Zondo labels Gupta dairy project costs as 'unrealistic and excessive'

Zondo labels Gupta dairy project costs as 'unrealistic and excessive'

- R200 million worth of taxpayer coin was allegedly diverted from emerging black farmers to Gupta-linked Estina

- Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo has dubbed the Free State government's expenditure on the project as 'unrealistic and excessive'

- This comes as the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture probes the infamous Vrede dairy project

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State Capture Commission Chair Raymond Zondo has labelled the amounts spent by the Free State government in the Vrede dairy project as exorbitant.

Testimony before the inquiry today saw Free State Democratic Alliance leader Roy Jankielsohn claiming that a look at the figures for the project 'immediately raises alarm'.

At least R200 million worth of taxpayers' money, meant to supplement emerging black farmers, allegedly flowed to Estina, a company linked to the infamous Gupta family.

Some of the loot from this failed venture allegedly went to settle the family's steep bill for their luxurious Sun City wedding back in 2013.

Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane's 2018 report on the Vrede dairy project cleared both Ace Magashule (former premier for the Free State) and Mosebenzi Zwane (former agriculture MEC) for the roles they allegedly played in the debacle.

BusinessLIVE reports that the pair are both top lieutenants for ex-president Jacob Zuma, with both accused of corruption and a wide range of state capture allegations.

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READ ALSO: Jacob Zuma avoided answering at inquiry more than 30 different times

Briefly.co.za reported that the DA, unsatisfied with the Public Protector's findings, took the report on review. The Pretoria High Court declared the report invalid and unconstitutional and set it aside in May this year.

Her Vrede project report found that the province's department of agriculture was guilty of maladministration for the way it handled the project, omitting proper processes and entering into an illegal tender agreement with Estina.

Mkhwebane had ordered Magashule to institute disciplinary action against those who presided over the project.

Today's testimony saw Jankielsohn claiming that the dairy project had been been introduced by Magashule himself who had made mention of it in his state of the province address.

READ ALSO: High court sets aside Public Protector Mkhwebane's Estina report

The DA head for the Free State said that the project had first caused concern when a Mail & Guardian article in 2013, titled “The Gupta land of milk and money” caught his attention:

“It was an interesting headline … it raised concerns that there might be irregularities concerning the project.”

He claims to have sent questions to Zwane, with his response opening Pandora's box as far as the scandal was concerned.

In his response, Zwane claimed that R342 million would be invested in the project over the course of three years.

The agriculture department spent the substantial funds as follows:

  • Purchasing of dairy cows: R6.2m
  • Dairy equipment: R37.7m
  • Cattle shed: R500,000
  • Security gate and guard house: R2.6m
  • Veterinary laboratory: R300,000
  • Cattle feed plant: R7.3m
  • Milking plant: R30m
  • Four tractors: R2.36m
  • Farm equipment including cultivators and spray guns: R3.5m
  • Implements including screw drivers, shovels, axes: R2.5m
  • Silage bunker: R5m
  • Gravel access road (approximately 2km): R1.2m
  • Labour costs: R1.3m
  • Land surveyor, accounting, professional, administration and legal fees: R12m

Jankielsohn claims that the above figures had set off an alarm, commenting:

“This reply [from Zwane] is very important. Just a cursory look at this, it immediately raises alarm. I asked why is it necessary to purchase additional tractors because the national [agriculture] department donated R40m of tractors to the Free State."

Zondo chimed in at this point, stopping to say that the figures had sounded both 'unrealistic and excessive'.

The DA leader had said that with so much funds passing through the project, the farm was expected to be functional, sustainable and self-supporting, but this was far from the reality of the situation.

The contract between Estina and the department was terminated in 2014, with no further claims put forward by the company since the cancellation.

Jankielsohn claimed that Magashule had indicated that more than R1 million worth of public funding was used to purchase property for Estina, who acted as the project's implicating agent.

This property would eventually be sold by Estina for a handsome profit.

Jankielsohn's testimony is set to continue.

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Source: Briefly.co.za

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