In case you missed it: Nothing but dust to see on multimillion project

Calls to pull plug on R19m protea farm after alleged mismanagement of funds

What was meant to be the start of a thriving multimillion-rand protea farming project is yet to get off the ground in an Eastern Cape village – despite R2.5m apparently already having been paid for 290,000 plant cuttings.
The money was paid in March and April for a project meant to export the country’s national plant to international markets.
The department of rural development and agrarian reform roped in the Eastern Cape Rural Development Agency to implement the project in the village of Tshabo in Berlin. The overall budget for the flower project for the 2018-19 financial year was R19.1m.
However, questions have been raised with rural development and agrarian reform MEC Xolile Nqatha asking the agency’s board to motivate why he should not disband the project for alleged mismanagement of funds.
This is because the agency spent R2.5m on protea cuttings, allegedly without following correct and proper procurement processes – which the agency has vehemently denied.
The protea project was to be followed by a R6.2m venture farming snails for local restaurant tables.
A Daily Dispatch team visited the communal land in Tshabo earmarked for the project on Thursday and was greeted by five donkeys grazing alone. The land meant for a greenhouse tunnel and storage has been fenced but no activity is taking place.
Cooperatives meant to benefit from the Tshabo flora enterprises, which included a planned community nursery, are in the dark about why the project has not taken off. Some villagers had pinned their hopes of finding employment on the project.
Bhisho legislature standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) political boss Max Mahlati said Nqatha’s plan to disband the board was long overdue.
Nqatha told Scopa he had written to the board asking it to furnish him with reasons why he should not disband it. He had given them a week to respond.
Mahlati said the board should account.
“Eastern Cape communities cannot be expected to pay R2.5m in taxes towards a flower project while they go hungry every night.
“The agency budgeted for the construction of a Red Hub in the Tshabo area, but since changed that and started a snails and flower project. They allegedly paid R2.5m before even the flowers were delivered. No proper procurement was done by the agency.
“From what we have witnessed, public funds are just being looted in that agency. How are our rural people going to benefit?”
ECRDA spokesperson Nobathembu Pako said everything had been done above board.
“ECRDA ordered 290,000 king protea, lucospermum (pincushions) and leucadendron (conebushes) plant cuttings. This is the planting stock material which will form the basis for the establishment of the Tshabo flora enterprises including a community nursery.”
However Pako refused to name the supplier who she said had been paid for the plants. She said the plants were to have been delivered to ECRDA in August “but delivery was delayed because the Tshabo budget had been re-allocated to other supported entities”.
“We are mobilising resources for the project,” Pako said.
“An entity may pay a deposit to a supplier as set down in the PFMA [Public Finance Management Act] if it is a condition set by the supplier. In this industry, it is common and was indeed required by the supplier. The payment made by the ECRDA is a 50% deposit to order the planting material which has a lead time of four months for propagation.”
Pako said the project had not been abandoned. “The longer term aim is to build a thriving protea flower industry and value-chain, with Tshabo as the central point of an industry that will tap a lucrative domestic and export market for a high-value commodity.”
Meanwhile villagers said they were still waiting for the project to commence.
Vukani Mandlambe Cooperative member Lelethu Pike said they were in the dark about the timelines of the proteas project.
“We don’t know what is really happening,” said Pike, who led the Dispatch to the fenced piece of land. “This is where the greenhouse tunnels and storage is supposed to be,” he said pointing to a bare field.
Like many of the villagers, Pike is unemployed and sees the planned project as his way out of poverty. “I do get a disability grant but that is not what I want for my life. I want to work for my children,” he said.
Vukani Mandlambe Cooperative chairperson Nomsinyane Bangani said they last met with agency representatives in August after the storage fence was completed.
“At the time they told us a tender would go out for levelling of the tunnel and storage.”
Ngwenyathi Agricultural and Multipurpose Project chair Khanyiso Dungu in nearby Fort Murray said the 10ha meant for the snail project had been fenced and some equipment bought, but it was standing still.
“Nothing is currently happening – we are still waiting to hear from ECRDA,” he said.
Dungu said his main concern was the bank account they had opened was about to be closed because no money was coming in.
Chief Andile Makinana of AmaNdlambe in Fort Murray confirmed that a meeting between the villagers and ECRDA was scheduled for later this month.
“There seems to be some hindrance. We need to know what is preventing this project from starting and hopefully this meeting will shed some light,” he said, adding that no date for the meeting had been confirmed...

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