The commission of inquiry into state capture heard on Tuesday that former Free State agriculture and rural development MEC Mosebenzi Zwane did not take part in the presentation of a proposal on the Vrede dairy farm project made to the Phumelela municipality council.
The commission recently heard testimony from former Democratic Alliance (DA) councillor Doctor Radebe that Zwane, along with a delegation from the Free State department of agriculture and rural development, had “hijacked” a council meeting to present a proposal on the project.
However, former Phumelela municipal manager Moses Moremi told the commission on Tuesday that Zwane was not part of the presentation of the proposal.
“I think he may have joined the council meeting, but I do not have a good recollection of that,” Moremi told the commission.
Radebe reportedly told the commission that Zwane had been the first to speak ahead of the former head of department Peter Thabethe, who gave the presentation.
The commission resumed on Monday to hear testimony on the multimillion-rand siphoning of state funds through the Gupta-linked Estina Dairy Farm project in the province.
Moremi told the commission the said council meeting was on June 12, 2012, and that Thabethe gave a PowerPoint presentation of the proposal before the council meeting convened.
The presentation was to request the council to avail the farm it owned so it would be used for the project.
Moremi said Thabethe quoted Zwane’s budget speech of the financial year 2012/13 in which the MEC said it had been resolved that a dairy plant would be established in Vrede and that funds would be allocated for this.
The former municipal manager said neither the presentation nor any supporting documents were distributed to the councillors.
“I can confirm that I cannot recall even us receiving a hard copy … it was just a visual PowerPoint presentation … it was never on the agenda … it was just accommodated … when council took that resolution it was under deputations and interviews,” Moremi told the commission.
Moremi further said he would not use the word ‘hijack’ to recall how the presentation was held before the council meeting.
After Thabethe’s presentation, the council meeting was convened, which took the resolution to support the project and that the department of agriculture should within a week provide draft resolutions which would be adopted by the council.
The chairperson of the commission, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, said he found it strange that council was quick to take a resolution on the proposal without thoroughly interrogating the viability and implications of the project.
“It was definitely not an ordinary way in terms of how decisions are taken by council,” Moremi concurred with Zondo.
Zondo said considering testimony on Monday that provincial treasury had been unsuccessfully pressured to pay the department of agriculture R30 million before its chief financial officer met with Estina officials the next day, and how the Phumelela council had “quickly” taken resolutions on the project, “it makes one wonder why were things so urgent with this project”.