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Department and tea company slam ‘lies’


The director of Optirel8, Brenda Mpitsang, said she was made to open a joint bank account with the chief financial officer at the department

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THE NIEUWOUDTVILLE Rooibos Company and the Northern Cape Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development have dismissed any suggestion of impropriety following a dispute that arose over the Agro-Processing and Investment Trade Fair that was supposed to start today.

The project manager of the Agro-Processing and Investment Trade Fair, Optirel8, detected various irregularities in events leading up to the cancellation of the event and intends taking legal action against the Department of Agriculture, Rural Development and Land Reform.

The director of Optirel8, Brenda Mpitsang, said she was made to open a joint bank account with the chief financial officer at the department.

She stated that she was provided with conflicting information, where she was made to sign the service level agreement with Nieuwoudtville Rooibos instead of the department.

It was also discovered that a chief director and the HOD at the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development were registered as the directors of the Nieuwoudtville Rooibos company, which is listed as a private company.

Mpitsang disputed the reasons provided by the department why the event could not take place, where she was informed that it had not attracted enough sponsors and delegates.

“I am still receiving calls from interested parties wanting to register. I approached several sponsors who committed to invest substantially in the trade fair as the event stood to be profitable and would draw huge investment opportunities and agricultural benefits to the Province,” said Mpitsang.

The general manager of Nieuwoudtville Rooibos (Pty) Ltd, Malcolm Baard, yesterday stated that they had instructed their attorneys “to seek clarifications on the distortions, innuendoes and lies” before deciding on their next course of action.

“At no stage did Nieuwoudtville Rooibos company offer to continue with the partnership. In our view, the relationship between ourselves and Optirel8 was terminated. We have the responsibility to protect our brand and the good name of the business.”

The spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, Ali Diteme, added that the “allegations and distortions” surrounding the Agro-Processing Investment and Trade Fair were “materially distorted, substantively inaccurate and full of lies”.

“There is always a temptation to sue government on such matters. We welcome the intended litigation and will vigorously oppose it.”

Diteme was convinced that there was no legal or factual basis to sue the department.

“We, however, reserve the right to defend any legal action at any platform or competent court of law should the matter arise.”

Diteme pointed out that the department had not entered into any agreement with Optirel8.

“The only agreement that was signed before the agreement was terminated between this company and the Nieuwoudtville Rooibos company.

“We also need to clarify that the agreement was cancelled as a result of the material breach where Optirel8 failed to deliver on its agreed scope of service. This includes the provision of a costed and funding business plan, development of a programme for the trade and investment fair for the factory.”

He added that the company was obliged to but had not succeeded in inviting and registering participants, allocating and selling space for the participants, submitting a list for all exhibitors and applications and marketing the event.

“Parties agreed that the event could only proceed if 75 percent of the projected number of investors confirmed attendance and payments were received. Despite numerous attempts to get Optirel8 to provide us with progress reports, this request fell on deaf ears.”

Diteme indicated that the joint bank account that was opened by Optirel8 and the chief financial officer (CFO) of the department, as of yesterday had a negative balance due to withdrawals in respect of bank charges, as there were no deposits, apart from R100 that was paid in by the CFO.

Diteme said the contracting partner had decided to cancel the event to avoid incurring financial losses due to the expenses of providing transport, catering and accommodation for the invited guests and delegates.

“Two weeks before the event, Mpitsang requested the department to invite farmers as substitutes to the investors whom she was unable to secure. The department flatly rejected this proposal as the event would have been turned into a ‘rent a crowd’ and defeated the aim of attracting investment for the agro-processing industry in the Province.”

He indicated that while the Northern Cape executive council supported the Agro-Processing Investment and Trade Fair as a great initiative to promote trade and investment in the Province, it was regrettable that it could not proceed as scheduled.

“We will make an announcement on the way forward at an appropriate time.”