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Free State agriculture department fraud case postponed

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Staff Reporter

The case involving several people accused of defrauding the Free State Department of Agriculture and Rural Development of about R244 million has been postponed to February next year.

The accused, who include seven people and a private company, made a brief appearance in the Bloemfontein Magistrates Court on Monday before the matter was postponed to February 3, 2021.

National Prosecuting Authority regional spokesperson Phaladi Shuping told The Free Stater by telephone that the matter was postponed to allow the defence to get certain documents from the prosecutor.

“The defence made a request for further particulars but some of the legal representatives have not come to our office to get them,” he said.

“The information requested by the defence is meant to allow them to have a better understanding of the charges faced by their clients so they can adequately prepare themselves.

“The information they need is more detailed and won’t be contained in the final indictment.

“They have now agreed that they will give the prosecutor a memory stick or CD for him to download further particulars for them.”

Shuping said once all the parties to the matter are furnished with the further particulars, the case can be referred to the High Court for trial.

“I think it will be very unfair for the case to be transferred to the High Court when the legal representatives are not fully aware of the details to the charges faced by their clients,” he explained.

The accused are: former Free State agriculture chief finance officer Sylvia Dlamini, 49; businesswoman Malikomo Mohapi, 55; Superior Quality Trading, which trades as Rekgonne Community Projects; chief finance officer of the provincial agriculture department, Lerato Mngomezulu, 39; director for facilities management, Disebo Masiteng, 59; chief director for corporate services, Thomas Ndumo, 53; former director for agrarian reform, Mahlomola Mofokeng, 55; and former head of department Mbana Peter Thabethe, 54.

They face charges of forgery, uttering, fraud, money laundering, corruption and contravening the Black Broad-Based Empowerment Act.

About 58 counts have been listed against the accused.

The whole case, according to the state, hinges around Dhlamini – who is now the deputy director general in the Free State Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs – and Mohapi.

The two were arrested in July by the Hawks after they unearthed an alleged elaborate fraudulent scheme.

The two women allegedly hatched a plan to channel large sums of money from the provincial agriculture department using Rekgonne Community Projects, owned by Mohapi, as a conduit.

Around June 2014, Rekgonne Community Projects entered into an agreement with the Free State Department of Agriculture to implement all projects on behalf of the department for two years.

Between 2012 and 2016, the department is said to have paid about R244 million to the company.

During that period, Dhlamini, who was the department’s CFO, is said to have received about R267 000 from Rekgonne Community Projects as gratuity and the money was deposited into her Nedbank account disguised as different types of refunds and other payments.

The misleading descriptions, according to the state, include “loan repayment”, “TelkomSA”, “photocopy” and “Macufe sponsor”.

These descriptions were traced back to Rekgonne Community Projects which made the payments.

The alleged crime was uncovered during investigations into the much-publicised Estina Dairy case.

The matter is however not part of the Estina Dairy scandal which has since been struck off the court roll.

It was discovered that there were irregularities in the financial flow analysis of Dhlamini’s bank account, prompting the authorities to conduct a lifestyle audit on her.

As the CFO, Dhlamini was not supposed to receive presents from a company doing business with her department and, further to that, she never disclosed this to her employer.

The other five individuals were part of the Bid Evaluation Committee (BEC) and are alleged to have granted a contract to Rekgonne Community Projects without following set procedure.

It’s not clear if they benefited financially.

The state is arguing that members of the BEC have a fiduciary duty to evaluate documents submitted by all bidders and to make sure that they comply with set specifications.

Rekgonne Community Projects is said to have failed to comply with the specifications by submitting documents that were not certified as well as a forged Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment verification certificate.

Thabethe, as the HOD at that time, is also accused of failing to ensure that the Public Finance Management Act was followed in contracting the company as well as in the transactions that followed.

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Mangaung warns residents to brace for heavy rainfall

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DISRUPTIVE DOWNPOUR LOOMING . . . Mangaung Metropolitan Municipality has warned heavy rainfall is expected to pound the capital

The Mangaung Metropolitan Municipality has warned residents in and around the Free State capital to brace for heavy rainfall that could cause flooding this Friday.

The municipality is urging drivers to take extra caution by reducing speed and switching their headlights on, while pedestrians are being reminded to be careful when crossing the road and to avoid crossing rivers and streams where water is above the ankles.

“Residents of Mangaung Metro, particularly in the former Naledi region, are urged to be cautious on the road and in their homes as the South African Weather Service has issued an impact-based warning . . . for possible disruptive rainfall,” the metro said in a statement.

“This warning is valid for Friday, 20 May 2022 until Saturday, 21 May 2022.”

“Heavy rains are also predicted in Bloemfontein on Friday,” it added.

“Localised flooding can be expected in susceptible low-lying areas, roads, formal/informal settlements and bridges.” – Staff Reporter

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Mangaung speaker vows not to be silenced by charges

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DEFIANT . . . Mangaung council speaker Stefani Lockman-Naidoo

Mangaung council speaker Stefani Lockman-Naidoo has vowed not to stop fighting corruption in the metro after she was summoned to a disciplinary hearing set for next month for disobeying her party, the ANC, resulting in the axing and suspension of senior officials in the municipality.

The ANC Mangaung Interim Regional Committee (IRC) has summoned her to a disciplinary hearing on June 7 to answer to charges of knowingly and intentionally defying a resolution of the ANC Caucus in council after she allowed a motion to be debated without referring it to party structures in the council.

