Minister on Abalone fisheries; Agriculture Budgetary Review and Recommendation Report (BRRR)

Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development

25 October 2010
Chairperson: Mr M Johnson (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee considered another draft of the Budgetary Review and Recommendation Report. Some of the issues were highlighted, including the need for a separate session to be briefed on fisheries. Some questions that the Committee had wanted to receive more input on were raised and were addressed by the Minister and Deputy Minister and a Departmental team. The Committee noted that some of the debates around the audit report and performance seemed to indicate that some officials were not doing their job. Leadership and management would have to be addressed. There were substantial problems and focus was needed on Ncera Farms and Onderstepoort Biological Products. The Committee commented that South Africa was importing some food, should be giving support to small scale farmers to become self-sufficient, and should also be looking to wider markets for wool. The Committee also noted that the Deputy Minister was not mentioned in the report, and the Minister apologised and assured him and the Committee that no disrespect was intended. The Minister said that attention would be paid to all issues and another meeting would shortly take place on the CASP. It was clear that the Ncera Farms issues needed to be addressed, and a report would be presented. Detailed briefing reports would also be sent for other issues. The Department said that the 11% vacancy rate was not unusual. The approach for agricultural colleges was outlined and the agricultural colleges needed to be reopened and strengthened. A Food Security Indaba was addressing food security concerns, linked to stimulation of the market for small scale farmers. The Department agreed with suggestions from the Committee to move away from conditional grants and reinvent something similar to the Agricultural Credit Board. Members were concerned that nothing had yet been produced on the legislative review or transformation of the industry, and urged that this must be done. The Minister would brief the Committee on the Agriculture Sector Plan and growth path strategy. The Deputy Minister was driving the forestry division and legislative review, which would link to the growth path. The Department conceded that some of the criticism was justified but said there were many dedicated officials. The Committee formally adopted its Budgetary Review and Recommendations Report.

The Department briefed the Committee on the reopening of commercial abalone fisheries, outlining the terms and conditions, including a social relief package for former rights holders who might have lost their boats or equipment. The Department said it was monitoring the situation. The numbers of licences were outlined. A total allowable catch of 150 tonnes had been approved. Continued poaching was the major challenge, and rights holders would be involved in trying to combat this, as well as local communities, and they were aware that the fisheries could be closed again if this was not addressed. Reports of successful encounters were given. Members asked if the targets to reduce poaching could be achieved, and whether the communities, who were also paid by the poachers, would be willing to cooperate, and suggested that it was necessary to involve other security role players. Members asked why some permits had not been collected, and asked for amounts paid out by way of social relief. They queried whether departmental officials may have an interest, and what the problems there might be, commenting also that the plans were perhaps not comprehensive enough and monitoring was not stringent enough. Members queried what other marine stock was affected by poaching. They also questioned the scientific reports, which were at odds with estimates by divers. Members asked how poaching could be proven, if the quotas were for one year or more. Members then extensively questioned the forensic audit investigations, particularly when the reports would be available, why insufficient instructions were given, necessitating further reports, when the tender was given, when it was realised that the initial instruction fell short of what was required.

The Department then briefed the Committee on the issues around the sable antelope, noting that DAFF had been ordered by the Court in January 2010 to come up with a policy, which had then been extended to cover all cloven hoof animals, but permit holders had subsequently sued DAFF alleging that their permit was now due. Members were very concerned about the two matters. The fact that DAFF failed to comply with the Court order was indicative of insufficient attention, and did not augur well for confidence of investors. Secondly, they questioned what promises had been made to the permit holders. They argued that the matters should have been raised with the international standards committee, who could surely have provided a draft for adaptation to South African conditions, and asked for a deadline. The Minister was not convinced that the matter should be rushed and said a report would be given by end October. Members urged that South Africa must keep its Foot and Mouth-free status, and urged that action be taken to ensure that people were fulfilling their responsibilities. Members said that the timing of producing the policy in December might be problematic, but the Department assured the Committee that there would be full consultation as there was much at stake.

Meeting report

Agriculture Budgetary Review and Recommendations Report (BRRR)
The Chairperson tabled the latest draft of the Committee’s Budgetary Review and Recommendation Report (BRRR or the Report) and asked Members to go through this, to ensure that it was a true reflection of engagements with the Department and other entities. He highlighted that this would become a public document owned by the Committee, so corrections needed to be thorough.

