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#StateCaptureInquiry Peter Thabethe has been sworn in at the @StateCaptureCom. Evidence leader Advocate Leah Gcabashe SC has indicated he is an implicated person who has expressed a will to cooperate with the Commission at all times.
@StateCaptureCom #StateCaptureInquiry Some deliberations over the legibility of Thabethe's affidavits, linked to a court case. He was one of the #Estina accused in the case which was dropped at the end of 2018. Gcabashe asks of his current occupation. He replies, "I'm a pensioner, Chair."
@StateCaptureCom #StateCaptureInquiry Thabethe, whos surname I now see is also written Thabede, says he was suspended pending the report by the @PublicProtector recommending the Free State Government investigate certain matters regarding Vrede, during his suspension his contract came to an end.
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector #StateCaptureInquiry Thabethe says, "I never received any indication from government whether this contract has been terminated or whether this contract has been extended. So, it was quiet but the salary was terminated." He says he then applied for his pension benefits.
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector #StateCaptureInquiry In the first minutes of his evidence, Thabethe cites the @PublicProtector's (weak) investigation into the #EstinaDairyFarm #VredeDairyProject. This comes the same day the North Gauteng High Court mulcted the Public Protector with personal costs on the report.
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector [JUST IN] #StateCaptureInquiry Thabethe says that last week the @PublicProtector contacted him about being a witness in a new investigation regarding the #VredeDairyProject. This, it has been made clear, is in relation to a separate investigation into the same scheme.
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector #StateCaptureInquiry "Are you aware of any investigation that interrogated your conduct, which investigation would have been prompted by the National Treasury findings in 2013?" asks Gcabashe. "No, I am not aware," replies Thabethe.
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector #StateCaptureInquiry Thabethe says he obtained his Bachelor of Agriculture from the University of Fort Hare in 1988 and in 1991 obtained an Honours in the same field, then he obtained a Masters in Development of Communication from the University of Pretoria in 2002.
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector #StateCaptureInquiry Thabethe testifies that since 1 February 1989 he has been employed in the agricultural sector in South Africa, in various capacities. He has listed his education and is now citing his government posts.
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector #StateCaptureInquiry After listing a number of senior government appointments - including that of Special Adviser to the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries - Thabethe says he became Free State Head of Department of Agriculture and Rural Development in August 2011.
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector #StateCaptureInquiry Thabethe has detailed his extensive work in agriculture in government, along with his knowledge and experience in the field. Gcabashe refers to his curriculum vitae and notes he has held senior positions in his term of employment.
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector #StateCaptureInquiry Gcabashe asks Thabethe of the "centrality of the Constitution" in the manner in which a senior member of government conducts themself. She asks what the position would be if he was unfamiliar with certain Sections of the Constitution, would it be disclosed?
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector #StateCaptureInquiry Thabethe has indicated he marked himself as having intermediate knowledge of the Constitution, it seems specifically in relation to certain Sections. Gcabashe says, "You would have to be familiar [...] there is a lot that you would need to discuss."
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector Gcabashe says provisions indicate one's powers and their limits. "So, the Constitution is really central to everything we do." Thabethe agrees. Gcabashe responds that "it is a well made concession" because as an advisor to, for instance, a minister he would need to know it well.
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector #StateCaptureInquiry "My interpretation of advanced is that it means you are an expert," says Thabethe, while discussing the reasoning behind the listing on his curriculum vitae of his grasp of the Constitution as intermediate.
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector #StateCaptureInquiry Gcabashe asks about how Thabethe came to be the Free State Head of Department (HOD) of Agriculture and Rural Development. "Chair, I applied for the job," he begins. Gcabashe asks if prior to his appointment Thabethe met then Free State Premier Ace Magashule.
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector Thabethe says, yes, he met Magashule at various gatherings and at African National Congress (ANC) meetings. Gcabashe then asks if Thabethe had met then MEC of Agriculture and Rural Development in the Free State, Mosebenzi Zwane. Thabethe says not, they first met at the interview.
