Gerda Moolman, MPL
DA Northern Cape: Spokesperson for Agriculture
The Northern Cape Department of Agriculture is still not ready to allocate desperately needed flood money to disaster management projects despite the fact that the heavy rains that caused over R400 million worth of damages to farms and agricultural projects occurred as far back as January last year. This was revealed during a legislature portfolio committee meeting today to discuss the Northern Cape’s Second Adjustment Appropriation Bill.
It came to light during the meeting that, while Provincial Treasury received an amount of R131 862 million for the Agriculture Disaster Management Grant during January this year, the department still hasn’t utilized a single cent of the funding. This is to the severe detriment of farmers who suffered extensive losses and damage to their enterprises.
The DA attributes the department’s inability to allocate these emergency funds, to poor planning. Shortly after the floods, the DA posed a parliamentary question to MEC Norman Shushu regarding assistance to beneficiaries in the aftermath of the floods. The department’s response, dated 23 August 2011, provided a detailed breakdown of costs and damages, which they were able to ascertain through a process of questionnaires posed to affected farmers. While we concede that the actual damages cost far more than the provided financial relief, we fail to comprehend how the department is still not in a position to prioritize disaster relief programmes, when they have known the details and the extent of the damages since mid 2011. Surely by now they could, at the very least, have committed a portion of the money to repairing farms roads, or to something that would ease the burden of our farmers and farm workers.
The department’s excuse that they did not know the amount of the relief scheme until January this year also holds no ground. One can only wonder what the department has been doing for the past three months. Surely if there were plans in place they would have allocated at least a portion of the funds to a worthy cause?
In the meantime, provincial treasury has had to suspend the funding due to the potential underspending by the department, for which the financial year ends on 31 March 2012. Underspending can be detrimental to provincial departments, as money that is not used gets redirected to other provinces. While the department can be counted as lucky, in that both national and provincial treasury have agreed to defer this money to the new financial year,
meaning that in this case the department will not lose this money, the department’s inability to perform remains unacceptable.
In many instances underspending can be viewed as an even greater sin than overspending because it translates into the fact that no service delivery took place. The MEC needs to report on why the department didn’t use the money available to them. The DA will highlight this matter during the budget presentation of the said department. We need to know why this department is not performing and what they are doing to remedy the situation. Otherwise it will be impossible for us to accept the budget vote. After all, if they can’t even spend R130 million, how do they intend spending their conditional grants allocation of R353 million for the Comprehensive Agriculture Support Programme, for the next Medium Term Expenditure Framework, which is three years?