Of­fi­cials al­legedly with­hold funds in resti­tu­tion case

CityPress - - News - SIZWE SAMA YENDE sizwe.yende@city­press.co.za

Ru­ral De­vel­op­ment and Land Re­form Min­is­ter Gugile Nk­winti has or­dered an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into com­plaints that land re­form of­fi­cials in Mpumalanga are try­ing to swin­dle land ben­e­fi­cia­ries of mil­lions in resti­tu­tion grants.

Nk­winti or­dered the in­ves­ti­ga­tion af­ter about 80 com­mu­nal prop­erty as­so­ci­a­tions (CPAs) sub­mit­ted a re­port to his of­fice claim­ing that un­scrupu­lous of­fi­cials were with­hold­ing funds due to them – lead­ing to the col­lapse of their farm­ing en­ter­prises.

One of the com­mu­nal prop­erty as­so­ci­a­tions, Ndlovini, al­leges that pro­vin­cial land of­fi­cials are try­ing to swin­dle them out of as much as R3 mil­lion.

In 2004, 950 Ndlovini ben­e­fi­cia­ries suc­cess­fully re­claimed 235 hectares of land out­side Mbombela. The land is fer­tile and sup­ports gum, macadamia, litchi and pome­gran­ate trees, as well as veg­eta­bles. They said they were awarded a R15 mil­lion grant by the pro­vin­cial ru­ral de­vel­op­ment and land re­form depart­ment, but now claim this money is be­ing with­held by crooked of­fi­cials in that depart­ment who have tried to get them to ver­bally ac­cept a re­duced pay­ment of R12 mil­lion.

The Ndlovini com­mu­nal prop­erty as­so­ci­a­tion, how­ever, in­tends to fight for its full pay­ment.

Ndlovini chair­per­son Elvis Mg­wenya said: “Our busi­ness plan clearly in­di­cates that we need R15 mil­lion, but the depart­ment’s of­fi­cials have been telling us ver­bally that we’ll get R12 mil­lion. They’ve re­fused to re­lease the funds, and have been invit­ing for­mer CPA ex­ec­u­tive mem­bers to dis­rupt our meet­ings.”

He said they had re­ceived no ex­pla­na­tion about why they should be made to set­tle for R12 mil­lion. “They don’t tell us what will hap­pen to the other R3 mil­lion. That smells of cor­rup­tion to us. The new CPA was elected in Fe­bru­ary, but to date there has been no han­dover of the farm and the depart­ment has ig­nored our calls for in­ter­ven­tion,” he said.

Nk­winti’s spokesper­son, Linda Page, con­firmed that the min­is­ter was in­ves­ti­gat­ing Ndlovini’s claims and those of other ag­grieved com­mu­nal prop­erty as­so­ci­a­tions.

Ndlovini has had a long-stand­ing bat­tle with gov­ern­ment over money is­sues.

A 2012 in­ves­ti­ga­tion by au­dit­ing firm KPMG – com­mis­sioned by the na­tional ru­ral de­vel­op­ment and land re­form depart­ment – found that those who con­sti­tuted Ndlovini’s pre­vi­ous man­age­ment com­mit­tee could not ac­count for R8.3 mil­lion, which they said had been spent on in­fra­struc­ture and other op­er­at­ing costs.

But the old man­age­ment com­mit­tee of the as­so­ci­a­tion laid fraud charges against de­part­men­tal of­fi­cials. Those re­lated to the al­leged dis­ap­pear­ance of R2.9 mil­lion, which was sup­posed to be start-up cap­i­tal for the new land own­ers.

Such grants, pro­vided un­der sec­tion 42 of the Resti­tu­tion of Land Rights Amend­ment Act, are cal­cu­lated at 25% of the value of the farm in ques­tion. The fraud charge is be­ing in­ves­ti­gated by the Hawks. Mpumalanga ru­ral de­vel­op­ment and land re­form spokesper­son Malema Nt­sime has since May failed to re­spond to writ­ten ques­tions about the KPMG re­port, the fraud charge and the al­le­ga­tions of large-scale cor­rup­tion in the depart­ment.

“I’ve sent your ques­tions to the rel­e­vant of­fi­cials, but so far they’ve not re­sponded,” was all Nt­sime would say this week.

The 80 com­mu­nal prop­erty as­so­ci­a­tions that have ex­pressed con­cerns are from Mpumalanga’s Eh­lanzeni re­gion and com­prise about 10 000 ben­e­fi­cia­ries.

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