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Public protector orders revival of Vrede dairy project

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Staff Reporter

Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane has ordered that the Vrede dairy project be resuscitated within two months with the full participation of the intended beneficiaries.

She said this when she released a report on her investigation on the implementation of the failed dairy project in which she found former Free State Premier Ace Magashule and members of his executive council (EXCO) failed to play an oversight role on its implementation.

The project was meant to benefit about 100 poor black farmers in and around the small farming town of Vrede in the northern Free State when it was started around 2012.

“It is unfortunate that the beneficiaries were sold an empty dream by those who were elected to change the local community’s lives for the better,” said Mkhwebane in the report.

Former Agriculture and Rural Development MECs Mosebenzi Zwane and Mamiki Qabathe are also cited in the report as having failed in their roles of overseeing the project.

Mkhwebane ordered the Free State government to implement several remedial measures, chief among them bringing the project back to life.

“Within (working) 60 days of receipt of this report . . . ensure the project is revived with the beneficiaries as 51 percent shareholders . . .” said the public protector.

About R250 million was invested into the project by the Free State provincial government but it’s believed most of the funds were diverted and deposited into bank accounts belonging to Gupta companies and their associates.

As a result, the farmers were left high and dry as they were not included in the project as promised.

The public protector found the project failed largely due to poor oversight, political interference and the influence of people close to the controversial Gupta family on politicians.

She also ordered that the report be tabled in the provincial legislature within 30 working days for her findings to be deliberated upon.

Mkhwebane also wants measures to be put in place within 30 working days for EXCO members as well as Magashule, now secretary general of the ANC, to be sufficiently trained on accountability and oversight responsibilities.

Agriculture MEC William Bulwane is to issue an apology to the farmers for the failed project.

In his defence, Magashule told the public protector during the investigation that he was not involved in the planning or implementation of the Vrede dairy farm project.

But Mkhwebane disputed this saying Magashule was involved when the project idea was presented to his EXCO.

“From evidence in my possession, Magashule appointed Ashok Narayan as a special advisor in the Premier’s Office a day after he had approved a memorandum indicating that Narayan would undertake a trip to India with former head of Free State agriculture Peter Thabethe for the purposes of the Vrede dairy project,” she said.

The investigation also found there was political involvement in the implementation of the Vrede project which saw politicians breaching some laws in the approving and allocation of funds for the project.

It found that EXCO improperly appropriated funds to ensure payment of Estina even after the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development had cancelled the contract.

“Members of the provincial executive are entrusted with providing coherent strategist leadership and coordination in policy making, implementation, and overseeing service delivery planning and implementation in support of national and provincial priorities in line with the provincial budget plan.

“They are further held accountable for their decisions as EXCO members collectively and individually…

“The Vrede project and its proposed implementation could not have been left solely to the accounting officer with no oversight from EXCO,” the investigation found.

Mkhwebane also wants her findings to be taken into account by the police priority crime investigating unit, the Hawks, who are currently probing the project for a criminal case.

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Parts of Free State may not have power for up to three weeks

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PROLONGED BLACKOUT LOOMS . . . Eskom says consumers in some parts of the Free State may not have electricity for up to three weeks

Eskom has warned consumers in the south-eastern Free State that they may not have electricity for up to three weeks due to voltage constraints on the network feeding the Melkspruit Substation.

The power failure resulted in electricity users in Zastron, Rouxville and Smithfield as well as those fed directly by Eskom on the RVZ and RVS 22 kV lines experiencing outages over the past weekend.

Eskom’s spokesperson in the Free State, Stefanie Jansen van Rensburg, said the problem may persist until major work on a line from the Northern Cape is completed.

“The voltage constraint on the network will persist until construction of structures on the Ruigtevallei-Valleydora 132 kV line in the Northern Cape is completed,” said Van Rensburg as she urged consumers to remain patient while the supply challenge is addressed.

“Free State teams are currently assisting to speed up the process. It is however expected that work will take two to three weeks to complete.”

“In the meantime, electricity users are urged to use electricity sparingly, especially during the morning and evening peak hours, to prevent trips,” she added.

South Africa has been experiencing rolling blackouts in recent weeks due to what Eskom has described a “continued shortage of generation capacity”.

On Sunday, the national power utility said in a separate statement it had about 3 028 megawatts on planned maintenance, while another 14 992 megawatts of capacity were unavailable due to breakdowns.

While the loadshedding is meant to ease pressure on the national grid and avoid a total collapse of the system, the practice has reportedly caused damage on some lines when power is switched back on.

Eskom has always said loadshedding is implemented only as a last resort to protect the national grid and promised to limit the implementation of loadshedding to the evening peak in order to limit the impact of the capacity shortages on the public. – Staff Reporter

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Minister shuts down troubled Free State water supplier

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MOVE GAZETTED . . . Water and Sanitation Minister Senzo Mchunu has disestablished Sedibeng Water

Staff and key assets from the embattled Sedibeng Water Board are set to be transferred to the Bloemwater and Magalies water boards following the gazetting of the move by Water and Sanitation Minister Senzo Mchunu last week.

The department’s spokesperson, Sputnik Ratau, said in a statement the development is in line with the minister’s commitment to review the country’s water boards to enable them to perform optimally while enhancing the delivery of water to municipalities and ultimately to households.

The decision to disestablish Sedibeng Water – which served Matjhabeng, Masilonyana and Nala local municipalities, among others – means its staff, assets and liabilities will be absorbed by Bloemwater in the Free State and Magalies in Gauteng.

The move, according to Ratau, was initiated by the minister following his working sessions with provincial governments, various water services authorities and water boards regarding issues of governance, financial viability as well as accountability and broader service delivery issues after taking office in August last year.

“The review is based on considerations of financial sustainability, servicing areas that are not currently serviced and is also intended to address institutional confusion caused by having multiple water boards serving the same area,” said Ratau.

“The disestablishment of Sedibeng Water is in accordance with section 28 of the Water Services Act of 1997 which affords Minister Mchunu the authority to disestablish a water board.

“The gazette was published on Friday, 20 May 2022 and will remain open to the public for a period of 40 days.

“Members of the public and all interested parties are invited to make comments in writing on the disestablishment of the board.”

The department said it will ensure there is smooth transition of the disestablishment and that water service provision to communities is not affected.

Based in Bothaville, Sedibeng Water was established to, among others, treat wastewater and supply potable water in a viabile and sustainable manner.

However, in recent years, some of the municipalities served by the water board have struggled over the years to pay on time for the bulk water supplies even though residents have argued that they pay their monthly bills on time.

At the end of March this year, Sedibeng reportedly owed its service providers over R5-billion as it was struggling to secure payment from several municipalities. – Staff Reporter

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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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