A culture of fear exists among Free State government officials wanting to fend off malfeasance, the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture heard on Monday.
During his appearance before the commission — chaired by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo — Roy Jankielsohn, a member of the Free State legislature, said officials in the provincial government are at the mercy of their MECs when it comes to instructions that they may deem unlawful.
Jankielsohn was the first person to complain to the public protector about the Vrede dairy project and the Free State government’s 2013 agreement with Gupta-linked Estina to set up the milk processing plant.
In the deal, it was agreed that the Free State government would invest R342-million in the project and that Estina would receive a 49% share of the project with an additional R228-million investment.
“There is a culture of fear that if you speak out of any malfeasance, there will be consequences,” Jankielsohn said, adding that “ultimately you could die if you speak out”.
He added: “It is very difficult for an official to tell their MEC that they will not implement this project because it is illegal.”
Jankielsohn was responding to the findings of Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane, who released her report on the Vrede Dairy Project in February last year. Jankielsohn sent three separate complaints on the matter starting in September 2013.
In his complaints to the public protector, Jankielsohn submitted that the Free State government’s investment in the project was subject to hugely inflated costs and that it had no guarantee that Estina would hold up its side of the bargain.
In her report Mkhwebane recommended as remedial action that the Free State premier should “initiate and institute disciplinary action against all implicated officials involved in the Vrede dairy project”.
The report sparked public criticism after it failed to make findings against Ace Magashule, who was the Free State premier during the establishment of the farm, and Mosebenzi Zwane, the MEC of agriculture at that time.
In May, the high court in Pretoria ruled to set aside the Vrede report. Mkhwebane responded to the ruling, saying she disagreed with it “fundamentally”.
On Monday, Jankielsohn said he believed that the public protector’s investigation “should have been extended to look into the politicians”.
In 2017, the so-called Gupta leaks emails showed the extent of the family’s involvement in the Estina deal despite denials by the Guptas, the provincial government and Kamal Vasram, the sole director and shareholder in the project, who was previously a salesperson for the Gupta-owned Sahara Computers.
The emails revealed how R30-million from the dairy farm was allegedly laundered to pay for the infamous Sun City wedding in 2013.
From the emails, amaBhungane established how R144-million from the province was transferred to Estina and then to a company in Dubai linked to the Guptas, called Gateway. From Gateway, amaBhungane reported, the money was transferred into six other accounts, five of which belonged to Gupta-linked companies.
Magashule’s ties to the Guptas have been scrutinised since it emerged that his son, Tshepiso, had worked for Mabengela Investments — a company belonging to Rajesh Gupta and former president Jacob Zuma’s son, Duduzane.
Zwane has also been linked to the Guptas, who allegedly took him and his gospel choir on an all-expenses-paid Indian tour in 2012. The details of the trip emerged in the Gupta leaks emails.