Former CFO questioned on role in Vrede dairy farm project
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The former CFO of the Free State Department of Agriculture and Rural Development faced tough questions at the Zondo commission regarding her role in approving a budget for the Vrede dairy farm project.
Seipati Dlamini took the stand at the Zondo commission on Wednesday. She had served as the department’s CFO in the Free State when the Estina dairy farm project was approved.
The project was meant to uplift black emerging farmers, but it was established that none of the funds were used for that purpose but were transferred to Gupta linked bank accounts.
The government spent more than R200 million towards the project in payments made to Estina - which had promised to contribute millions towards the partnership with the Free State government, but the company did not do so.
The project was championed by the former MEC of Agriculture in Free State Mosebenzi Zwane.
The commission had previously heard that Estina, which had no background in dairy farming, had less than R20 in its business bank accounts when the department had started paying millions into its bank account.
Dlamini was questioned on her role in approving payments to the project.
She admitted that she did not probe the questionable background of the Gupta-linked company Estina when she approved a budget towards the Vrede project.
The former head of department for agriculture in the Free State, Peter Thabethe, had previously testified that he had done desktop research on Estina and the viability of the project.
He had also travelled to India in 2012 to meet with a dairy farm company, Paras, which was meant to be the multimillion-rand sponsor of Estina's share in the project.
Paras was not a partner in the project and most of the funds paid to Estina were paid out to various foreign bank accounts, the commission's evidence leader Advocate Leah Gcabashe said.
Dlamini said she had not probed Thabethe on the background of Estina because she assumed as the head of the department he would have researched the project.
Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo asked Dlamini; "I would have thought that it would be part of the responsibility of the CFO of a government department in a situation such as this to ask the question, this entity that you want the department to have a partnership with have you done homework on it? Who are the type of people who own it? What is this entity involved in?“
Dlamini responded; "When this project was done there was talk of Paras, a huge company, you would take it that the due diligence was done, hence why I could not probe those questions. In this case, I did not".
"From where I was sitting my focus was on Paras who were said to provide the technical skills. Hence I could not ask those questions and let alone the HOD had already met with these people," Dlamini said.
Zondo was not pleased with Dlamini's response and probed further on the lack of information on Paras and Estina.
"Is it true that the HOD (Thabethe) had nothing concrete on Paras besides the reputation. There was nothing concrete that he showed you about Paras, it was just general talk?" Zondo asked.
Dlamini responded; "He went there personally hence I took his (Thabethe) word. I did not ask those pertinent questions."
Dlamini tried to shield herself and insisted that Thabethe could have on his own approved the payments for the project without her approval.