Free State government distances itself from Estina dairy court case

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Public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane attending court proceedings at the North Gauteng High Court after the Democratic Alliance brought an application against her report on the Vrede Dairy Farm project. FILE PHOTO: Brenda Masilela / African News Agency (ANA)

The Free State provincial government says that although it was not cited in the Estina dairy high court case, it will study the judgment and respond if compelled to do so.

The High Court in Pretoria on Monday set aside Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s 2018 report on the Estina dairy project meant to benefit poor farmers in Vrede, Free State.

Judge Ronel Tolmay said the report was unconstitutional and invalid, ruling in favour of the Democratic Alliance and the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (Casac) who brought the application to court last year.

The Free State government’s director-general Kopung Ralikontsane said his province would respond “if necessary”.

“Unfortunately, the Free State government was not party to the case in question, as the applicants did not cite us as an interested party. We will continue to make practical steps and efforts in ensuring that we sharpen and deepen our commitment towards the principles of sound financial management and good governance. We shall also continue to cooperate with all authorities which conduct investigations within our jurisdiction,” said Ralikontsane in a statement.

At least R200 million in public funds meant for Vrede black farmers allegedly flowed to Estina, a company linked to the controversial Gupta family. Some of the money was allegedly used to pay for the Guptas’ lavish family wedding at the Sun City resort in 2013.

The DA and Casac accused Mkhwebane of failing to do her job, saying she narrowed down the scope of the investigation to exonerate politicians in the Free State. They further accused her of altering a provisional report on Estina by her predecessor Thuli Madonsela.

On Monday, Mkhwebane’s office said she was “astonished” by Tolmay’s ruling and would consider approaching the Constitutional Court.

Her spokesperson, Oupa Segalwe, said: “Advocate Mkhwebane is still considering the option to appeal or apply for direct access to the Constitutional Court regarding Monday’s ruling of the North Gauteng High Court [in Pretoria] on her investigation into the Estina dairy farm project, which ruling she disagrees with fundamentally.

“She is concerned over among other things that, in setting aside the entire report, the ruling might be interpreted as though the court condones the maladministration attributed to the parties against whom adverse findings were made.”

African News Agency / The Citizen