/ 30 September 2008

Land Bank head in new probe

The Land Bank’s former acting chief executive, Phil Mohlahlane, has been put on special leave while his activities at the bank are scrutinised further by a forensic investigation.

Mohlahlane is a Deputy Director General in the Agriculture Department, where he heads the black-farmers’ support section. He was transferred to head the embattled bank in mid-2007 after the resignation of chief executive Alan Mukoki.

The Mail & Guardian has established from various Land Bank sources that his “special leave” is directly related to a “damning” forensic audit report by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) into an AgriBEE fund transferred with him from the department to the Land Bank.

The fund had assets of R100-million at the beginning of last year.

Priscilla Sehoola, agriculture department spokesperson, confirmed the investigation to the M&G.

“Emanating from media issues around events that unfolded while he was still CEO at the Land Bank, Deputy Director General Mohlahlane is on special leave to allow for internal investigations to proceed,” she said.

Sehoola would not elaborate on the investigations, but the M&G has established that PWC’s first report unearthed such serious irregularities that the bank’s board decided to expand the audit firm’s contract and scope of work.

The newly appointed Director General of Agriculture, Njabulo Nduli, is understood to be leading the charge against Mohlahlane. The two allegedly have a history of animosity.

Irregularities in the AgriBEE fund were first exposed by the bank’s former chief financial officer, Xolile Ncame, who focused on the millions of rands paid by the fund via the Land Bank to various companies.

Ncame’s dossier, of which the M&G has a copy, shows the AgriBEE fund disbursed more than R80-million in a few months on projects such as a biofuels pilot plant in Mpumalanga, a feedlot and dairies.

Ncame brought the matter to the attention of the board, but was fired in July this year after an internal disciplinary hearing found him guilty of breaching policy by forwarding the dossier to the bank’s external auditors, Ernst & Young.

However, the Land Bank’s former board chairperson, Themba Langa, appointed PWC to investigate Ncame’s claims.

Langa has been quoted saying that the board was unaware of the fund’s existence, as it was not reflected in the Land Bank’s books.

Shortly after probing the matter the Minister of Agriculture and Land Affairs, Lulu Xingwana, fired Langa.
A source close to the PWC investigation said the report paints Mohlahlane in a bad light.

“The irregularities in the fund occurred during Phil’s stint at the Land Bank.

“He invested in dubious projects and that raised flags. He has to account and answer for his actions and that was why the PWC ­investigation was launched,” the source said.

Another Land Bank source said the report could lead to criminal charges .

Numerous attempts to contact Mohlahlane on his cellphone and at home last week failed.