Farmer relief voucher fraud: ‘Government takes us for a joke’

Auditor-general finds irregularities with covid-19 vouchers meant to help small-scale farmers

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While the auditor-general, Kimi Makwetu, cracked the whip on corruption with government’s multi-billion rand covid-19 relief efforts, more farmers have come forward to speak out about irregularities with relief vouchers issued by the Eastern Cape department of rural development and agrarian reform. Duncan Masiwa reports.

Makwetu’s shocking report revealed corruption and fraud by various government departments entrusted with South Africa’s R147.4 billion budget for coronavirus relief efforts. The auditor-general’s real-time audit follows an earlier request by pres. Cyril Ramaphosa who demanded clarity on how the farmer relief voucher funds were being spent.

farmer relief voucher
Thoko Didiza, the minister of agriculture, land reform and rural development. Photo: Twitter

Now minister Thoko Didiza’s department also has some explaining to do after Makwetu also fingered them for “inefficiencies” with covid-19 vouchers which were meant to assist financially distressed small-scale farmers with production inputs via farmer relief vouchers.

The audit identified inadequate record keeping and reconciliations of approved farmer relief vouchers, distributed and redeemed, which increases the risk of unreliable reporting by the department and undetected fraud or error.

The auditor-general said, “We are concerned about the indicators of high risk of fraud and abuse we observed (by all government departments) – not only in the areas that we were able to audit, but also where information for auditing was not forthcoming, which could be a deliberate tactic to frustrate our audit efforts.”

farmer relief voucher story: Siphesihle Kwetana co-owner of Siphe Development and Capacitation Agency runs two farms and she's feeling the impact that covid-19 and the 21-day lockdown on her farmworkers and businesses.
Eastern Cape farmer Siphesihle Kwetana. Photo: Supplied

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Meanwhile Eastern Cape farmers, who are suffering as a direct result of the irregularities that Makwetu pointed out, have turned to Food For Mzansi in a desperate attempt for help.

They allege that the covid-19 farmer relief vouchers are being rejected by some of the very suppliers that have been identified by the department of agriculture, land reform and rural development.

“I can’t buy anything with that voucher. I went to the supplier and I was told that the department had not paid them yet. They didn’t want to process my voucher. I then went to other suppliers and they told me the exact same thing,” said Sipesihle Kwetana, a 26-year-old award-winning farmer from Umtata.

Vouchers issued by Eastern Cape MEC

The R45 000 voucher was issued to her during an earlier visit by the province’s MEC for rural development and agrarian reform, Nomakhosazana Meth. Kwetana’s joy at being helped after suffering major losses in the wake of the covid-19 pandemic has now turned to sorrow.

farmer relief voucher
Nomakhosazana Meth, the MEC for rural development and agrarian reform in the Eastern Cape. Photo: Supplied

The farmer relief voucher is now practically valueless. She tells Food For Mzansi, “The department is playing with us. They are taking our careers as farmers and what we are doing as if it’s a joke. We were given these vouchers by the MEC. Can you imagine, a whole, entire MEC. I don’t want to lie. I am so disappointed.”

Vegetable and maize farmer Nocawe Nkala, also from Umtata, said her farmer relief voucher was declined by government-identified suppliers for the same reason. A worried Nkala said, “Also, this deadline of 30 September is not going to work. The voucher will expire soon, will the problem even be sorted before then?”

Another up-and-coming farmer, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of victimisation by government, said she had similar troubles until she eventually found a supplier who was willing to accept the R50 000 covid-19 farmer relief voucher.  “Now I’m just waiting on my supplier to process my order, although he’s also waiting on the department to pay money owed to him.”

Didiza’s department implemented its relief scheme in April to assist small-scale farmers who had been suffering after covid-19 restrictions and related losses. By 22 July this year, 14 589 applications for vouchers had been approved with a value of R517 million. Of this, 13 662 had already been distributed.

  • Food For Mzansi awaits comment from the department of agriculture, land reform and rural development as well as the Eastern Cape department of rural development and agrarian reform. 

ALSO READ: Didiza extends voucher dates in covid-19 support scheme again

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