Agri dept’s slow spending a red flag

By Ismail Obaray MPL, DA Northern Cape Spokesperson of Agriculture:

Serious underspending by the Northern Cape Department of Agriculture during the first quarter has set off alarm bells.

It came to light during the department’s first quarter performance presentation last week that the department got off to an extremely slow start for the 2015/2016 financial year, having spent only 13,2% of its budget. At the same time, the department spent only 8% of its conditional grant money. In both instances this was as opposed to the quarterly 25% spending norm.

The progamme for sustainable resource management came off the worst, with the department having spent only 3,6% or R5,8 million of the annual budget of R160 million. This is of particular concern to the DA.

In the previous financial year, the department failed to spend over R7 million of the conditional grant set aside for the Drought Relief Scheme. In the midst of a harsh climatic conditions, this was enough money to purchase approximately 3619 tons of A-grade Lucerne, which in turn would have been sufficient to sustain over 12 000   cows for an entire month.

The department was lucky enough to receive a rollover and the R7 million was returned to the department in the new financial year. Rollovers, however, are not guaranteed and the money could just have easily been lost to the department.

It seems, however, that this close call failed to serve as a wake-up call to the department.

Instead of getting their act together, the department has further regressed, failing to spend approximately R109,533 million from April to June this year, which has translated into a number of targets not being met.

Worst of all, the department was not even apologetic about their underperformance, nor did they make any effort to explain it, despite me having specifically asked them to provide reasons for the under-expenditure of all programmes, as well as the conditional grants.

The DA has today written to Agriculture MEC, Norman Shushu, asking him to offer a detailed explanation for his department’s poor performance.

The DA will closely monitor the department’s performance in the second quarter to see whether spending picked up. If not, we will request that a special portfolio committee meeting be scheduled to determine how best to manage this errant department.