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector #StateCaptureInquiry Gcabashe asks if it is correct that on Thabethe's appointment as HOD in 2011 the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Rural Development were separate. He confirms, noting they were under the same MEC.
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector #StateCaptureInquiry Recent evidence reflects the existence of two HODs and two departments under one MEC, namely Zwane. Thabethe says he allowed the older HOD to be the accounting officer, and says the responsibilities are dictated by the Public Finance Management Act.
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector #StateCaptureInquiry Chairperson Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo says an important aspect of the role of the Accounting Officer is to ensure that funds are used properly, funds are set aside, and monies are only used in accordance with proper procedure.
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector #StateCaptureInquiry Gcabashe asks Thabethe if his understanding of his discharge of his duties needed to be in line with the legal framework of the department, provincial government and @TreasuryRSA prescripts, among other statutes. He agrees.
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector @TreasuryRSA #StateCaptureInquiry As HOD you report to the MEC, says Thabethe. "We did not report to the Executive Council directly [...] the reporting line is the Head of Department reports to the MEC," he says. Thabethe says HODs would attend Executive Council (ExCo) meetings on invitation.
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector @TreasuryRSA #StateCaptureInquiry Proceedings resume. Thabethe begins describing the origins of the 'Mohuma Mobung' strategy. Gcabashe refers Thabethe to a relevant document.
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector @TreasuryRSA #StateCaptureInquiry "What is this framework document?" asks Gcabashe, noting its date in June 2012. Thabethe says this document deals with specific issues regarding agricultural development, in response to the National Development Plan (NDP).
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector @TreasuryRSA #StateCaptureInquiry "The problem which could bring a confusion is that there were an exchange of words. At some instance we would call it a framework and one instance we would call it a strategy but it meant the same document," says Thabethe.
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector @TreasuryRSA #StateCaptureInquiry Gcabashe says there is confusion as regards to the document. She cites different descriptions of it, including:
• initiative;
• concept;
• framework; and,
• strategic plan.
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector @TreasuryRSA #StateCaptureInquiry Zondo asks Thabethe what he deems this document and he replies that, to him, it is the Mohuma Mobung Development Strategy. Gcabashe notes in an affidavit Thabethe calls it a concept.
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector @TreasuryRSA #StateCaptureInquiry Gcabashe asks if a dairy would fall into the Department of Agriculture of the Department of Rural Development. Thabethe says it would fall into both. She then asks which department devised the idea of a dairy, as it was before the merger.
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector @TreasuryRSA #StateCaptureInquiry "It initially started as a rural development, because it was a new mandate in the province," says Thabethe. He says "as a new mandate it came without the budget" and the financing was a challenge.
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector @TreasuryRSA #StateCaptureInquiry Thabethe indicates that the idea of 'Mohuma Mobung' derived from the Department of Rural Development in the Free State, before it merged with the Department of Agriculture. "It is very difficult to separate agriculture and rural development," he says.
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector @TreasuryRSA #StateCaptureInquiry Gcabashe asks if Thabethe found the 'Mohuma Mobung' concept on arrival as HOD. "When I came in there was no plan on the table to say how we develop rural development," he says.
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector @TreasuryRSA #StateCaptureInquiry "The name was given by the MEC but the thinking behind the document came from the HOD." Zondo says, "That was you." Gcabashe says it was important to be specific. Gcabashe asks "So, the concept of 'Mohuma Mobung' would have come from you?" Thabethe agrees.
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector @TreasuryRSA [EARLIER] #StateCaptureInquiry Thabethe said there were other concepts of dairy (other than the concept of developing Vrede) in the Free State province. He has testified dairy was but one of the rural development projects, which also included developing small towns and villages.
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector @TreasuryRSA #StateCaptureInquiry "It was a very small budget and that budget was transferred from Public Works to the department [...] it mainly looked at the administration part, your salaries and operations [...] there was very little money to do implementation," says Thabethe.
