Former Free State government official grilled over lack of oversight
Johannesburg - Former Free State department head Peter Thabethe faced tough questions on his department's oversight over Estina's use of funds in the multi-million-rand Vrede Dairy Farm project.
Thabethe was making his fourth appearance at the inquiry on Monday. He had headed the Department of Agriculture and played a key role in the appointment of Estina, a Gupta-linked company, as a partner for the government in the Vrede Dairy Farm project. The project was meant to uplift black emerging farmers, but little of the funds went towards the project. It had been reported that some of the funds were distributed to various Gupta-linked bank accounts.
Advocate Leah Gcabashe led Thabethe in the questioning regarding how aware was his office of the possible misuse of funds. In reports submitted by Estina to the department, it was found that some of the funds were misused. Approximately $5 million was paid to a company called Gateway for a feasibility study.
Further investigations and cite visits by some government officials found that the study was inadequately done and would need to be redone. Thabethe said he relied on his juniors to approve reports supplied by Estina and that he was not aware of everything.
Gcabashe and commission chair deputy Raymond Zondo questioned Thabethe on why they did not question Estina on its use of such a large sum of money to pay consultants. Gcabashe said it implied a lack of care of how government money was spent.
"Should you as the department not have commissioned a feasibility study before hiring Estina," Zondo asked.
Thabethe said his department was satisfied with the feasibility study provided by Estina, this is even after he was presented with a report that showed the feasibility study conducted by Estina was badly done.
Thabethe also faced tough questions regarding the use of an R30 million advance payment which was supposedly meant for the purchase of parlour equipment. Thabethe struggled to point out wherein the reports provided by Estina was the money used for purchasing equipment.
Thabethe was also asked to answer what various amounts which were paid out by Estina were used, he was asked about an R19 million payment and an R30 million payment paid to a company called Gateway.
He also struggled to answer why he had not interrogated the reports provided by Estina. He again said he trusted the observations of his subordinates and would not be there "to tick all the boxes". Zondo seemed unsatisfied and told Thabethe that as the accounting officer he had to have been responsible for the misuse of funds.
Zondo: "But you were the accounting officer, you take responsibility. You cannot hide behind them. And it turns out there is a problem you take responsibility. It sounds like you are running away from responsibility."
Thabethe has concluded his evidence at the commission.IOL