New Agric MEC assures Finance on millions being spent

2014-07-11 00:00

KWAZULU-NATAL’S Agricultural and Rural Development Department came in for a hammering during the Finance committee budget hearing yesterday.

It was clear that committee members had not been happy with the financial management under previous MEC Meshack Radebe. They wanted answers to a litany of complaints, including under-expenditure; a number of forensic investigations with apparently no outcomes; a lack of financial control of entities under it; and money being wasted on projects that were not working.

The MPLs made it clear that their criticism was not aimed at the new MEC Cyril Xaba, as they understood that he had just taken over. They were hopeful however, that he would act on their concerns. Long-standing finance committee member Sipho Gcabashe (ANC) said the over the years the impression was the department lacked proper planning. Committee member Francois Rodgers (DA) described the department as “shocking”.

Rodgers questioned the under-expenditure and asked why the department continued to throw money at projects that were failures, like the Makhathini Flats initiative in Jozini to help develop small-scale farmers.

“If there is a project to be embarrassed about, this is it.”

He asked who would manage the R60 million earmarked for the project.

The IFP’s Dr Lionel Mtshali said the finance committee learnt that the department was not exercising oversight over their public entities. Mtshali asked if the department was scrutinising the budgets of these departments, or allowing them to “run free and do what they pleased”.

He said there appeared to be a number of forensic investigations and, “apparently most resources were going into the payment of consultants”.

He asked what time frames there were.

Xaba assured the committee that he had hit the ground running.

He said since he had taken over they had not spent their budget by a small margin — less than 1,5%.

He had visited the Makhathini Flats project and found there was no business expertise and no one was attending to the business side of the operation.

Xaba said he was currently studying three completed forensic reports.

“Bear with us. Allegations are being levelled against our staff, we are following up on all of these as we do not want to be unfair to the staff members ...” he said.

Yasmin Bacus, acting head of the department, assured the committee that the department was under review, regarding its “deconstruction and reconstruction”. Bacus added that a whole team from KZN Treasury had been at work at the department since March 17.

She said they had already written a whole new procurement policy.

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KZN criticised for underspending

UNDER expenditure by provincial departments came under scrutiny in the Finance Committee budget hearings yesterday.

The KwaZulu-Natal premier’s office was criticised for under expenditure of R63 million.

MPL Francois Rodgers said that underspending was as bad as overspending. He said over the past two to three years underspending in the premier’s office had become a trend.

The department’s response was that it hadn’t underspent but had in fact initiated savings in line with the province’s austerity measures. The committee, however, took a dim view of this.

Sizwe Mchunu (DA) said while he understood the department had saved funds, there was still evidence of massive under expenditure, which he added was tantamount to a lack of service delivery.

Finance chairperson Sipho “KK” Nkosi said his committee had no tolerance of under expenditure as it, “robs our people of service delivery. To me, it indicates that there is no forward planning”.

 

 

• nalini@witness.co.za

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