A former head of department in the Free State government, Mpho Mokoena, was handed a 15-year suspended sentence for corruption by the Bloemfontein Magistrate’s Court on Thursday. Mokoena headed up the provincial human settlements department from 2009 to 2011.

His sentencing followed a guilty plea relating to offences he committed while in office, reporting to then MEC Mosebenzi Zwane. Mokoena was one of several former and current officials of the department who testified before the state capture commission last year, detailing the events surrounding a R1-billion housing project earmarked for the 2010/11 financial year. It was on the basis of his part in the project that he was charged.

In September last year he told commission chairperson Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo that Zwane placed pressure on him to approve a list of suppliers that had not been on the department’s database, claiming that it had been endorsed by the executive committee of the province. The MEC would later interfere in the running of the project, said Mokoena, even giving instructions on payments to be made to select suppliers in a rush to avoid having to relinquish the project funding to National Treasury.

According to News24, Mokoena was sentenced to 10 years in prison for corruption, and another five years for the contravention of the Public Finance Management Act, which governs public procurement. Both sentences were wholly suspended, meaning that the former HOD would not spend any time in prison.

Of the R1.4-billion allocated by the National Department of Human Settlements to the low cost housing project under his watch, over R500-million was used in November and December 2010 to pre-stock building materials before any work was done, Mokoena claimed before the commission. This was as part of a bizarre scheme which, according to him, was orchestrated by Zwane.

Mokoena told the commission that he was opposed to the plan, which Zwane introduced as a solution to a warning from the national department that it would pull back funding allocated for that financial year if no project milestones were reached, and re-allocate it to a better performing province.

National Prosecuting Authority spokesperson Phaladi Shuping told News24 that the department was expected to use the funds in the same financial year for purposes they were allocated.

“The State alleges that the advance payment for equipment and materials formed part of a fraudulent scheme which was conceived by the officials in the department to disburse substantial sums of money to selected suppliers and contractors, in order to avoid the funds becoming unspent conditional allocation.”

At the time of his appearance, Zondo asked Mokoena what his view would be if he was found to have downplayed his part in the scheme, to which he replied: “The origin of the scheme came from the MEC as advised.”