The current parliamentary hearings confirm the DA’s allegations that the Public Protector (PP), Busisiwe Mkhwebane, blatantly attempted to delay holding senior politicians involved in the controversial Gupta-linked Vrede Dairy to account since the release of her initial report in 2019.
The following timeline indicates how the PP abused her limited resources to delay releasing an adequate report that was detrimental to the beneficiaries of the project and has served to delay accountability for the politicians who were involved in the channeling of money to the Gupta family, who are central to allegations of state capture:
- After the release of a blatantly inadequate report regarding requests between 2013 and 2016 by the DA for investigations into the Vrede Dairy Project, the DA took this under judicial review in the High Court. On 20 May 2019, Judge Tolmay of the North Gauteng High Court declared the PP’s initial Vrede Dairy Project investigation report be “set aside and declared unlawful, unconstitutional and invalid”.
- The PP then attempted to obtain permission to appeal this judgment which was denied by the High Court on 15 December 2019.
- An application to appeal the decision of the High Court was subsequently also dismissed by Justices Wallis and Schippers of the Supreme Court of Appeal on 21 June 2020 with the reasons that there was “no reasonable prospect of success in an appeal and there is no other compelling reason why an appeal should be heard”.
- In a deliberate attempt to delay the release of an adequate report, she submitted an appeal application to the Constitutional Court on 3 July 2020, which was dismissed with costs on 28 August 2020.
- The final report that mentioned alleged involvement by politicians was only released on 21 December 2020.
The constant denials by the political architects of the project of illegal activities were assisted by the PP’s tactics of legal delays. In the review judgment, Judge Tolmay, citing a previous ruling of the court, indicated further that “The Public Protector must not only discover the truth but must also inspire confidence that the truth has been discovered”. The crucial role of various senior politicians in the Free State, who for questionable reasons sacrificed the hopes and aspirations for a better life of 65 impoverished beneficiaries, cannot be ignored.
The involvement of politicians such as former Premier Ace Magashule is clear when the following are taken into account:
- The agreement between Estina and the Free State Provincial Government was initiated, crafted and signed in the office of Magashule under false pretexts.
- The Free State Provincial Government under Magashule continued for many years to appropriate funds to this project in spite of a National Treasury Report that exposed financial maladministration and the withdrawal of funding by the National Department of Agriculture for this same reason.
- The Premier and various MECs ignored the National Treasury Report recommendation that indicated that disciplinary action should be taken against the former head of the provincial Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.
- The former MEC for Agriculture Mosebenzi Zwane was an architect of this project and allegedly attempted to cover up the alleged allocation of R30 million from the project to the Gupta wedding at Sun City and the illegal landing of an aircraft at Waterkloof Air Force Base bringing guests to the same wedding.
- After cancelling the contract between Estina and the Provincial Government on 12 August 2014, a further R106 million was paid to Estina in subsequent financial years. This while Estina failed to make any contractually mandated financial contributions to the project.
- Magashule admitted that a guest house was bought with government funds and illegally transferred into the name of Estina’s manager on the project.
- Magshule’s children were beneficiaries of largesse from the Gupta family.
- The former Premier and MECs were aware of malfeasance at the project and not only ignored this, but failed to report it to the necessary law enforcement agencies for investigation, which is itself a criminal offence.
- After extensive references to beneficiaries in the Free State Legislature by various MECs, they were never included in this project which eliminated the very reason for its existence as a legitimate agricultural project.
During the review court case, the PP cited a lack of resources to carry out the necessary investigations as reasons why the initial investigation was not able to address all the issues. The PP appears to have plenty of time and resources to seek legal recourse that aimed to justify why she should not adequately do her work, instead of using this time and resources to actually do her job and investigate politicians.
There is enough evidence of both political involvement in illegal activities at the Vrede Dairy Projects, as well as attempts to cover this up. After a relentless battle to get the beneficiaries recognised and involved in the project, the DA will continue to vigorously lobby law enforcement agencies and the National Prosecuting Authority to do their jobs by prosecuting the political architects of the project.