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector @TreasuryRSA #StateCaptureInquiry Gcabashe refers to Roy Jankielsohn's evidence at the @StateCaptureCom and Zwane's mention of 'Mohuma Mobung' before asking Thabethe if the concept had taking route by about November 2011. Thabethe replies, "That is correct, Chair."
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector @TreasuryRSA #StateCaptureInquiry "At that particular time we were busy doing consultation and getting additional information and comments from other people," continues Thabethe. He speaks of engagements with stakeholders. Zondo asks if the purpose was to get ideas or present a certain idea.
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector @TreasuryRSA Thabethe says when he arrived he had an opportunity so sit down, conceptualise and develop "this concept of rural development" in order to fulfill the mandate. Gcabashe asks if Thabethe found Dr Takisi Masiteng in the Department of Rural Development at the time.
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector @TreasuryRSA #StateCaptureInquiry Thabethe says when he arrived Masiteng was in the Department of Agriculture. Gcabashe asks Thabethe if he found CFO Seipati Dlamini in the department on arrival. Thabethe says Dlamini was the CFO for both departments.
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector @TreasuryRSA Gcabashe refers Thabethe to a document he signed off. He then reads from a provision insisting that competitive bids must be acquired for projects above R500,000. Gcabashe says the clause is consistent with a Section in the Constitution on equitable, fair and transparent process.
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector @TreasuryRSA "It will be applicable except in certain circumstances," says Thabethe. Zondo asks if Thabethe accepts as the clause stands it refers to "all" bids above R500,000 and on its own doesn't allow for exceptions. Thabethe reads of urgent and emergency cases that allow for deviation.
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector @TreasuryRSA #StateCaptureInquiry Gcabashe asks when an accounting officer initiates a deviation under urgent and emergency circumstances is it correct or appropriate for them to be a player and a referee, in initiating it and then approving it.
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector @TreasuryRSA #StateCaptureInquiry Thabethe begins replying with reference to an example, an outbreak of aviation flu in agriculture.
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector @TreasuryRSA #StateCaptureInquiry Gcabashe says in an example such as the one he cited, she would imagine other department officials would identify an emergency in the field and relay that to the HOD in a report, the HOD would then respond and seek to address the emergency through deviation.
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector @TreasuryRSA #StateCaptureInquiry Recent discussion has related to approval and budgets, the role of the accounting officer and the HOD. Thabethe has testified on the moving of monies, which he says always requires paperwork.
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector @TreasuryRSA #StateCaptureInquiry Thabethe reads provisions which allow for deviation when entering a contract with a supplier or goods and services. One of the provisions relates to sole suppliers, another relates to certain exempt items including school supplies and burial services.
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector @TreasuryRSA #StateCaptureInquiry Gcabashe confirms certain key documents and instructions Thabethe with which Thabethe would have been familiar prior to signing a certain document. Unfortunately, without the papers before me, I cannot provide more specific details on the relevant documents.
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector @TreasuryRSA Zondo finds it interesting that the policy document Thabethe signed includes a provision that, in the case of awarding a contract to a sole supplier, the company must provide an affidavit stating that company is a sole supplier. Zondo asks shouldn't the department determine that.
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector @TreasuryRSA #StateCaptureInquiry Zondo raises a concern about a company with something to gain in the form of a sole supplier contract being the party to assert the company is, in fact, a sole supplier. Should the department not investigate, he asks.
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector @TreasuryRSA #StateCaptureInquiry Gcabashe has been going through a 2007 National Treasure Practice Notice, which she raised in relation to the SCM Policy Document of 2012 that Thabethe signed. Zondo adjourns for lunch. Proceedings @StateCaptureCom are set to resume at 14:00.
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector @TreasuryRSA #StateCaptureInquiry The last hour, my mobile signal has been erratic, hence the lull in live tweeting. Thabethe has been answering as to how he arrived at Paras a partner on the #VredeDairyFarm #EstinaDairyProject. He says he conducted desktop research.