The Chairperson noted some of the issues arising from previous discussions. The function of fisheries had only been assumed by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF or the Department) in April 2010. The Committee needed to arrange a separate session to receive briefings on that, since it was not described in the Annual Report document. The vision and mission had been clarified, as was discussed in the previous meeting, but had not been changed, and that would need a separate discussion. The issues that the Committee had raised about research on Comprehensive Agricultural Support Programme (CASP) supported projects, and the budgetary underspending of about R15 million, were noted. There was also an issue about the food banks and food reserves, on which the Committee needed to know more. He wondered if the Department of Social Development (DSD) should not perhaps be involved in this role. He also noted that the Committee wanted to know more about the R32 million disbursed to 787 emerging farmers, and the location of the farms, as well as the types of projects that were happening, and their progress. The Committee also needed more information about the planting of the million trees campaign and whether it was conducted in a sustainable manner, with the trees being cared for, as well as what this campaign ultimately sought to achieve.

Ms N Twala (ANC) also reminded the Committee of the budget cuts, the under spending of R16.8 million, and the vacancies that existed in spite of the under expenditure.

The Chairperson brought up the issue of conditional grants. He told Mr Zitha Langa, Director General of the Department, about the resolution of the Committee to engage in each grant related to
the Comprehensive Agricultural Support Programme. In the future the Committee wanted to take half a day to discuss CASP and its related reports, even if this meant bringing in the provincial managers. The Committee wanted to see value for money, in terms of both finance and performance.

The Chairperson also highlighted the debate surrounding the audit report, and brought attention to the fact that issues raised in the Auditor General’s (AG) report, such as irregular expenditure and poor performance information indicated that there were some officials not doing their job. In future, the Committee would need to decide what it must do to address these issues.

Dr L Bosman (DA) noted that the discussion surrounding leadership and management within DAFF was already stipulated in the document. The Committee was worried about issues regarding internal leadership and the execution of the activities of the Department. He felt there was much that needed to be improved, as a matter of urgency, to avoid a backward step on agricultural production.

The Chairperson underscored the problem of using ‘cut and paste’ to copy parts of reports from previous years, which then resulted in a disjuncture of outcomes against current initiatives.

Dr Bosman noted the need to focus on Ncera Farms. There were substantial problems there, and the situation was dire. If it was to become an institution for training and capacitating, there should be further focus on it, but currently this was not working. A report back was urgently needed. More than R7 million of government money had been spent, and there was nothing to show for it.

The Chairperson noted also that another State owned college, Fort Cox, was close to Ncera and there seemed to be some duplication in what the two institutions were supposedly doing.

Mr L Gaehler (UDM) said that DAFF held a seat on the board of Fort Cox, and questioned why this was not being properly utilised to address the issues.

Dr Bosman said the report did not indicate that Agricultural Research Council (ARC) was on top of delivering on its mandate on agricultural research, owing to collapsing infrastructure. This was a serious issue, and it impacted upon all farmers and the agricultural sector’s economic viability.

Dr Bosman commented further that the senior level expertise at Onderstepoort Biological Products (OBP) and the ARC was being lost to private enterprises, because of a lack of financial support. He likened the situation at OBP to “sitting on a time bomb”. Most of the most important infrastructure was based on OBP’s support service mandate from the suppliers, and if this broke down, then production would come to an end. There was no government support from DAFF for the institution, to help it maintain production and the infrastructure.

Ms Tina Joemat-Pettersson, Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, said that the Department of Public Works (DPW) had an allocation to build a new building for ARC.
The Chairperson noted that the OBP buildings were also very old. The matters of the Managing Director and the Board were also of serious concern.

Mr S Abram (ANC) commented that although South Africa was a net exporter of food, and was also able to export certain commodities, it was an importer of certain products, such as wheat, chicken and dairy. There was a need to enable farmers to produce commodities that were currently imported, in order to become as self sufficient as possible. In regard to China stopping the purchase of wool from South Africa, he said that it was not good to look to a single market for the bulk of export products. South Africa should not be beholden to a single country and there was a need to source alternative markets.

Mr N du Toit (DA) said there were two things missing from the report. Firstly, there should be a glossary of abbreviations. Secondly, he said that the Committee should recommend that the Minister and Deputy Minister should visit institutions, before their tenure was over, and these visits should be reported on in this kind of document.

Ms N Phaliso (ANC) said that the Minister should consult with other relevant Departments, such as those of Water Affairs and Rural Development and Land Reform, on the lack of a comprehensive food security strategy for the country.

The Chairperson questioned the fact that the Deputy Minister, Dr Pieter Mulder, was not mentioned in the Annual Report nor was he mentioned in some of the DAFF’s buildings.

