Speech notes: Reaction to SOPA 2020 by Retief Odendaal, MPL

Issued by Retief Odendaal, MPL
Shadow MEC for Rural Development and Agrarian Reform

Speaker, in his first newsletter of the year President Cyril Rampahosa spoke about the pressing need to build a capable state.

He said and I quote:

“A capable state starts with the people who work in it. Officials and managers must possess the right financial and technical skills, and other expertise.”

While the Hon Premier was addressing us last Tuesday in his state of the province address, he referred to his own commitment to build a capable state, stating that:

“Our program to grow the Eastern Cape Province depends on the commitment of public servants, both elected and employed, to work with diligence and humility in serving the people of this province.­ We need a culture change in the public administration to conscientise public servants to know that they are employed to serve our people.”

I put it to the Hon Premier, Madam Speaker, that while I wholeheartedly agree with him, unless there is a mind shift in respect of the culture of impunity that exists within the provincial government, his words will remain as empty as the offices of provincial officials at 15:00 on a Friday afternoon.

Let us be frank with one another, there are few good men and woman in our provincial governmental departments these days. Men and woman that are willing to go beyond the call of duty to serve the people of the Eastern Cape.

Instead, what we find in governmental offices across the province these days is an ever-increasing number of zombie-like officials that are neither responsive nor interested in the plight of the people of the Eastern Cape.

The only way to change this Madam Speaker is to ensure that we change the culture of impunity. There simply has to be consequences for the non-actions and tardiness of our officials. Rid us of the uncaring zombie-like officials for heaven’s sake!

Speaker, I’m very glad to note that the Hon Premier has once again highlighted the contribution and importance of agriculture in respect of economic growth in the province.

While I value his sentiments, I want to put it to the Hon Premier that this means absolutely nothing when his own administration continues to sabotage the agricultural industry on a daily basis.

On the Western side of this province, one of the main agricultural contributors to GDP is the fruit industry. Notwithstanding the fact that this region produces some 27% of all citrus fruit in the country, as well as a significant portion of all deciduous fruit, our road network in these areas continues to compromise and sabotage farming operations on a daily basis.

How is it possible that the provincial government has for years failed to upgrade the roads that service the Gamtoos Valley, the Langkloof and the Sundays’ River Valley?

The farming operations in these areas are the lifeblood of these communities and this government must act proactively to assist these farmers in building their industries and grow our economy.

In order to be a successful farmer these days, one has to be well informed as to the latest research and technology available to you. In this regard, we have to ask ourselves how our own provincial department of Rural Development and Agrarian Reform is supporting our farmers, both emerging and commercial, insofar as innovation and technology is concerned.

The Department of Agriculture in the Western Cape is at the forefront of using technology to enhance sustainable farming, and as part of its initiative to embrace the fourth industrial revolution, has recently introduced Sentinel-2 earth observation technology.

This tool provides rapid access to near real-time information on veld and crop conditions resulting in quicker information flow and better decision making and understanding. It also allows for rapid assessment of natural disaster impacts such as fire scar extents, drought, crop failure and pest and disease damage.

It also allows for a better assessment of crop conditions and resource use and is therefore particularly useful in the study of the impact of climate change. This comes at no charge to farmers!

Indeed, we have much to learn in gearing up our innovation in respect of agriculture in this province.

The ongoing drought that the Eastern Cape is grappling with is still far from over and average dam levels in this province continues to be the single biggest risk factor facing our towns and communities here.

On Tuesday the Premier stated proudly that “working with national and local government, we will continue to assist our communities and farmers in mitigating the effects of drought”.

Against this backdrop I fail to understand why the Hon Premier has elected not to extend the state of disaster in the province. If towns and communities facing the risk of running out of water is not a disaster, I don’t know what is. How are departments such as DRDAR and CoGTA supposed to follow shortened, emergency procurement processes in respect of their drought mitigation projects when the state of disaster is not in place?

In this regard, officials in provincial departments must snap out of their zombie-like mode and assist our dysfunctional municipalities in declaring their own disaster areas! We also welcome the fact that the Amatole Water Board has been appointed to assist the national Department of Water and Sanitation to come up with plans to ensure water security at water scarce municipalities.

Speaker, we simply have no choice but to ensure that the province is declared a disaster area once again!

Talking about a state of disaster, responses to questions posed to the Hon Meth highlighted our own state of disaster within DRDAR. This province has squandered millions of Rands of the R74 million in Drought Aid on food and fodder that was sold to the province at overinflated prices.

In some instances, we were paying more than R6000 a ton for grass! I want to tell you Madam Speaker, we must investigate that grass, there is bound to be a snake in that grass.

Madam Speaker, the Hon Premier said, and I quote, “The long awaited Mzimvubu Water Project will be implemented incrementally, a decision that we warmly welcome as a province

Long awaited is correct Madam Speaker. The people along the Tsitsa River will tell you that the ANC has been promising them work through the Mzimbumvu Water Project since at least 2009. In fact, the president in his State of the Nation Address said: “We have been speaking about the Umzimvubu Dam in the Eastern Cape for almost a decade, with little to show on the ground.

Madam Speaker, when this project was first announced, the estimated cost was R470-million. At the sod turning event in 2014 in Tsolo, former president Jacob Zuma said the cost was R12.5 billion. Now the figure of R20 billion is quoted.

Madam Speaker, in the current fiscal climate, where is the funding coming from?

Is it still the Chinese government deal, which was blocked by National Treasury in 2018? Is it still the Chinese that will build these dams, using Chinese materials?

Madam Speaker, perhaps the better question that should be asked is why is it that this project seems to surface every four years, just before we have a local government election?

Talking about cheap electioneering, unbelievingly, the Premier indicated that the biofuel plant that would have been constructed at Cradock in support of the sugar beet farms more than a decade ago is back on the cards.

Speaker, I don’t know which zombie-like official momentarily awoke to resuscitate this hare-brained idea, but the Hon Premier has been seriously misled. In order for biofuel to be viable, Brent crude oil prices must be well above a $100 a barrel! It is currently only $46 a barrel! Biofuel from sugar beet will for the foreseeable future unfortunately remain unviable.

When this is clearly the case, as most experts will tell you, why are we lying to these our sugar beet farmers? They are well aware of the fact that this project will never become a reality. They however do want to become productive farmers and require our help and assistance to do just that. Let us not play foolish games and rehash failed programmes when we have serious work to do.

Building a capable state must be our number 1 priority in this administration. Unfortunately, we are a long way from a capable state, in fact I believe in this province we are probably closer to a fail state. If we all put shoulder to the wheel however e can collectively ensure that this administration becomes more responsive towards to the needs of our people and become a capable province that brings opportunity and prosperity to all.