R1.2m project scuppered by fraud
THE Department of Land and Rural Development is battling to determine how an alleged fraudster managed to sign and draw a lucrative salary from a R1.2-million loan meant for one of its rural development projects in Limpopo.
Senior officials of the department, who appeared before Parliament's portfolio committee on land reform yesterday to give a progress report on the matter, told MPs that an investigation that was still under way had not yet determined how the alleged fraud happened.
"We haven't found any agreement with the department, the community and Old Mutual," said the department's director of audits and investigations, Rikus Janse van Rensburg.
The alleged conman, Raphael Manhire, reportedly signed a loan agreement with the bank after the department brought him in as a consultant to assist the Macena Women's Garden Cooperative in Muyexe, near Giyani.
According to the group, Manhire allegedly drew a monthly salary of R95,000 from the loan he had allegedly duped the cooperative into signing.
He then disappeared without paying any of the money into the development venture and Old Mutual has since tried to recoup its losses from the struggling community.
But director-general Mduduzi Shabane said the department was still battling to get answers from Old Mutual.
"We will certainly put pressure on Old Mutual for us to meet," he told the portfolio committee on rural development and land reform.
Shabane said the Macena Women's Garden Cooperative was still farming despite being "somewhat crippled".
But MPs chastised him for being tardy in probing the matter. Chairman Stone Sizani said MPs were itching to see an outcome.
He said the implications were huge, considering the saga could reveal that the department's land reform structures were weak and that the community, which was meant to have benefitted, could be rendered bankrupt.
"You would have been seen to have failed that community [if they are bankrupted]," said Sizani.
The group, made up of 36 women, was one of several poverty alleviation projects that President Jacob Zuma launched when he visited the village in August 2009.
Old Mutual could not be reached for comment.