The Minister apologised to the Deputy Minister, and said that she had instructed the Department to correct the mistake immediately. There were no sinister motives. This was a most embarrassing oversight and she assured the Deputy Minister and Committee that there was no attempt to undermine him.

Ms N Phaliso (ANC) said that although the Director General was new to his post, he should be taking a firmer and more hands-on approach. She did not feel that the Annual Report could be fully trusted. The Director General, Minister and Deputy Minister had to be accountable. Administration was very poor in the Department. She did not want the same excuses to reappear in the next Annual Report, otherwise the Committee would be calling for explanations. She was concerned that only the “comfortable” issues were reported and the Committee seemed to get information if the Department felt it needed to know it.

The Minister said that DAFF had taken account of all the points raised. Another meeting with the Committee on the Agricultural Sector Plan and growth path of the country was requested within the next two weeks. The finalised growth path plan had a strong emphasis on agro processing and agriculture. More resources should be allocated to agriculture to create growth in that sector. Funding was coming in for drought relief (such as R200 million in the Western Cape) and the Department would be seeking further relief funding for KwaZulu Natal. She appreciated the highlighting, by the Committee, of budget shortfalls. She agreed fully that in respect of some of the farms, especially Ncera, something had to be done. The assessment indicated that money was spent on this farm that could have been spent better elsewhere. She confirmed that she would present a report that covered what the Department was intending to do to address these issues.

Mr Langa Zitha, Director General, DAFF, confirmed that the Department would attend to a detailed briefing on the topics requested. However, DAFF was trying to move away from supporting only some projects to reaching a situation where it was able to distribute funds to all those wanting to farm, and to insist that the loans should be paid back. There were serious limitations with grant funding. In respect of the vacancies, he noted that during the session on the strategic plan in the previous week, the Human Resources (HR) division said that to have no vacancies was impossible, because people would move on. He did not think that a vacancy rate of around 11% was particularly high. He urged Members to understand the fluidity in the labour market.

Mr Zitha then addressed concerns on Fort Cox, noting that there was a letter from the Eastern Cape MEC, requesting support for Fort Cox. Half of the budget came from government, and the rest was supposed to come from economic activities. This model, which was noted as antiquated, had not been working, and should be scrapped. He said that some people had not been paid for the past two months. He noted that this was a crisis.

The Chairperson asked if the Department was adopting an approach for all agricultural colleges.

Mr Zitha responded that the colleges that were situated in the former homelands had different challenges to other institutes. These included questions around the relevancy of their research, and the problem that some remained untransformed. It was not possible to have a universal approach to these colleges, and a comprehensive review of all of them was needed. Agriculture was assuming a far more central role in the strategic direction of the country. Agricultural colleges needed to be reopened and strengthened, to respond to the demand for more expertise.

Mr Zitha referred to the October Food Security Indaba, which focused on the question of why people were going hungry and what could be done to address this. A review of the approaches was under way. This linked the challenge of food security to the stimulation of the market for small scale farmers. The process should be finished around January / February.

Mr Abram responded to the questions around the new building for the ARC. It this was being done in response to necessity, then that was appropriate. However, he wanted to remind the Minister of the several sub-institutes of the ARC (such as the dairy institute) that were closed. There was a need to look at the updating of the current infrastructure. There had been many new ideas in the past decade, but precious little had happened as a result.

Mr Abram suggested that in respect of conditional grants, it might be a good idea to move away from various projects. There were people who genuinely wanted to farm, but were not able to get bank accounts, and could not go to the Land Bank for a loan because they did not have a financial track record. The only way in which they might be helped would be through the reinvention of something similar to the Agricultural Credit Board, so funds could be made available at a reasonable rate. Most importantly, he enquired whether there were dedicated people with integrity in the Department, who would be able to capacitate the new farmers completely, and give them logistical support. In the past, in the name of land reform, the communities had been given funding, but they had not been given the necessary support. There was a need for an all inclusive partnership to succeed in addressing both agriculture and food security, including the commercial farmers who had survived. Food security was important, but so was profit-making. The crux was whether the Department had the necessary capacity. The Department’s officials tended not to respond to issues. For instance, the policy on importation of wildlife, despite the Court order issued in January, had still not been produced, some ten months later. The track record of the Department left a lot to be desired, and there seemed to be few dedicated people.

