide-scale corruption and maladministration in his department.

He said while there were many people who had been fingered in the report, many were just “runners”, taking only a small piece of the corruption pie.

“There is this small group of people who looted a lot from the department. They are the ones who initiated deals. Corruption had become the order of the day, so much so that it became normal, it even became public knowledge in the department which service provider was working with which official.

“The runners are just the small fish who were recruited by these officials who initiated these corrupt deals,” Radebe told the Daily News.

Corruption was so widespread at his department that it ran into hundreds of millions of rand, he said. “I am not talking 60, 70 or 80 million, but I am talking hundreds of millions, close to a billion,” he said.

In the 2013/2014 financial year the department was allocated R2.68bn. Radebe admitted that some of its programmes had been severely compromised by the corruption with many services not reaching the intended recipients.

He would not divulge further details on the dirty deals, saying he feared jeopardising the investigation. The department wanted to handle it correctly so that the guilty did not escape punishment, Radebe said.

He threatened that heads would roll with some of the cases also to be referred to the police for criminal investigation.

“I am not corrupt and my colleagues, (fellow MECs) are also not corrupt, but it is the officials. How do you explain a junior clerk who drives a Mercedes C Class 163? But in this department it happens.

“We meet them every day in the parking lot with their expensive bags and high heels.”

Members of the KwaZulu-Natal legislature have called for a speedy release of a forensic audit report. Themba Mthembu, the chairman of the portfolio committee on agriculture, said the committee wanted to get it before the election so those responsible could be held accountable.

“We don’t want this to become another Manase, so we are saying it should be released swiftly because we also don’t want a situation where it is used for political gain ahead of the elections.”

On Tuesday Radebe appeared before the committee, where he revealed the report had been completed and would be released soon.

However, IFP caucus leader, Blessed Gwala, said the MEC should take responsibility for the mess in his department instead of blaming everything on officials.

“The MEC comes in and talks about these things as if he is not responsible for the department. He talks as if he had just descended from heaven to find this mess, but the truth is that it has been happening under his nose.”

He also called for the report to be released before the elections. Gwala said the problems besetting the department could be traced to the ANC’s cadre deployment policy, saying unqualified people had been put into critical positions

But Radebe hit back: “This thing dates back even before the ANC came into power when people were dumped in departments including this one. You will find people who are qualified as nurses or policemen who occupy positions.”

He said plans were in place to improve systems and improve accountability. “I can guarantee that when we can get this department on track it will be the best province.”

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