230609 121009 Finance MEC Ina Cronje. Picture: BONGANI MBATHA

Durban - The exclusion of Ina Cronje from the KwaZulu-Natal executive may have had something to do with the Special Investigating Unit’s probe into the affairs of the KZN Treasury.

Late last week President Jacob Zuma signed a proclamation authorising the SIU to probe the appointment of a service provider in the KZN Treasury.

The SIU will also probe unauthorised, irregular or fruitless and wasteful expenditure incurred by the Treasury for an event remembering those soldiers who were exiled on St Helena – an island in the South Atlantic.

Also under investigation is the KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board and the Durban International North Sea Jazz Festival which cost R28m, but never took place.

Sources told the Sunday Tribune Cronje was not appointed to the executive in May in an attempt to shield her from the investigation.

However, Premier Senzo Mchunu’s spokesman, Ndabezinhle Sibiya, denied this, saying Cronje was not involved in any wrongdoing.

Another source defended Cronje, saying the former MEC was one of the people who initially suspected irregularities by the Treasury service provider and engaged the SIU.

However, another provincial government official said Mchunu sits on Zuma’s Presidential Infrastructure Co-ordinating Committee which would have been apprised first about the dealings of the KZN Infrastructure Crack Team.

“The premier had no choice but to pull out Cronje from the executive. Whether she was being shielded or became the first political casualty of this mess, only the powers-that-be can say. The same was likely to have happened in the Agricultural Department where you had an MEC with a direct line to the president,” he said.

Political analyst Protas Madlala said it would not make sense to shield Cronje if she was aware that these things were happening at the KZN Treasury.

“Either way, the SIU will also want an explanation from her,” said Madlala.

The 18-member team, launched by both former premier Zweli Mkhize and Cronje in August 2011, was sent to several areas to open bottlenecks in infrastructure projects undertaken by municipalities. These included the Msunduzi, eDumbe, uThukela, uPhongolo, Mtubatuba, Hibiscus Coast, Greater Kokstad, Hlabisa, uMkhanyakude and eNdumeni municipalities.

It included experts from various technical disciplines. The team had a three-year mandate and Cronje said at the time they wanted to spend all the money that was set aside for infrastructure in the pro-vince wisely.

“We want the province to become a model for spending wisely and correctly on infrastructure,” said Cronje.

At the time the province had R12 billion for infrastructure and was also in line to get a further R6.1bn.

While the team unlocked R22 million worth of projects in Nongoma, invested R40m to upgrade Pietermaritzburg Airport, R20m to upgrade Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi Airport and R15m to upgrade Richards Bay Airport, costs escalated.

The service provider was then called in to assist. Now the SIU will determine if the payments to the service provider were done in a manner that was fair, competitive, transparent, equitable or cost-effective.

Treasury spokesman Ntokozo Maphisa said the pro-vincial Treasury’s Internal Audit Unit had already commissioned independent service providers to investigate alleged irregular procurement and expenditure relating to the Infrastructure Crack Team and the North Sea Jazz Festival.

The commissioning of this probe happened under Cronje.

He nonetheless welcomed the SIU probe.

“The provincial Treasury also referred these matters to the SAPS for criminal investigations. Both the criminal and independent forensic investigations are at an advanced stage. The provincial Treasury will assist the SIU in every way possible as, like the SIU, it is determined to root out corruption in the province,” said Maphisa.

The DA and the IFP have welcomed the investigations. The IFP said there was now a dark cloud hanging over the provincial Treasury, which is expected to set an example for other departments.

The DA urged Mchunu to extend the investigations to all public entities in the province.

* Repeated attempts to get comment from Cronje were unsuccessful.

Sunday Tribune