The Chairperson noted that the Department was still waiting for the legislative review, which was referred to in every report, yet, despite calls by the Committee since the beginning of the year, no proposals had yet been produced. Another responsibility was the transformation of the industry, which could also be achieved through legislation. The Minister seemed to have many advisors.

The Minister responded that she currently did not have an advisor, other than the Director-General, but was in the process of recruiting another. She said that there was a need to understand that agriculture could not be transformed in a vacuum, but had to happen in the context of transforming the country, and involving the economic sector. The completed Agriculture Sector Plan was highlighted. Stakeholders had differed widely on their reactions to the previous version, to the extent that some had refused to sign it. The current version had support of 99% of those stakeholders. The Department would like to brief the Committee on the content of the Plan, which did lay the basis for the transformation of the sector. She had circulated a copy of the draft, and would do so again, and requested input also from the Portfolio Committee.

She added that the growth path strategy had been agreed upon only on the previous day, and it had taken a long time to bring different views together. Parties had now reached consensus, which placed the agricultural sector at the core of the growth path of the country. The document was being finalised and accepted. The Department would then bring the sections agreed upon for agriculture before the Committee. It gave the figures for job creation expectations and new smallholder farmers. Cabinet had focused on funding for infrastructure as the first priority for the growth path, and had judged agriculture to be the second most critical area. Agriculture had a crucial role to play in the green economy. At the next meeting between DAFF and the Committee, the Revised Industrial Policy Action Plan (IPAP 2), the Agricultural Sector Plan, the growth strategy, and the performance agreement signed with the President should all be discussed. Delivery agreements had been signed with all stakeholders, in order to move towards implementation. If the Department failed to deliver on targets, the President had the right to recall the person responsible.

The Minister added that the Deputy Minister, with support, had taken on the responsibility for forestry. He was also mandated to drive the process of the legislative review. Now that the growth path was ready, the legislative review must match it. There had been a perception that the Deputy Minister was undermined, and the Minister had decided on a process to empower as many people as possible in the sector. This resulted in the rotation of some MECs. The Deputy Minister had requested that he not be asked to attend so many meetings. In future, she would ask Members of the Committee to visit some farms that represented the value chain of agriculture, as case studies of what DAFF sought to do.

Mr Zitha said that the Department was trying to build something similar to that which Mr Abram had suggested. Land Bank would be asked to assist and money from the Department would be seed funding. DAFF could not regulate every aspect of every activity. He mentioned that there was some disagreement around this still, which prevented the matter from being finalised to be put to Cabinet, and the Department might need to approach the Portfolio Committee for assistance with that. Various dynamics were at play.

Mr Zitha said that on the issue of food security and emerging farmers, there was work on restructuring and change, so small scale farmers could participate and gain markets. He accepted the comments regarding the importation of wildlife and agreed that this process could have been done better and faster.

Mr Zitha said that in fact the DAFF had very dedicated officials, as shown by the number of its staff who held PhD degrees and could no doubt have been earning large sums elsewhere, yet were serving their Department.

Mr Zitha explained that the food banks were a Non Governmental Organisation (NGO) initiative. DAFF wanted to build on that. It would like to see comprehensive institutional efforts to ensure cheap food. R106 billion per year was paid in social grants, and there was a desire to try to redirect that into helping small scale farmers, so that they, and not the major retail stores, would be able to earn from selling food. The Department should be able to present something on that within the next four to five months.

The Minister noted that there was an inter-ministerial Cabinet Committee working on issues.

Dr Pieter Mulder, Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, said that the top Ministerial echelons could only be as good as their civil servants. Some criticism was justified, since, although there were many dedicated civil servants, there were also some that did not do good work.

Dr Mulder said that the legislative review was started with a lot of idealism and enthusiasm, but it had been realised how technical and difficult the process was. The African Law Review Forum was involved. A consultative report was coming in at the end of November or December. DAFF was also doing work on this. There was a need to prioritise.

Dr Mulder said that he and the Minister were from different political parties and this did increase the need for effective communication. However, they both agreed fully on the importance of rural development and food security.

The Committee then formally adopted the BRRR.

Commercial Abalone Fisheries Report
The Minister and Director General introduced a delegation. The Minister said that in future she would bring people who failed to give good reports, including those responsible for Ncera Farms, also to speak to the Committee.

Mr Mogokare Seleke, Deputy Director General, DAFF, briefed the Committee on the reopening of the commercial abalone fisheries. The Minister had announced the reopening of abalone fishery on 18 June 2010. The date set for the start was 1 July 2010. The DAFF had agreed, in principle, on the conditions with stakeholders. A thorough discussion had been held between right holders and DAFF. Some rights holders had lost boats or equipment in the interim period. A social relief package was therefore also announced. DAFF had allowed some vessels to go out to sea, without monitoring systems, for a short period of time. Once relief payments had been received, the fishermen should have been able to cover the logistics required.