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector @TreasuryRSA #StateCaptureInquiry Zondo asks what distinguished Paras to Thabethe, to which Thabethe replies the Indian dairy company collected milk from small producers and also processed milk. "It was going to help us solve our problem in the Free State of the small dairies closing down."
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector @TreasuryRSA #StateCaptureInquiry Earlier, Thabethe testified that he conducted desktop research on developing dairy and solving certain problems in the sector in the Free State. He says his research led him to four countries, three of which he has named: Switzerland, Germany and India.
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector @TreasuryRSA [EARLIER] #StateCaptureInquiry Thabethe testified he identified Indian dairy company Paras as a good potential partner. Gcabashe has raised criticism provided by a previous witness including that, said Gcabashe, an estimated 57% of Paras milk derives from buffalo and not cattle.
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector @TreasuryRSA #StateCaptureInquiry To paraphrase, Thabethe earlier indicated he disagrees with the argument that one cannot learn from Paras or that Paras was not an appropriate partner because it was not about the source of the milk so much as the volumes, models and system being used.
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector @TreasuryRSA #StateCaptureInquiry "I remain concerned about the quality of the desktop research," says Gcabashe who earlier indicated, surely, a government programme involving notable expenditure could not have been based on desktop research using Google by one person alone.
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector @TreasuryRSA #StateCaptureInquiry Thabethe responds to mention of some of the top performing countries for cow's milk, as indicated in a previous witnesses' evidence, and including New Zealand, saying they weren't fitting comparisons with South Africa on account of being First World states.
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector @TreasuryRSA Gcabashe says there were milk processing plant in Harrismith, Frankfort and Standerton (the last of which is now said to be closed) so the premise there were no milk processing plants in the vicinity of Vrede was incorrect. He admits there were private milk processing plants.
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector @TreasuryRSA #StateCaptureInquiry Thabethe says of private milk processing plants in the Free State, "They were not very big. Hence, the trucks that were still collecting milk in the Free State to Johannesburg [...] the problem was not resolved by them."
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector @TreasuryRSA Gcabashe refers Thabethe to a travel itinerary and correspondence from him addressed to Magashule. She asks why he addressed the Premier and not the MEC. "The approval of overseas trips has not been delegated to the MEC," replies Thabethe. "You get approval from the Premier."
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector @TreasuryRSA #StateCaptureInquiry In the correspondence, as read by Gcabashe, Thabethe asks Magashule for permission to visit a dairy farm and attend a meeting with a "strategic partner" in India from 29 February to 4 March 2012 in support of the expansion of dairy farming in the free State.
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector @TreasuryRSA "Why was he chosen as the right person to go with you, to accompany you to India?" asks Zondo. Thabethe says he cannot answer. Zondo asks if it's because Thabethe didn't select Ashok Narayan to accompany him. He agrees, he didn't choose Narayan, who was an adviser to the Premier.
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector @TreasuryRSA Gcabashe and Zondo question Thabethe on who was Narayan, what was his relationship to Thabethe, and how Narayan came to accompany Thabethe on a trip to India to look at a dairy farm and meet a "strategic partner" to which he says Zwane instructed him to name Narayan as chaperone.
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector @TreasuryRSA "He was not a dairy farmer, not an agricultural specialist, he's an ICT chap," says Gcabashe of Narayan. The departure date for the India trip with Thabethe and letter requesting permission precedes the date form which Narayan's contract as advisor to Magashule came into effect.
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector @TreasuryRSA Some sharp reading from Zondo and Gcabashe, reflected in their speech, indicates the curious timing of the letter requesting permission to travel, the commencement of his employment as an ICT advisor to Magashule, and this raises questions on his status in the Free State govt.
