Ace Magashule would get rid of ‘tedious’ public finance laws if ‘I had my power’

The Free State's man of action apparently thinks the best way to avoid being called a criminal is to avoid having laws that look down on 'speedy implementation'.

In an interview with the Mail & Guardian this week, Free State Premier Ace Magashule bemoaned the laws governing how state officials are allowed to spend public money for service delivery and other causes.

He charged that the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) is “stifling radical economic transformation”.

Magashule has been the province’s premier for the past decade and the ANC’s provincial chairperson since the 1990s. In that time, the existence of the PFMA has in any case often proven not much of a hurdle to his spending ambitions, especially in the case of a controversial website the province commissioned and spent R40 million on.

According to allegations by the DA and others, the Letlaka Group that benefited from building the most expensive taxpayer-funded website in South Africa also benefited from other projects that had never properly gone out on tender.

These included, according to the M&G:

  • Payment of R2.6 million for the management of the premier’s 2009 state of the province address
  • A R4.175 million advertising contract being awarded to the Weekly newspaper, allegedly owned and run by Letlaka, without going to tender
  • Landing a R300 000 monthly contract for the printing and distribution of government marketing material
  • Receiving R12 million annually for Hlasela TV, which Letlaka manages and broadcasts to 100 public buildings and institutions in the Free State

The DA also claimed the provincial government had spent about R1.6 million on adverts over three months in the Weekly.

There’s also the matter of a R570 million dairy farm Magashule’s office had a direct hand in, with yet another M&G investigation showing Treasury had launched a full-scale investigation of the Estina dairy after suggestions that a deal with “a company without agricultural experience and led by a computer sales manager flouted Treasury rules and was designed to milk provincial government coffers”.

The Gupta family was reported to have “proximity to the project and several of the role players”.

The Free State agriculture department did not follow any supply chain procedures when agreeing to fund the project through Estina. It did “no due diligence on Estina or its claimed partnership with a major dairy company in India. The Free State paid grants directly into Estina’s bank account and the responsible official admitted she had no real evidence of how the money was being spent. A ‘feasibility study’ was done only after the contract was signed.”

A “loosely drafted” contract was allegedly drawn up by Magashule’s legal adviser and approval for the project was rushed through despite the fact there was no budget, no feasibility study and no urgency.

There are other examples of how the free-wheeling Magashule likes to run things in the heartland of South Africa.

He moaned to the M&G this week that the PFMA has “long, tedious processes before you can actually achieve anything”. He added that, in his view, South Africa was trying to act too much like a “Western” country, instead of a developing country.

The PFMA was carefully drafted to place curbs on public officials’ ability to abuse their power, creating checks and balances on spending in the interests of combating corruption. It slows down the pace at which things happen, in the interests of having them happen in a uniform, clean, financially sound and cost-effective manner.

Magashule, however, says the problem with the way he would like to do things is not his approach, per se. The real problem is the laws preventing him from doing what he feels is necessary.

“If I had my power, I would just do things tomorrow,” he is quoted as saying this week.

Magashule has emerged as a dark horse for the presidency of the ANC and the country, with none other than EFF leader Julius Malema saying he’s a man to keep an eye on.

He’s likely to at the very least be nominated for the position of party secretary-general by Zuma-loyal cadres in the ANC Youth League, including its top leaders, as well as numerous regional ANC structures.

He told the M&G this week he was reluctant to say anything about his own further leadership ambitions.

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