Addressing finance

2009-01-30 00:00

A recent three-day workshop held at Durban’s Elangeni hotel was attended by staff of the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Agriculture. The objective was to launch a financial turnaround plan for the department. The occasion was suitably celebrated with a gala dinner, no doubt part of the new plan to spend money.

If our MEC for Agriculture and Environmental Affairs, Mtholepi Mthimkhulu, would like me to say positive things about his efforts in the department, then at least he could have given me an invitation to the ball. Not really, as I am not into bribery, but it would have been interesting to be a fly on the wall.

I at least appreciate the minister’s calls at midnight or on Sunday afternoons. Thank you sir for accepting that the media are important in the political sphere and that The Witness head office is close to your centre of operations at Cedara.

There is no doubt that the Department of Agricultural needs a financial turnaround, so news of the workshop is exciting. Being financial, it is appropriate that PriceWaterhouseCoopers is the main part of the consortium to bring this about (30%). The other 70% is made up of four companies that I have never heard of in the accounting field. This little lot will cost R20 million. If the department is to save a portion of its billion- rand budget from going astray then it is probably worthwhile spending R20 million.

It is always amazing that Stockowners’ Co-op provides a professional research and extension service to its 7 000 farming members in KwaZulu-Natal at a cost of just over R1 million a year and here we are spending R20 million just to see that the government’s budget does not go astray.

Give me R20 million and I will replace the billion-rand services of the department and at the same time provide a better service to all its clients.

The department seems to have forgotten that its clients are the farmers who provide food for the nation. Where were the farmers at the gala dinner?

Other matters discussed at the meeting were skills development and transfer. Why employ people if they first have to be trained? We have many well-trained people in this country who could fill jobs in the agricultural field.

What about the subject of promoting food security? If the department looks after its clients, the commercial farmers, there will be food security.

It is pleasing to see that conservation and the preservation of biodiversity were high on the agenda, although not much was said about research. We must never underestimate the need for ongoing research.

Now that I have had my whinge, on to more positive stuff.

I have always held Mthimkhulu in high regard. As he comes from a teaching background, he is a people’s person with a fine sense of humour. A smile goes a long way to winning people over and his [smile] is natural, not political. Employing accountants to introduce a strategy to turn the financial controls of the department around is vitally important.

While I was travelling to Uganda in 1995 with Bongiwe Njobe sitting next to me, Njobe assured me that, as the director general of agriculture for South Africa, her first priority in the department was to set up strict financial control systems. It’s a pity that these controls were not put in place in KwaZulu-Natal in 1995. Mthimkhulu’s job would have been a lot easier if they had been. So, good luck with your new initiative Mthimkhulu, and next time don’t forget about my invitation to the ball.

The man who has to see that this new financial turnaround plan is implemented is Siddiq Adam, the acting head of the

Department of Agriculture and Environ-mental Affairs. Adam is based at Cedara and has a staff of over 3 000 people spread throughout KwaZulu-Natal. I have only heard good things about him from his staff, which is a great start.

Previous department heads over the past 14 years did not enjoy much respect from their staff. So good luck to Adam in his efforts to bring about change.

By the way, why is he still in an acting position after being at Cedara for quite a while? Maybe the powers that be are too scared after the performance of previous heads of department.

The accountants have been given one year to implement the plan for a financial turnaround. Good luck to you. Meanwhile, let us not forget that the department is here to help all our farmers to feed the nation.

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