By Emma Rumney
JOHANNESBURG, Dec 21 (Reuters) – A top official in South Africa’s ruling party, Ace Magashule, did not properly oversee a public-private dairy farm project and his actions amounted to maladministration and improper conduct, the country’s anti-corruption watchdog said on Monday.
Prosecutors say that 220 million rand ($14.81 million) of public money invested in the project to support poor farmers in the central province of Free State was siphoned off, including to accounts linked to the influential Gupta family, which had close links with politicians under former South Africa president Jacob Zuma. The Guptas have previously denied wrongdoing.
Magashule, who was premier of Free State at the time and is now secretary general of the African National Congress (ANC), has faced a number of serious allegations and corruption charges for conduct during his tenure.
On Monday Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane said she had concluded that individuals linked to the Guptas had “undue influence” on politicians and the project.
Magashule and some of his colleagues had failed to execute their oversight responsibilities properly even after being notified of irregularities, and this amounted to “maladministration and improper conduct”, she said.
Magashule’s lawyer did not respond immediately to a message seeking comment.
Mkhwebane recommended that Magashule and several other members of Free State’s executive authority be given training on their accountability and oversight responsibilities and for her report to be taken into account by prosecutors conducting a criminal investigation into the project.
Mkhwebane herself has faced criticism in some quarters. A series of court judgments have overturned some of her previous findings and she has also been accused of targeting allies of President Cyril Ramaphosa on behalf of an opposing ANC faction, which she denies.
Magashule is from a group that has at times appeared at odds with Ramaphosa since he replaced Zuma in February 2018. ($1 = 14.8505 rand)
(Reporting by Emma Rumney Editing by David Goodman)
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