A row is brewing in Parliament over a donation of 150 buffaloes, 50 rhinos and 50 sable antelopes worth R100-million to politically connected private individuals in North West Province.
Late last year the North West Department of Environmental Affairs gave the animals, free of charge, to three private individuals who the media described as politically connected people or friends on private farms.
Following an expose by Carte Blanche, the NW Province’s Portfolio Committee on Rural Environment and Agricultural Development gave the Agricultural Department’s MEC, Manketsi Tlhape, and her senior management three days to explain the extraordinary gift.
The committee was not happy with her report. The chair of the committee, Gordon Kegakilwe, said it did not explain the criteria for the selection of beneficiaries or the involvement of the Southern African Rare Breeders Association.
Having seemingly stalled at provincial level, the issue was taken up by national parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs which summoned Tlhape to present herself before the committee on November 1 to explain the donation. She was asked to answer:
- The circumstances under which the donations were made;
- The policy used and the date the policy was adopted;
- Whether the department had donated similar high-value species in the past and who were the recipients;
- The details of the species available in the various parks before and after the donation;
- Whether there was any impact on the viability and the breeding potential of the remaining species;
- The capacity, human resources and land of the individuals and/or company that received the animals; and
- Details of the individuals who constitute SARGBA (the company that received the donation).
Despite being given ample notice, Tlhape simply failed to turn up, offering no apology and causing the committee ‘shock and dismay’ at her violation of Parliamentary protocol.
The Chairperson explained that the Committee had received no correspondence from the NW Department or even an apology. He said MEC Tlhape had been invited in writing two weeks perviously but no reply was received. Until now, she has failed to answer any of these questions, in person or in writing.
According to the chairperson of the Portfolio Committee, Philemon Mapulane, ‘the Committee views this non-attendance as a slap in the face on the oversight role of Parliament. Accountability by elected public representatives and public officials is not a luxurious option but an imperative in a constitutional democracy such as ours.’
He pointed out that disregarding a parliamentary summons to appear and account was an offence under South African law.
Committee member T Hadebe (DA) said the donation of state assets to private individuals was a serious offence and it was important to understand what drove the donation and informed the decision by the North West provincial department.
The refusal by Tlhape to offer Parliament an explanation for the wildlife donation follows ongoing claims that NW Province is mismanaging state resources. In July the province was ordered by State Protector Thuli Madonsela to account for R617-million in mining royalties missing from the account of the Bapo Ba Mogale community near Brits. And on Sunday, ANC Secretary-General, Gwede Mantashe claimed the NW Province was ‘plagued with corruption and looting of state resources.
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