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Something fishy is going on in fisheries, but minister and officials keep everyone on a line

06 May 2018 - 00:00 By ARON HYMAN and BOBBY JORDAN

A fake abalone emergency, the diversion of a state contract worth millions to a little-known company, and senior fisheries officials apparently in cahoots.
Details of the alleged fraud are contained in a forensic report seen by the Sunday Times. Almost a year after the report was finalised, the officials named are still in their posts.
Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Senzeni Zokwana said legal action was being considered. Legal advice would determine whether to "undertake ... processes associated with suspensions".The report was conducted by forensic specialists The iFirm after a botched state abalone deal in 2016. It has spiralled into a legal brawl involving Zokwana and several senior officials and managers. E-mail correspondence and affidavits contained in the iFirm report found that:
• Department officials manufactured a bogus refrigeration emergency at the state's abalone warehouse to justify awarding a processing contract to a company, Willjarro;
• Two officials committed fraud in preparing paperwork relating to the deal, paving the way for Willjarro to get the contract to process 90 tons of abalone confiscated from poachers;
• An e-mail from a senior official requesting an accomplice to "destroy the evidence" related to a closed bidding process; and
• The price of the contract was artificially inflated from R1-million to R5-million.
The Willjarro contract was suspended following a court action. The company has denied any wrongdoing.
In the fallout from the deal it emerged that Willjarro had the backing of the department's director-general, Mike Mlengana. Zokwana suspended Mlengana for "gross negligence", but he was reappointed last week after challenging the decision in court.Zokwana now faces a report into his conduct compiled by the National Health Education and Allied Workers Union, which represents many department staff. Nehawu said Zokwana was targeting Mlengana. The union's report also alleged nepotism, mismanagement and "sexual favours".
It called for Zokwana's "immediate removal". Zokwana's office said a team had been set up to address the concerns.
Nehawu general secretary Zola Saphetha said members were worried that some staff had been victimised. He said these and other concerns had been raised with Zokwana in 2015 but nothing had been done.
Documents in the possession of the Sunday Times show a department rife with infighting and distrust. At one stage the department's head of compliance raised the suspicious removal of three tons of abalone from the state warehouse in Paarden Island, Cape Town, by government officials. The officials were caught late at night trying to put the abalone back.
Commenting this week on the legal chaos, the deputy director-general of fisheries management, Siphokazi Ndudane, said: "This thing is about me controlling an industry worth close to a trillion rand and it is about people wanting to get access."
Beverley Schäfer, chairwoman of the Western Cape parliament's standing committee on economic opportunities, tourism and agriculture, said urgent intervention was needed...

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