Mosebenzi Zwane continues to shift blame over Free State housing tender

Minister says the fault lay not with him but with the former head of department, 'who has a fractured relationship with the truth'

12 October 2020 - 19:39
Former Free State human settlements MEC Mosebenzi Zwane.
Former Free State human settlements MEC Mosebenzi Zwane.
Image: Sizwe Ndingane

Mosebenzi Zwane on Monday continued to blame officials over an illegal R600m prepayment that took place under his watch.

The former Free State human settlement MEC — who also previously served as minister of mineral resources — was being grilled about his role in a controversial R1bn housing project the province ran during the 2010/11 financial year.

Three witnesses, including Mpho Mokoena who was human settlement head of department at the time, have laid the blame squarely at the door of Zwane for the prepayment scheme, saying it was an idea he championed and saw through to its implementation.

But Zwane turned the tables on Monday, saying that the buck stopped with Mokoena, as the accounting officer.

According to testimony, Zwane mooted the prepayment scheme idea in late 2010 in an attempt to ensure the department spent its annual housing budget. This was after then-human settlement minister Tokyo Sexwale warned that the province's underspending was worrying and that the province ran the risk of losing the grant to better-performing provinces if it did not spend the money.

But Zwane held a meeting with contractors and then floated the prepayment idea, which would see the department buying building material for the contractors directly from suppliers.

When this was implemented, R600m was spent as part of the scheme for “little to no benefit to the department”, according to the commission's evidence leader, Paul Pretorius.

Pretorius put it to Zwane on Monday that the scheme was, in fact, illegal and contravened the Public Finance Management Act.

Zwane disagreed: “The advance payment or prepayment in terms of SA law is not an illegal issue. If you have an advanced payment there should be a contract that indicates you are going to do an advanced payment in which case you must administer an advanced payment.”

He would make an immediate U-turn when Pretorius insisted that “in this case there was no contract”.

Zwane abandoned this defence and aimed his sights on officials, particularly Mokoena, whom he accused of having a “fractured relationship with the truth”.

The ANC national executive committee member accused the commission of being “unfair on me” for wanting him to take responsibility for the R600m prepayment.

Zwane admitted to having been presented with a written plan of how the scheme would be carried out — but said he did not interrogate it because he trusted the officials.

That they were now accusing him of failing in his oversight role was disingenuous, Zwane lashed out. It was Mokoena, said Zwane, and not himself, who should face the music.

“I find some of the facts from HoD Mpho Mokoena amazing because he knew about legislation and as an accounting officer had powers to overrule me on issues of illegality,” said Zwane. “He should have asked me in writing and report me to both provincial and national treasuries. He comes here saying he feared that I would have said he should resign [if he did not do my bidding].

“But to the same HoD I gave an instruction that every official should cancel their December leave but he says ‘I cannot’. Did I fire him? No I did not.

“Now I find his relationship with facts a bit fractured. The HoD should have acknowledged that he was an accounting officer and was aware of the PMFA, to say the least.

“This scheme continued beyond my term as MEC in that department. Why did they continue when I was not there any more? I left in early February. In May, Mpho Mokoena was still signing these cessions. So if I have to entertain what was said [at the commission], he should have stopped this thing in February because ‘it’s MEC Zwane’s scheme’. But he did not,” he said.

Zwane closed his testimony on Monday afternoon but is to return at an as yet undetermined date.

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