The Matatiele Local Municipality has been accused of wasting millions of taxpayer’s rands on two projects costing about R16 million that have since turned out to be white elephants.
The municipality is said have spent R15.8 million on a fresh produce market and grain silos, none of which has been operational since inception four years ago.
Also of concern is that the municipality has spent a further R1.7 million on guarding the unused buildings, which is a slap in the faces of taxpayers and black farmers who were promised that their businesses would be supported through the projects.
DA councillor Wonga Potwana said there had been no commercially viable basis for the establishment of the projects.
He said farmers who were meant to benefit were still unsure of why the projects remained at a standstill.
Potwana alleged that the fresh produce market had cost about R7 million to build, even though the ANC-run council was aware that there were no commercial vegetable growers in the immediate surroundings.
Plans that were hatched to rent out the facilities had also failed.
He said the grain silos had cost a further R8.8 million to erect, ostensibly to provide facilities for emerging black farmers, but they could not be used as there was no elevator basket. Installing one would cost a further R1.7 million.
“To date, not a single black farmer has benefited from the silos. Maize production in the area has also been severely hampered by the ongoing drought conditions. As the DA, we’ve submitted several questions to the municipality relating to these projects,” said Potwana.
The questions include whether agricultural experts had been consulted regarding the financial viability of the projects prior to their implementation.
To date, said Potwana, the municipality had not given straight answers.
“But the answers are clear, as both of these projects have stood empty for over four years. Meanwhile, the municipality has spent R1 747 008 on guarding these vacant, unused buildings,” he said.
Potwana promised to escalate the matter further to ensure that the ANC-run municipality was held accountable.
“The DA will continue to expose the poor thinking of ANC councillors who draft integrated development plans that are completely out of touch with the needs of the rural communities they serve."
“The DA cares about the people of Matatiele and will ensure that public funds are spent in their best interests, not on vanity projects for ANC cadres who put themselves before the people,” said Potwana.
Municipality spokesperson Olwetu Gwanya said neither the projects nor the properties were abandoned, adding that the municipality was still in the process of ensuring that they were put into more effective use.
She said agriculture was an investment of choice in the municipality.
Gwanya said when the fresh produce market was constructed the intention was to provide market space for the local cooperatives and emerging farmers involved in vegetable production. This was based on a needs analysis emanating from the data the municipality received from the department of rural development and agrarian reform in Alfred Nzo.
“However, considering the drought and crop damage from hailstorms that negatively affected our farmers, the municipality has come up with an alternative strategy - to lease the [fresh produce market building].
“As such, we will soon call for expressions of interest in this regard,” said Gwanya.
She said they were set to put the grain silos facility into good use in the next harvesting season.
“We anticipate a greater demand, given the aggressive investment the municipality has made towards local emerging farmers in this financial year,” she said.
On why the municipality was paying so much money to guard property that was not even in use, Gwanya said the municipality had a responsibility to ensure that its properties were not vandalised.
The Matatiele fresh produce market and silos projects are not the only ones which have failed in the province, as similar white elephants can be found in different parts of the Eastern Cape.
City Press reported in October how a multimillion rand abattoir in Cala had been left deserted for many years.
The abattoir in the Sakhisizwe Local Municipality, which was also meant to benefit local farmers, lies in ruin despite its state-of-the-art facilities.
In October City Press reported how a multimillion-rand abattoir in Cala had been left deserted for many years.
The abattoir in the Sakhisizwe Local Municipality, which was also meant to benefit local farmers, lies in ruins despite housing state-of-the-art facilities.