MEC snubs provincial standing committee
THE GAUTENG Department of Agriculture could face a budget cut for making pre-payments to companies doing business with it, a practice found to be illegal by the Auditor-General.
Yesterday, MEC Lebogang Maile and his senior officials in the Department of Economic Development, Agriculture and Rural Development snubbed Gauteng’s standing committee on public accounts (Scopa), which wanted answers on the pre-payments of more than R43.7 million paid out to several companies.
In his report, the AG found that the payments were an irregular expenditure and wanted Scopa to act on them, but Maile and his team were reportedly overseas.
Scopa chairperson Mbongeni Radebe said he received an apology on Monday night, while yesterday, during the sitting of the Gauteng Provincial Legislature, it was reported that Maile was in Germany attending a climate change conference.
Maile was supposed to answer to allegations that his department paid R22m to the Agriculture Research Council for the construction of poultry structures for 17 farms on March 27 this year.
On the same day, the department allegedly paid more than R7m to the Gauteng Enterprise Propeller for the agro processing hub for the facilitation of market access of fruit and vegetable farmers to township enterprises in Gauteng, as well as the establishment of a poultry distribution centre.
The department on March 15 this year allegedly also paid more than R6m for building materials while TCT Civil and Construction was paid R8.5m on March 14 for the supply, delivery and installation of the Isigayo milling plant in Randfontein.
When asked in a written question late last month if he had investigated the pre-payments, Maile said the matters did not warrant a probe.
“In prior financial years, the payments were treated as transfer payments, but National Treasury guided the department in allocating payments as goods and services. However, the Auditor-General found the expenditure to be irregular during the 2016/2017 financial year and reported them as such,” he said.
“The matter is not finalised and the department is in consultation with the Gauteng provincial treasury on the accounting method as the department operates on a modified cash basis of accounting and not an accrued basis of accounting,” Maile said.
He also said nothing warranted an investigations into the conduct of officials and chief financial officer Abdullah Ismail, who effected the pre-payments.
Maile said that at the time of the payments, the officials and CFO were of the view that the payments were done legally.
Radebe said what was more troubling was that at the time that the A-G was conducting his audit, “there was no milling plant in Randfontein”.
“We are going to write an adverse report for the attention of the legislature for it to take a decision on the conduct of the officials in the Agriculture Department,” Radebe said.
IN HOT WATER: Lebogang Maile