Former Free State MEC for finance and former director-general in the office of the provincial premier, Elizabeth Cornelia Rockman, on Wednesday gave evidence at the commission of inquiry into state capture relating to the failed Vrede dairy farm project which was meant to be implemented in the province by Gupta-linked Estina.
Rockman told the commission about a meeting she had with Tony Gupta on April 2013 in which the latter complained that the provincial government had not paid Estina an outstanding R84 million. At the time the company had been paid R30 million of the R114 million which was payable within 12 months.
Evidence leader at the commission advocate Leah Gcabashe asked Rockman whether she had a discussion with Gupta that the money was in fact not owed to Estina because it was funding for implementing a government project and furthermore, whether she had discussed with him that the 12-month period the money was payable had not lapsed.
“We did not discuss it at that level that you are referring to,” Rockman responded.
Rockman told the commission that Free State Treasury did not know what discussions and agreements Estina had with the provincial department of agriculture, which it had entered into an agreement with for the implementation of the Vrede dairy project.
“Our [role] was more cash management and oversight,” Rockman said, explaining that in terms of progress on the project, all provincial Treasury knew was based on information provided by the provincial department of agriculture.
Rockman also told the commission about a meeting she had with Gupta in early 2014 following media reports that cows were dying on the dairy farm.
Following the media reports, concerns over this were raised with the former head of the Free State department of agriculture, Peter Thabethe, said Rockman.
The meeting with Gupta was at the family’s residence in Saxonwold, Johannesburg, and was attended by a Gupta associate Ashok Narayan and the concerns over the death of the cows were expressed.
However, she told the commission that following the media reports, the SPCA conducted a site inspection of the farm which was followed by a report which stated there was no cause for concern on the project.
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Gcabashe said the commission was in possession of records that suggested Rockman had attended “roughly” 20 meetings with Gupta.
“I think there was quite a number of meetings that were planned but never took place,” Rockman said, explaining that two or three of these meetings were cancelled at the last minute when she had arrived at Saxonwold.
Rockman told the commission that during her time as director-general, former Free State premier Ace Magashule would have known about her meetings relating to the New Age newspaper.
Rockman said she had never attended a meeting with Gupta in which either of the following persons was present, Magashule, Thabethe, former Free State MEC for Agriculture Mosebenzi Zwane, Gupta-linked Sahara Computers’ Ashu Chawla, and Evan Tak.
Gcabashe said some of those meetings, it would appear, had to deal with the office of the premier purchasing laptops from a company associated with Sahara Computers.
Rockman said during her time as director-general, the office of the premier did purchase laptops.
She also said she did not recall meeting with Estina’s sole director at the time when the company entered into the agreement with the provincial department of agriculture.
Rockman said she did not recall whether she attended Diwali celebrations held by the Guptas in November 2010, however, she said though she had been invited to the family wedding in 2013, she did not go to it.
Gcabashe said there was speculation that the wedding was paid for with the R84 million paid to Estina in three tranches on April 18, 26 and May 3 2013.
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