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JOHANNESBURG - The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (Daff) has launched a new investigation into allegations of corruption, maladministration, irregular procurement of service providers as well as impugned decision-making in the allocation of fishing rights.

Sources within the department said Minister Senzeni Zokwana had appointed Cheadle Thompson & Haysom Attorneys, to re-do an investigation that was conducted by The iFirm.

The iFirm’s managing director, advocate Thulani Ntobela, confirmed that The iFirm was appointed by the department and that the investigation was complete. The iFirm recommended four senior officials in the department be prosecuted.

The department’s media liaison officer, Bomikazi Molapo, said Cheadle Thompson & Haysom Attorneys was advising Daff on the findings and recommendations of a forensic report conducted by The iFirm, which has implicated a number of departmental officials in financial misconduct.

“Cheadle Thompson & Haysom Attorneys is an independent law firm and has been appointed by the Office of the State Attorney in accordance with its procedures.”

A letter from the acting director-general, Mooketsa Ramasodi, addressed to the employees read in part: “The minister has appointed Cheadle Thompson & HaysomAttorneys to further delve into the matters relating to the investigation into the alleged procurement in the appointment of Wiljaro (Pty) Ltd to render services of transportation, processing, warehousing marketing and selling of abalone and shark fin.”

Sources within the Daff, who preferred to remain anonymous, said: “What came to our surprise is that the subject is for re-investigation into alleged procurement irregularities. He is requesting our full co-operation with the newly-appointed investigators, whereas we have already given our statements.

“We are taking this matter as victimisation. We were questioned for the same investigation a few months ago we cannot repeat the same process.”

Suspended Daff director-general Mike Mlengana claimed that he was induced by the minister to sign a three-year contract ostensibly to The iFirm without proper tender procedures being followed for contracts above R500 000.

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Advocate Ntobela said that while “The iFirm does not currently have a contract with the department, they were appointed by the department to investigate alleged corruption in the appointment of service providers in the fisheries division”.

Questions on how The iFirm was contracted without going through a tender process, and if Cheadle Thompson & Haysom had gone through a tender process, remain unanswered as the department’s Molapo declined to comment further, saying that the questions posed formed part of the ongoing investigation.

“We, therefore, cannot comment pending the outcomes of the investigation, as we cannot jeopardise this investigation by making public comments on a matter that is still under investigation.

"Once the investigations have been concluded and findings finalised, the minister will make an announcement on the matter and his decisions on the way forward,” she said.

The names of the four senior officials recommended for prosecution by The iFirm are unknown, but in May the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (Hawks) is said to have executed a search and seizure warrant at the department’s offices, seizing a laptop and cellphone from a member of the Fishing Rights Allocation Process (Frap) 2015/16 team.

Advocate Mohammed Shaheen Moolla is said to have confirmed being questioned by the Hawks during the raid. Daff has since confirmed suspending one member of the Frap 2015/16 team following a complaint it said could amount to corruption.

Meanwhile the suspended DG said the minister’s preliminary charges against him relating to “misappropriation of state funds” were “just a fabrication” that “has no basis in the truth”.

These are serious preliminary charges which, if accurate, could result in imprisonment in terms of the provisions of the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act 12.

Mlengana recently made starling remarks alleging incompetent administration and management within Daff, with particular reference to the deputy director-general of Daff: fisheries management, Siphokazi Ndudane, who was also the delegated authority in respect of all Frap 2015/16 fishing right allocations.

The suspended director-general (DG) said he kept finding himself appearing before oversight committees and that fisheries was being “managed via the court spending a lot of money” on private law firms where a state attorney was available. The department’s media liaison officer, Bomikazi Molapo, said the claims made against the department were “nefarious and incorrect and we reject them”.

-BUSINESS REPORT