It’s simply not good enough. This was the message that North West agri officials had to face as they were sent back to rework their budget presentation to members of the provincial legislature this week.
The legislature’s portfolio committee on economic development, environment, tourism, agriculture and rural development strongly reprimanded the head of the department of agriculture and rural development, Thupi Mokhatla, and his senior officials for being unable to account for previous spending or to show tangible results. The department was presenting its budget and annual performance plan to the committee on Tuesday (3 May 2022), ahead of the final budget vote.
Hard questions were asked about projects in Springbokpan and the Mahikeng-Kgora Farmer Training Centre, among others. The agri-parks projects were launched in 2015 and, in the case of Springbokpan, it was envisioned that it would consist of milling plants, a mechanisation warehouse, input warehouse and foodbank.
But chairperson Bitsa Lenkopane said that, upon visiting the site, committee members found “nothing” there; only security guards.
“We are not going to sit here and listen to you telling us about plans when you cannot tell us about previous projects,” she said. “The Springbokpan projects have been funded with about R5 million, now you want to fund R8 million.
“We are not sure what happened to the R5 million. We cannot be sure what will happen to the R8 million now.”
‘What miracle will happen this time around?’
Lenkopane said it was also unacceptable that the department could not present a list of the beneficiaries who had received tractors and other equipment in the past.
“Do go back and give us a report on consequence management. Who did what, who was responsible for the purchasing of the tractors? Give us what we want otherwise we will not allow you to present your budget vote,” she said.
Another member of the committee, Job Dliso, asked agri MEC Desbo Mohono and her officials why rural communities could not access agricultural services. “The communities are complaining about your officials not being accessible. We need to be convinced that the department is going to offer services to the people,” Dliso said.
“Convince us that if we approve this budget things will be done differently. These are the same budget promises [as always]. It is cut and paste… the same things every year.
“What miracle will happen this time around?”
‘Come back with the answers we want’
Lenkopane told officials that the committee had a responsibility to account to the public. “We do not want a complicated plan; we want what is visible,” she added.
She instructed senior managers of the department to go back to the drawing board and to return to the committee with a comprehensive breakdown of how money was previously spent, along with a breakdown of how the department’s projected R1.2 billion budget was going to be utilised in the 2022-2023 financial year.
Department officials are due to report back to the committee next week.
Mokhatla, who had been appointed as the head of department in April last year, responded and acknowledged that there had been mismanagement of money in previous years. He also acknowledged that this had prevented the department from purchasing more equipment for farmers.
“The department has a database of people who benefited from getting tractors and other equipment,” he said. “Issues raised by members here will be addressed.”
Working against the provincial minister?
Meanwhile, Mohono told the portfolio committee that she had already instituted a plan to list who had benefited from projects in the past and where the equipment was currently.
“I have told my team that we are not going to buy any new tractors until we get to know what happened to tractors, because our people sometimes sell those equipment.”
Mohono further said she was on track to achieve her target of 90% of input procurement being done in the province itself. “There is huge capacity in the North West and I will not rest until I realise that,” she said.
In closing the meeting, Lenkopane sent off officials with a warning that they seemed to be working against the MEC. “You have your own agenda, different from the one of the MEC.
“Tsayamang ka kagiso banake (go in peace, my kids).”
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