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Former Free State agriculture head granted bail

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Staff Reporter

Former Free State Agriculture and Rural Development head Mbana Peter Thabethe, accused of conniving with the Guptas and others to loot R25-million meant to benefit some of the province’s poor, has been granted bail at the Bloemfontein Magistrates Court.

Magistrate Estelle DE Lange released him on R10 000 bail and asked him to return to court on July 5 for the continuation of the matter.

His co-accused, Iqbal Sharma, is expected to apply for bail later today.

The state, represented by Jacyntha Witbooi, had opposed Thabethe’s bail application saying the matter had drawn a lot of public interest given that funds alleged stolen by the accused were meant for service delivery with a particular focus on the poor.

“The funds that were looted were meant for service delivery,” said Witbooi.

“People are frustrated . . . The Free State was the most looted province by the Gupta family,” she added.

However, defence lawyer Advocate Willem Edeling argued the state did not have a strong case and that there was no reason the accused should be denied bail.

“There’s nothing in the submission in the matter before you to prove a solid case and deny the accused bail,” he argued.

Thabethe and Sharma were arrested last Wednesday and made an initial court appearance the following day.

Their other two accomplices, Limakatso Moorosi, also a former head of the provincial agriculture department, and Seipati Sylvia Dhlamini, the department’s former chief financial officer, were each granted bail of R10 000 last week.

Thabethe and Sharma opted to apply for bail today as their legal representatives indicated they needed more time to prepare.

They spent the weekend at the Bainsvlei Police Station.

The pair is among the 17 accused who face charges relating to defrauding the Free State Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

The fraud is in connection with a R25-million feasibility study dating back to 2011 that was irregularly granted to Nulane Investment 204 (Pty) Ltd, a company owned and controlled by Sharma.

The company had to provide a report to the department within seven months.

Nulane, however, subcontracted the work to Deloitte Consulting (Pty) Ltd for R1.5 million.

Furthermore, it subcontracted the work already completed by Deloitte to the United Arab Emirates-based Gateway Limited and paid them over R19 million.

From there, the funds were diverted to Islandsite Investments 180 (Pty) Ltd, a company owned and controlled by the Gupta family.

The accused face charges of fraud and money laundering.

The former government officials are also charged with contravention of the Public Finance Management Act.

The fifth suspect in the matter, Iqbal Sharma’s brother-in-law and a representative of Nulane Investments, Dinesh Patel, will formally appear in court on June 15, owing to health reasons.

They are charged together with four companies, Nulane Investments 204 (Pty) Ltd, Wone Management (Pty) Ltd, Pragat Investments (Pty) Ltd and Islandsite Investments 180 (Pty) Ltd.

The other accused are not currently out of the country and are being pursued by South African authorities with the help of Interpol.

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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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