Light shed on R22m that was 'unaccounted for'

The R22-million allocated for special wildlife projects was not unaccounted for; it was just not recorded on the annual financial statement, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife board chairperson Patrick Sokhela said on Friday.

 

He was speaking at a media briefing in Pietermaritzburg relating to R22-million that provincial minister for agriculture and environmental affairs Mtholephi Mthimkhulu said was unaccounted for in the organisation’s 2006/07 financial statement.

 

At a briefing held last week, Mthimkhulu said that accounting firm Deloitte and Touche had been appointed to carry out a forensic investigation into the management of the organisation—which has control of most of the province’s wildlife parks, including the Isimangaliso Wetlands Park (formerly the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park) and the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Park.

 

Mthimkhulu said an audit had been done but that an amount of R22-million could not be accounted for.

 

He said Deloitte & Touche’s investigation would cover corporate credit cards, supply-chain management issues, personnel, company houses, corporate government, revenue collected and sources of revenue.

 

Sokhela on Friday said the board had always accounted for the money.

He said R22-million was meant for projects of poverty alleviation, nature conservation and alien plant eradication.

 

Ilan Lax, another board member, explained that most of the funds were meant to be spent on wages for things such as training people to build and fix fences, build pathways and eradicate alien plants in protected and unprotected parts of the province.

 

Sokhela, meanwhile, said that the unrecorded R22-million was individually audited by an independent firm, KPMG.

 

“We facilitated several special projects on behalf of the national Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism ... there are very specific requirements which require that we maintain accurate records, that we report on a monthly basis to the funders, and that financial statements are audited by KPMG,” he said.

 

“Ezemvelo Wildlife has a comprehensive listing of these projects for 2006/2007, of which the total balance as at March 31 2007 was R22 million ... the board has always accounted for these projects independently on the basis that the board was the implementing agent and not the owner of the specified projects,” he continued.

 

He said the audit committee was concerned about the manner in which the project finances were reported.

 

“On July 11 2007, when it was too late to review this policy in the 2006/2007 financial year, a technical opinion was received from the Auditor General indicating the need for the organisation to amend this policy,” said Sokhela.

 

He said the requirements had since been met and would be reviewed in the 2007/2008 audit report.

 

“This is our reason on why the R22-million was not recorded in the financial statements,” he said.

 

Mthimkhulu last week said the KZN Wildlife board would be relieved of its accounting duties for a period of four months while the forensic investigation is under way.

Answering questions from journalists, Sokhela said that this did not mean that they had been fired or suspended.

 

“We are not going to step down because some people want to achieve initiatives beyond us ... People think we are in the business of hospitality but we are not.”

 

The board would continue to perform its fiduciary and oversight functions.

 

He could not say who would be overseeing the board’s finances during that investigation time. Sokhela said he would wait for official notification but that according to the law, it would have to be someone “functionary in the organisation”.

 

He added that there was no breakdown of communication between Mthimkhulu’s department and Ezemvelo.

 

He did, however, say that problems within the Department of Agriculture had affected relations with Ezemvelo.

 

Sokhela said they were also concerned about statements made at last week’s briefing about “possible irregularities” relating to the usage of corporate credit cards, company houses, revenue collected and other things.

 

He, however, stressed that the board would cooperate with the department during the investigation and “would support any disciplinary or criminal proceedings against any person identified as being responsible for irregular conduct.”—Sapa

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