Speech notes for Agriculture and Agrarian Reform annual report debate, Athol Trollip, MPL, 19 November 2013

Agriculture is the cornerstone of the Eastern Cape’s economic well-being and by far the majority of the people of this province rely on making a living on or from the land and the majority of the poor people of this province find themselves living in the depressed platteland of the province or in the two former Bantustans of the Transkei and the Ciskei. The past 100 odd years have seen the agricultural activity and productivity of these two former homelands decline to a point where there was almost no commercial agricultural productivity taking place with the exception of the brief window period when the former Apartheid regime ploughed resources into the former parastatals of TRACOR and ULIMOCOR.

These parastatals set up irrigation schemes that showed what could potentially be produced but they weren’t sustainable for a number of reasons. Chief amongst these was the fact that they were heavily subsidized, (the “beneficiaries” did not own the land or the “enterprises”, there was limited skills transfer, they were not self-sustaining and they eventually collapsed when artificial and unsustainable subsidisation was withdrawn.

The legacy of the 1913 Native Land Act and its centenary commemoration this year should be a salutary reminder to all of us in government but especially to those who hold the levers of power and that manipulate the reins of control that we cannot waste one more day to redress this horrific legacy.

In this regard the DA wants to place on record that we do recognise that there are endeavours to redress this legacy and that we have seen some instances of successful land and agrarian reform, but that there are still too many instances of failed initiatives that flatter only to deceive the desperate communities who so desperately need to be lifted out of poverty and dependency.

MEC, your comment in one of the portfolio committee meetings in response to the questions about whether “Masibambisane” or “Fetsa Nlala” was the program to be followed in Agrarian Reform, speaks volumes. You said, “There is no difference between ukubambana okanye uku fetsa, it’s all about putting seed in the soil to produce”

Well MEC there is actually an enormous difference because Masibambisane is a President led initiative where there are many allegations of impropriety and nepotism and these are the cancers that erode our resources and that militate against successful and prosperous land reform.

MEC, your passion for agriculture and agrarian reform is commendable but it is simply not enough to run a successful and sustainable department.

It is one thing for the bird that heralds the onset of Spring to sound its call of “Pezkomkhono” and an entirely different thing to putting your department’s collective hand on the plough. Your romantization of agriculture is misleading at best because all the claims you make about the Eastern Cape being the best livestock production province and the best maize, potato, cabbage and pumpkin production province ring hollow in the ears of the communities that wait in vain for real self-sustaining agricultural and agrarian reform.

Your agrarian reform model of your department farming for beneficiaries of land reform and communities living in traditional areas has failed the world over and will fail here too. This is not to mention the failure of initiatives such as Kangela in the Sundays River Valley and Magwa in Lusikisiki.

MEC, we recommend that you identify what defines the key ingredient to successful agriculture projects and that you replicate this model and stop implementing projects that are based on guaranteed to fail principles.

Your anecdotal stories about the category of tractors that were given directly to individuals that were part of co-ops and traditional leaders that registered these in their names and then refused to use them for the benefit of the intended communities, is not a poor reflection on them, it is a poor reflection on you and your department. Just as the purchase of the Cedarville farms in KZN that have become largely unproductive since being acquired at a premium by you when Mayor of the Alfred Nzo district municipality are not a poor reflection on the individuals tasked with managing them, (Including your husband), they are a poor reflection on you.

The Auditor General’s report in this annual report and the departments responses to SCOPA on the Auditor General’s report are also a sombre reflection on you and your senior departmental managers and the accounting officer.

It is criminal to underspend by R14,2 million in the administration of this department. It is worse to underspend by R16 million in sustainable resource management and totally unacceptable to underspend by R19,9 million in farmer support and development. What makes this all the more unpalatable is the fact that the responses given to our committee and SCOPA don’t inspire any confidence that this won’t happen again. In fact your ½ yearly report again shows under expenditure.

There is a common thread of misstated achievements that cast doubt on the integrity of the reporting of this department. This misinformation by certain officials also seems to go unaddressed and the lack of consequences therefor will ensure that it will continue.

There is a decided lack of risk management with regard to financial and performance management. This gives rise to the existence of an environment where some officials manipulate and abuse state resources to their own ends at the cost of the community so desperately in need of service delivery. Despite the fact that there is finally a law against officials doing business with the department, this practise prevails and there isn’t even a written notice/memo of prohibition from the departmental leadership.

Finally, the most damning finding of all can be found on page 127 of the Auditor General’s report. He states:

“The accounting officer did not take effective steps to prevent irregular, fruitless and wasteful expenditure as required by the PFMA and treasury regulations. As a result, irregular and wasteful expenditure amounting to R294 million was incurred which relates to contravention of laws and regulations for supply chain management and compensation of employees”

The Auditor General also slams the human resource management, employment processes and the compensation of employees practises of the department.

All of this is captured in the Auditor General’s findings on the leadership of the department which is you and your Director General, Mr Ngada, where he says:

“The oversight process of leadership was not effective in that it did not monitor the implementation of the action plans to address audit findings and implementation of recommendations to prevent repeat audit findings related to annual financial statements, annual performance report and compliance with laws and regulations”

“There is a lack of standard operating procedures for accurate recording of ACTUAL ACHIEVEMENTS……”

“Leadership did not implement effective human resource management to ensure that adequate and sufficiently skilled resources are in place and that performance is monitored since critical senior management positions in the finance department remained vacant during the year”.

This, MEC is an indictment on you. Your deficient leadership and management militates against this department achieving its 3 main strategic objectives. These failures also leave the department vulnerable to risk that compromises service delivery – Yeka ukuzingomba esifubeni, Kwela Pezkomkhono!!