By Sifiso Sibandze
The net is closing in on former National Maize Corporation (NMC) top-ranking officials and a few junior officers who allegedly played a role in the mismanagement of over E90 million for the farm input subsidy programme and in the disappearance of over 40 tonnes of white maize valued at E222 000.
Preliminary findings of the ongoing forensic investigations by Qobla Quashie and Associates launched by former Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Rechi Dlamini are fingering key members of the previous management that were led by Sabelo Msibi, Dlamini’s predecessor.
According to well-placed sources, the investigations have lifted the lid and exposed how some of the individuals (names deliberately withheld as investigations are still ongoing) had a hand in the mismanagement of the funds in unauthorized expenditure and disregarding proper accounting standards.
The Eswatini Financial Times has reliably learnt that those fingered individuals could soon be thrown into the dock on charges of fraud and corruption as investigations draw to an end. The mismanagement of the funds took place between 2018-2021 during the tenure of Msibi’s led management. Msibi left the organization in 2020 following the board’s refusal to renew his contract.
The investigation was launched by Msibi’s successor (Rechi) who was confronted with a damning audit query from the Auditor General when she entered into office in April 2021. Following the launch of the investigation, the Eswatini Financial Times has reliably established that Dlamini started receiving threats which compelled her to resign from her position mid-last year, hardly 18 months into her job. She has since been replaced by Mavela Vilane.
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Dlamini found that under the previous leadership, over E90 million was mishandled between 2018 – 2021, imperilling over 22 000 farmers who depend on the farm input subsidy programme. The AG, Timothy Matsebula’s audit found that total funds that were transferred to NMC by the government from 2018 -2021 were not accounted for, nor disclosed by the Corporation in its financial statements.
The breakdown of the unaccounted-for funds transferred to the Corporation concludes that for the financial year 2018/19, E11 million was transferred, and for the 2019/20 financial year, E39 220 970 was moved, and for 2020/21, a transfer of E40 million was made.
It was also discovered that the corporation received collections from farmers for tractor hire services and farming inputs fees, which remain unaccounted for and unreported to the public (citizens), something the AG said was a matter of concern.
Notwithstanding that these activities had the hallmarks of fraud, and corruption, the Ministry of Agriculture has come out to absolve the National NMC from the suspicious expenditures detected by the Auditor General.
The Ministry’s Principal Secretary Sydney Simelane said there is nothing untoward regarding the findings of the AG. “As a ministry, we understand what led to this scenario which was misconstrued to be a fraudulent act by the Corporation,” he said.
Pressed to shed more light on his assertions, Simelane said the problem began in 2018 when the government transferred the farming input subsidy programme and the tractor hire service to be the responsibility of NMC but without providing funding.
According to Simelane, this compelled NMC to use her operational funds to ensure that farmers were not imperilled by the lack of funds from the government. He said it was going to be politically improper for NMC and the government to default on the provision of the farming inputs and tractor hire service to farmers as that was going to result in food shortage.
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Simelane said the issue of unaccounted-for funds is neither here nor there because NMC was doing things hastily to save a situation which might have been catastrophic to the country.
“We are not disputing what the AG found, but we are saying we understand that NMC used money that was not allocated for the two programmes for farmers but operational funds which is wrong in accounting, hence we take full responsibility as the ministry in that regard,” Simelane said.
Simelane said another key contributor to this quagmire was that the government took a long time to reimburse NMC for its used funds which coincided with the audit. “By the time the audit was conducted, NMC was found with the questionable transactions because it used the money for wrong expenditures,” he said.
Simelane was quick to say, he does not rule out that there could be people who took the advantage of the situation and fraudulently accumulated some quick bucks, hence the ministry ordered the board to institute an investigation to establish if the monies were properly spent and not pocketed by some individuals.
Asked about the mysterious disappearance of the over 40 tonnes of maize which was allegedly orchestrated by some employees of the Corporation, Simelane said that was part of the investigations.
“I do not want to talk about what is being investigated because that may jeopardize the process. We have confidence in the board, the new CEO and CFO and we will wait for them to give us the report. If it would be discovered that there were people who looted the Corporation, the law will take its course and nothing else,” he said.
Notwithstanding the PS’ comments, recently appointed NMC Chief Executive Officer Mavela Vilane said he was not aware of an ongoing forensic investigation but an audit of NMC’s books following the transfer of the Farm Input Subsidy Programme and the Tractor Hire Service from the Ministry of Agriculture.
Vilane said he has been made to understand that an audit of NMC’s accounts had to be conducted after the transfer of the new programmes to establish if they were properly implemented.
“There were some findings from the audit but not alarming to a point where we can shy away from the media and strategies are being developed to address those discovered queries,” Vilane said.