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector @TreasuryRSA #StateCaptureInquiry Gcabashe asks Thabethe why he needed to travel to India, and why someone like Narayan was needed when South Africa has a High Commission in New Delhi, which is there to assist government and even private business people from South Africa.
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector @TreasuryRSA Gcabashe asked Thabethe who paid for Narayan's flights to and from India. He says the Free State government paid, and more specifically - as it later emerges - Thabethe's own department footed the bill for Magashule's newly-appointed ICT advisor to attend a dairy trip to India.
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector @TreasuryRSA #StateCaptureInquiry Zondo asks Thabethe if he agrees if Thabethe was entrusted with a budget and Thabethe had doubts as to the function of Narayan on the trip, then Thabethe should have raised his grievance over this expenditure for which he did not have any justification.
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector @TreasuryRSA Thabethe agrees. Gcabashe says "it just doesn't sound right" that a private person, a company director, who was not a government official, who does not (on the date of departure) work for the Premier, travelled to India and Thabethe's very department paid for Narayana's travel.
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector @TreasuryRSA #StateCaptureInquiry Thabethe says, "Chair, I should have questioned [...] but I didn't question." Zondo asks if Thabethe agrees, in retrospect, that it was wrong.
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector @TreasuryRSA #StateCaptureInquiry Zondo says they will later explore other instances in which government officials should have questioned how taxpayers' money was being spent but did not question.
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector @TreasuryRSA #StateCaptureInquiry "Was Paras already a partner with the department of Agriculture in the Free State? Were they already a strategic partner?" asks Zondo of the status at the time of the letter on travel to India. Thabethe replies, "Eh, no. Not really. Not really, Chair."
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector @TreasuryRSA #StateCaptureInquiry Zondo asks about funding for the trip, specifically in light of mention of a certain allocation in Thabethe's letter to Magashule, anticipating money coming through. Zondo asks, "What was so urgent?" In other words, why did Thabethe need to go to India then.
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector @TreasuryRSA #StateCaptureInquiry Gcabashe asks Thabethe about mention of certain estimates in the project, including an allocated budget of R17-million for the completion of three dairy plans, and what he submits as reasons for the need for a strategic partner.
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector @TreasuryRSA #StateCaptureInquiry Thabethe says dairy plans are expensive. "Well, let's start with what is a dairy plan?" asks Zondo. Thabethe speaks of various elements he says comprise a dairy plan, including a feasibility study, expert input, building plans, water supply, and other things.
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector @TreasuryRSA #StateCaptureInquiry Gcabashe asks if Thabethe put money to the thought and calculate an estimate on what it was going to cost from beginning to end to establish the three dairy projects.
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector @TreasuryRSA #StateCaptureInquiry "Chair, you can do a desktop study but without having done the due diligence you will not be able to say how much it will cost," says Thabethe.
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector @TreasuryRSA #StateCaptureInquiry "So, you will pay R17-million for a plan for something you might not follow through on?" asks Gcabashe. Thabethe responds that, hence, you do a preliminary study relying mainly, he says, on desktop study.
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector @TreasuryRSA [PARAPHRASED] #StateCaptureInquiry Gcabashe: It can be right, Mr Thabethe, that simply because I have a bright idea taxpayers' money should be thrown at finding out if it is feasible or not. You can't dream up something. It can't be right.
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector @TreasuryRSA #StateCaptureInquiry Thabethe replies, "Chair, I don't agree [...] planning is not as cheap as people sometimes think [...] it requires money." He continues, "You will never know until you have done the study."
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector @TreasuryRSA #StateCaptureInquiry Zondo asks Thabethe why, prior to the completion of a feasibility study, was it necessary to visit India. He asks, "Why couldn't it wait?" Thabethe begins saying the feasibility study requires being informed. "That was very critical to assist us," he says.
@StateCaptureCom @PublicProtector @TreasuryRSA #StateCaptureInquiry Proceedings adjourn. Thabethe is set to return and continue his @StateCaptureCom evidence at 10:00 tomorrow.
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