I refused to sign irregular cheque for dairy farm, Zondo told

Farm equipment during a site visit by the leader of the DA, Mmusi Maimane, to the Vrede Dairy Farm that was run by Gupta company Estina, 12 July 2017. It was intended to benefit the community but has been alleged to be a front for money laundering and also alleged to have been the source of funds for a Gupta wedding, 12 July 2017. Picture: Neil McCartney

Farm equipment during a site visit by the leader of the DA, Mmusi Maimane, to the Vrede Dairy Farm that was run by Gupta company Estina, 12 July 2017. It was intended to benefit the community but has been alleged to be a front for money laundering and also alleged to have been the source of funds for a Gupta wedding, 12 July 2017. Picture: Neil McCartney

The former Free State treasury deputy director-general testified she was pulled from a function to sign a cheque for R30 million, but refused.

Former Free State treasury deputy director-general Anna Fourie yesterday told the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture, chaired by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, how a senior official pulled her out of a colleague’s farewell party and tried to coerce her into signing off on an irregular multimillion-rand payment.

Fourie said she was called to a meeting on June 15, 2012 and a senior government official demanded she authorise an “urgent” prepayment of R30 million towards the Gupta-linked company Estina, involved in the failed Vrede Dairy Farm project.

She raised concerns with provincial department of agriculture chief financial officer Seipati Dlamini about the payment being in breach of the Public Finance Management Act and National Treasury regulations.

Fourie’s responsibility was to enforce governance, so she refused to authorise a hand-written cheque, which had to be processed within hours.

Fourie told Zondo how Dlamini had put her under “tremendous pressure”, saying the amount had to be paid immediately, “maintaining it was part of an agreement [with] the department of agriculture”.

Dlamini wanted the payment processed “in a hurry, because there were Estina people arriving the following day to collect the cheque”.

“I was at a colleague’s farewell function held at the Protea Hotel in Bloemfontein, when I was asked by the provincial treasury CEO, Humphrey Kgomongwe, to come to the office for a payment assessment needed urgently by the department of agriculture.

“The time being 4pm, the banks and the South African Reserve Bank were already closed, yet Miss Dlamini was insisting that the R30 million amount needed had to be paid on the same day by way of a hand-written cash cheque, which I only got aware of when I arrived at the meeting.”

According to Fourie, the only document presented to the provincial treasury was an agreement entered into between the department and Estina, signed on June 5, 2012.

“There was no financial report attached indicating what was spent and how much was left, meaning there was no confirmation of funds available for the project.

“Although Estina submitted the proposal which was accepted by the department, there was no tender process followed,” said Fourie.

Treasury regulations on deviation from normal tender processes required a motivation with reasons furnished by the head of department. “This, too, could not be produced,” said Fourie.

“In the absence of an approved deviation, I said this could result in an irregular and unauthorised expenditure… There was no feasibility study document available.

“Despite the deal being in contravention of the law, the agriculture CFO stressed that the payment was crucial and she needed the cash cheque before her meeting the following day.

“It also transpired that the department of agriculture only had an amount of less than R6 million in the revenue account – far below the R30 million required to pay Estina,” explained Fourie.

Asked by commission senior counsel Leah Gcabashe to explain how Estina was appointed managing and implementing agent of the venture touted as “the flagship project”, Fourie responded: “It was like appointing Estina as a referee and a player.”

Based on her concerns for the viability and legality of the project, Fourie who retired last year after 38 years’ service in government, refused to approve payments.

brians@citizen.co.za

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