Portfolio committee not letting NW officials off the hook

The North West department of agriculture and rural development's budget may be tabled, but the portfolio committee overseeing its work wants another set of detailed documents, as well as quarterly progress reports from MEC Desbo Mohono and her officials

The North West department of agriculture and rural development has been allocated a budget of R1.2 billion to spend in the new financial year. However, they have days to report back on how exactly they plant to use this money. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

The North West department of agriculture and rural development has been allocated a budget of R1.2 billion to spend in the new financial year. However, they have days to report back on how exactly they plant to use this money. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

After a week of providing answers to an unhappy portfolio committee, the North West department of agriculture and rural development could finally table its budget vote on Wednesday. However, MEC Desbo Mohono and her top officials are not off the hook yet.

Food For Mzansi reported last week that the provincial legislature’s portfolio committee on economic development, environment, tourism, agriculture and rural development was not prepared to consider the 2022-2023 budget before it had answers on how the department had spent previous budget allocations.

Now the committee wants another set of answers. Even though the budget is tabled, the department must come back to provide a more detailed breakdown of how it intends to spend its R1.2 billion budget. This, as the committee is not yet satisfied with practicalities such as business plans, procurement plans and memoranda of understanding with other government departments.

During the tabling of Mohono’s budget vote, portfolio chairperson Bitsa Lenkopane said that the lives of the people of the province could only change if the department complied with grant allocations.

“We have therefore called for submission of reports within seven days of submission of this budget,” Lenkopane said, listing business plans, procurement plans, a clear rollout plan on food security and feedback on the service agreements the department had with the education and social development departments as among the documents that it needed.

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Focus on failed projects

The chairperson of the North West legislature’s portfolio committee on economic development, environment and tourism, agriculture and rural development, Bitsa Lenkopane. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

Lenkopane also specifically asked the department to submit reports on the failed Springbokpan Agri-Park.

The park was supposed to consist of milling plants, a mechanisation warehouse, input warehouse and foodbank, and has received two previous allocations of R3 million and R5 million.

However, upon visiting the site, committee members found “nothing” there; only security guards. This, while the department has allocated another R8 million to it in the coming year.

The Mahikeng-Kgora Farmer Training Centre has also found itself in the spotlight. Lenkopane asked the department to provide a clear plan around activities at this centre too.

443 extension officers promised

Meanwhile, Mohono said in her speech that the department will focus on seven interventions to improve its service to stakeholders: the aggregator model, provincial and district corridors, commercialisation, agro-processing, financial and non-financial support, building relationships and agro-industrial infrastructure.

“Our funds will speak to our mission and vision statements, including key strategic interventions. To this end, the department will rely heavily on the use of the financial manuscript and policies in making sure that our people are prioritised and nothing else,” she said.

A total number of 443 extension officers will be deployed to the province as part of strengthening the relationship between the farmers and the department.

“Agricultural assistants will be appointed. So far 38 agricultural advisors have been employed, through the extension and recovery programme. An amount of R 11.1 million will be used for that,” she said.

Without giving much detail, Mohono added that the department had enhanced the veterinary services with nine new vets in the province.

Job creation also featured. Mohono said it was important to her that the department continued to create jobs in rural communities through its land care program.

“The department managed to create 979 jobs through landcare and rural development initiatives. In the 2022-23 financial year, 1  147 jobs will be created through the province,” she said.

Inherited mess

Mohono spoke hard on corruption that had taken place in the department in the past and said they were  fixing the mess created by her predecessors.

“I know I will be seen as someone who is anti-development, but I have asked my department to go submit a report on all machinery that was given to farmers, and we will be going to them and take those tractors that are not used or broken, and we will give it to relevant farmers,” she said.

The department is due to meet with the portfolio committee next week, where it will have to provide detailed plans for its R1.2 billion budget allocation.

The department and committee have mutually agreed to quarterly reports, to be supplied by the department to the committee, due to the department’s weak internal audit system.

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