Rust Bust

2012-12-03 00:00

AGRICULTURAL equipment, seed and fertiliser worth about R5 million have been found rotting and rusting at Agriculture Department offices in iNchanga.

Following a tip-off, MEC Meshack Radebe visited the site and discovered six tractors, several ploughs and fertiliser spreaders standing in tall grass. Some of the equipment was broken and damaged, and some hadn’t been used since being bought in September 2011.

During the visit, Radebe also saw numerous bags of seed, which had been left to rot and were no longer useable, and fertiliser bags piled high.

“I couldn’t believe it. I was told by someone that I needed to visit the site and I thought that maybe I would see a few bags of seed, some fertiliser, maybe one tractor. I was shocked.

“This equipment is not required in this area. It can’t be used in this area. It’s just been lying in the grass and you can see from the photos how high the grass is.”

But the millions of rands of dumped equipment at the iNchanga office — one of around 70 extension offices in KZN that provide farmers with agricultural assistance — could just be the tip of the iceberg, as some R140 million in irregular expenditure has reportedly been uncovered in the department.

Radebe said some of his concerns, which have been raised with Premier Zweli Mhkize and the provincial cabinet, include money being spent on levelling land to build chicken coops and piggeries that have never been built; and the purchase of a potato-washing machine at kwaSwayimane, which was allegedly done without consulting local leaders or the beneficiaries.

Radebe said his department would launch a forensic investigation into the supply chain management and service delivery across the province.

“We can’t allow money to be spent where it doesn’t help our people,” he said, adding that the investigation should commence by Friday.

Referring to the dumped equipment and supplies at iNchanga, Radebe said: “We need to find out why this was done, who did it, and what the motives were. The money that was spent here should have been used elsewhere.”

News of the pending forensic investigation was welcomed by IFP agriculture spokesperson and chief whip Henry Combrinck, who said the province had to stop the rot in the department. “We have to get to the bottom of this,” he added. “We need to know how many millions [of rands] we are talking about … how can we vote for more money when millions are being wasted?”

Mark Steele, the DA’s representative on the agriculture portfolio committee, also welcomed news of the forensic audit, adding that his party believed the province’s entire mechanisation project needed investigation. “It doesn’t surprise me that there will be an investigation into

iNchanga, but the bigger picture is whether this mechanisation project is value for money,” he said.

“We welcome any investigation into the inappropriate use of funds in the mechanisation project because we have grave doubts about its empowerment value to the community, especially when it comes to co-operatives and small-scale farmers … we just don’t see them becoming self-sustaining and productive additions to the food supply chain.”

Meanwhile, The Witness has learnt that Radebe has instructed staff to ensure that salvageable equipment is removed from

iNchanga today, to other districts where it is needed.

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