Drought Relief still only a pipe-dream

Patricia O’ Neill-Coutts, MPL

DA Provincial Spokesperson of Agriculture

The Democratic Alliance is dismayed that more than five months since the Northern Cape Department of Agriculture acknowledged drought conditions in certain parts of the province, the Premier has yet to declare any of the severely affected areas as disaster areas.  This came to light yesterday, during a portfolio committee meeting to discuss the department’s first quarterly report.

In April this year, during their budget presentation to the legislature’s portfolio committee, the department indicated that certain parts of the John Taole Gaetsewe and Siyanda districts were under threat of droughts. At the same time, the department indicated that they had not budgeted for the drought scheme and that only after an analysis of the drought conditions, would they declare the affected land as disaster areas and request assistance from national. It is now a full five months later, the drought has not ceased and the drought assessment has been completed but still the provincial department of agriculture has not managed to secure any funding to assist both emerging and commercial farmers who are battling the drought. According to the department, they cannot secure funding until affected areas are declared as disaster areas.

It boggles the mind as to how the department can possibly take so long to deal with natural disasters but then again, this is the same department that has taken almost 20 years to finalize and implement its disaster management plan. Clearly disasters are not a priority for this department and those bearing the brunt thereof must make do with mere lip service.

Whilst the DA is concerned that the department’s inefficiency will prevent drought relief funding from being secured, we are also concerned that next year’s looming election may also have something to do with an apparent unwillingness on the part of government to set aside funding towards the drought assistance. In this regard, it seems that all efforts are being made to contain expenditure intended for genuine service delivery and assistance, and instead allocate funds to vote-buying initiatives instead.  This can already be seen in the expenditure trends of this very department, which has already spent 75% of its budget on rural development initiatives, such as constructing flush toilets and installing solar homes systems, but it has only spent 10% of its budget for farmer development and support and 20% of its budget for sustainable resource management.

It is the DA’s view that as long as the ANC government is in power, it will be virtually impossible to turn the agricultural sector around. This is because the ruling party’s allegiance is to its cadres and not the public. The DA hopes the people take note of this before they choose their next government at the polling stations next year.