Lockman-Naidoo’s tiff with her party dates back to January when the Mangaung IRC announced her suspension after she was accused of defying the ANC’s instruction no to proceed with a sitting which resulted in then acting city manager Sello More being removed from office.

The Mangaung speaker also told The Free Stater on Thursday that she was being targeted for presiding over a recent council sitting that resolved to suspend several allegedly corrupt officials in the municipality.

“We are being charged for suspending a corrupt HOD (head of department),” said Lockman-Naidoo, referring to David Nkaiseng who heads corporate services.

A council meeting held on May 12 – after receiving an investigation report from Matlho Attorneys – resolved, among others, to bring charges against Nkaiseng for his alleged role in unlawfully appointing the officials resulting in the flouting of municipal policy of appointment of officials as well as flouting municipal staff regulations and the code of conduct for municipal officials.

“We are being targeted because we are purging these corrupt officials of Mangaung,” charged Lockman-Naidoo.

“I will not tolerate any corruption . . . Wherever I go I will be known as that speaker that didn’t tolerate corruption,” she added confidently.

The speaker was however quick to point out that those charging her had no authority to do so.

“But you see, the charges are not from the ANC because they didn’t ask for permission from the provincial coordinator (Paseka Nompondo) to charge us,” she said.

“The region itself is an illegitimate structure. Its term has expired and these are just factions . . .

“It’s a faction of the region that is charging us – it’s not the ANC.

“They are the ones that are purging us because we are not part of their faction.

“This is what’s going on. They don’t tolerate me.”

Lockman-Naidoo claimed the faction was not happy with the suspension of the HOD.

“The council resolution . . . says several criminal charges must be opened against the HOD himself and relevant officials,” she said.

“And I’m wrong for suspending a person like that?

“I don’t mind being charged at all because we did the right thing as council.

“They are saying . . . they are charging us because I allowed the item to sit in council.

“It’s not my item – it’s a council item. I couldn’t remove it. There was nothing I could do.”

Council also resolved that Nzimeni Maswabi be charged by acting city manager for his role in approving unlawful staff appointments.

It also wants Thabang Joseph Mpeli to be charged for his role in the drafting of unlawful appointment letters.

However, ANC Mangaung IRC spokesperson Ncamisa Ngxangisa has dismissed Lockman-Naidoo’s claims saying the party was not targeting anyone but it simply wanted to put its house in order.

In a separate interview, Ngxangisa said there were concerns some councillors could be working with the opposition, hence the probe.

“We are not targeting individuals. We are dealing with members of the ANC who happen to be councillors in this regard,” he told The Free Stater.

“This is after we received concerns that there could be some members who are voting with the opposition, against the position of the caucus of the ANC in that municipality.

“We took everything as it is, and referred the matter to our sub-committee that deals with issues of discipline so that they inquire into all these allegations levelled against all these comrades.

“But at the same time, it gives these comrades an opportunity to respond or query any evidence that may be presented against them.”

Ngxangisa said every organisation implements disciplinary processes when something goes wrong and the ANC was only exercising its right to do so.

“We are a political party, we contest elections,” he said.

“We are relying on our councillors to make sure that our policy position and decisions find expression in that council.

“If there are allegations that such is not happening, any self-loving political party will stand up and do something about it.

“These accusations are neither here nor there – no one is targeted.

“There are concerns that the centre is not holding in that municipality.

“Our caucus through the chief whip is not given enough support by our councillors and there are such allegations.

“That’s a cause for serious concern which must be attended to so that the ANC can at least enjoy its majority in that municipality.”

The Mangaung IRC spokesperson emphasised that the ANC was firmly against any corrupt activities but indicated that councillors were expected to represent the interests of the party and not their own.

“When we say all councillors must toe this line, we expect everyone to toe that line. Anyone who goes astray is a concern to us,” he said.  – Staff Reporter

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Centlec warns cable theft masterminds

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STOLEN . . . Part of the copper cable recovered by the police

Power distribution company Centlec has issued a stern warning to people believed to be hired by unknown individuals or syndicates to steal copper cables from the power lines saying it will not allow them to destroy such key infrastructure and put the country’s economy at risk.

“This is war and we will fight it tooth and nail,” said Centlec in a statement.

“We want to send a strong message to the criminals and their handlers that we will not rest until they are behind bars,” added the company, which distributes electricity to Mangaung and surrounding municipalities.

It said it is aware that most of the criminals are just fronts who are sent by kingpins who then process the copper before selling it.

Centlec warned the kingpins that they would soon face the full might of the law.

“Some of the fronts happen to be vulnerable foreign nationals who are being used to steal our cables by their handlers,” said the company.

A joint operation by Centlec and the police in recent weeks has led to several arrests and the recovery of hundreds of kilogrammes of copper cable destined for scrapyards.

In the latest three incidents, a man was arrested in Botshabelo after being found in possession of copper cable believed to have been stolen.

Several people were also arrested following inspections at two scrapyards in Botshabelo where large amounts of copper were found.

At a scrapyard in Bloemfontein, a man was issued with a fine after he was found with copper weighing 150kg which he failed to account for.

Investigations are still underway to ascertain the real owner of the scrapyard for possible arrest.

“We are worried that many of these scrapyards are becoming a haven for criminals and promoting criminality,” said Centlec chief executive officer Malefane Sekoboto. – Staff Reporter

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