Free State corruption may have been replicated in all provinces, says Zondo, Newsline

Head of state capture inquiry emotionally reflects that ordinary people are repeatedly left empty-handed as taxes flow to the pockets of a few

Cape Town – Judge Raymond Zondo on Wednesday deplored that ordinary people never saw a cent of hundreds of millions of rands of public money spent on fruitless projects by the Free State government, venturing that he was sure the scenario played out in other provinces too.

“It is most frustrating to hear what I have in this commission and there seems to be no indication that it is slowing down,” Zondo said, after hearing further testimony on a scheme that forked out roughly half a billion rand to contractors who failed to deliver housing to the poor in the province.

Zondo, the head of the commission of inquiry into the state capture scandal, said the fraudulent housing scheme, the failed Vrede dairy farm project and the tender to remove asbestos from the roofs of Free State homes painted a deeply troubling picture.

“The Vrede dairy farm in Estina was meant to benefit a lot of black farmers,” he said.

“People would have been able to earn a living, (but) the people who were to supposed to be beneficiaries, they never got anything and yet millions and millions of rands were paid out by the Free State government.”

The same happened in the case of the controversial R230-million project to strip away asbestos in the roofs of buildings in the province and to remove the hazardous insulator.

In the end, R23.1m was used for an asbestos audit, while contractors made off with R200m in taxpayers’ money. Most of it was paid over to them after the auditor-general found in 2015 that the contract was irregular.

The commission heard sensational testimony from former Free State MEC for economic development Mxolisi Dukwana who linked the fraud to Ace Magashule, who was then the premier of the province and now serves as secretary-general of the ANC.

“This project was a brazen act of corruption executed by state officials in concert with the businesspersons at the behest of the premier of the Free State, Mr Magashule.”

Zondo said the same pattern of waste was repeated in spending by the provincial housing department in 2010–11, when some R500m was paid to contractors and building material suppliers in a brief period, apparently on the instruction of then Free State housing MEC Mosebenzi Zwane.

The commission heard testimony on the illegality of these advance payments from a former Free State official, Mphikeleli Kaizer Maxatshwa, who was among several fired for their involvement.

It was at the end of Maxatshwa’s testimony that Zondo gravely reflected that the purpose of a government was to serve citizens but that he has heard repeatedly that vast sums of money paid in taxes for that purpose were simply funnelled to a few individuals.

Though the commission had heard extensive testimony on this kind of corruption in the Free State, he did not even know if the province was the worst case study in the country and nor was it within the commission’s power to establish if it was the case.

“We will not because that kind of job needs years to do, but my own thinking is if one went around provinces one could find… money may have ended up in the pockets of some people but the ordinary people got nothing,” he said.

African News Agency