DAFF had been monitoring the situation closely. There were 303 rights holders, and 297 applications had been processed. As of 5 October, 265 permits had been collected, 32 were still awaiting collection by rights holders, because their facilities were not yet in a good condition. 90 vessels had been issued with licenses, which were linked to 295 of the permits. A total allowable catch of 150 tonnes had been approved. 145 tons of catch rights had been issued, and 4,12 tonnes remained unallocated. The challenges included continuing poaching. DAFF had been in meeting with rights holders the week before, as they would be important in assisting to combat the poaching. There were agreements in place. The rights holders were aware of the need to toe the line, or face the risk that the fisheries might close again. DAFF had worked hard at sea policing in the preceding four months, to ensure that abalone poaching was reduced. There had been reports of successful encounters. Two Chinese containers were confiscated with 1 600 kg of abalone. The previous day’s meetings with security players that was held to put together strategy and implementation plans to deal with poaching, was highlighted.

Mr du Toit referred to a document dated 15 January that showed the areas affected, and different levels of depletion. The crux of matter was that if the proposed annual 15% decrease in poaching was not reached, then the critical population would be wiped out. He asked if this could be achieved, saying that if this was not possible, then the industry would be wiped out in a few years. There was a need for DAFF to have boats to stake out these areas and curtail poaching. It was possible even for officials to pose as poachers themselves.

Mr Abram said that in regard to poaching there was a need for buy-in by local coastal communities. The poachers were smart, and used all sorts of techniques, including using children to pick up abalone that was left in bags on the rocks, and would reward the children, who could then, through this illegal activity, feed their families. The Department would clearly not get cooperation in counteracting this from those families.

Mr Abram asked what total amount had been paid out in respect of the social relief payments, and what the impact had been. He noted that there were 32 permits awaiting collection and wondered why, after all the hue and cry that had been raised about the need for them. He noted that subsistence fishing was one thing, but on the large scale, capital intensive projects were needed. He wondered if that was the reason why, in the past, such long term permits were granted.

Mr Abram asked whether there was a level of involvement by departmental officials in the industry. If so, he enquired about the level of that challenge.

Mr Abram noted the reports of 1 600 kg abalone recovered. However, he thought it remarkable that the skippers had managed to get the vessel positioned, load the abalone, and then sail off.

Mr Abram noted the levels of monitoring and asked if DAFF thought it would win the poaching war. The current plans seemed to be too “ad hoc”. He was not convinced that DAFF had sat down with all role players to determine an intersectoral ‘war plan’. Not only was abalone being poached, but other species of marine stock were affected too. He was not sure whether there had been any record of the total amount being lost to this pilfering. He finally enquired what period the 145 tonnes total allowable catch (TAC) covered.

Ms M Pilusa-Mosoane (ANC) suggested that perhaps the police or army should be involved in the monitoring as she did not think that DAFF could provide the necessary protection.

The Chairperson said part of oversight must involve going to the ocean. The Committee must honour this invitation, before year-end. When he was at the West Coast, the issue of extension of social relief was raised by Dr J Augustyn, and West Coast communities went to the Department’s office. However, this turned out not to be correct. On the West Coast, people worked for two months only in the year. He had spoken to divers who said that they daily took out 400 tonnes in various areas. Scientists said that on the Eastern Cape coast there was 10 tonnes over seven zones over the year (or 1, 5 per zone per year). This seemed to suggest that the scientists were not always accurate. There was a need to test beyond what they said. Only 1.5 tonnes was not commercially viable.

The Minister said DAFF had taken five memorandums to Cabinet to convince it that DAFF could reopen the abalone industry. DAFF had been asking itself if poachers were removing such a high amount. If that was true, then something was wrong with the scientific reports that said that there was no abalone. It had not been easy even to convince Cabinet to initially give 150 tonnes. Different scientists gave different reports. It was necessary to report back to Cabinet in February 2011. If poaching had not decreased, the 150 tonnes would be taken away again. Therefore it was incumbent on DAFF to stop poaching.

The Minister said that the stopping of the Chinese vessel was the first time that this had been done, and the abalone was returned. This was a positive development and had made history. It had been an international operation and DAFF had received congratulations from various countries. The second success story was that now South African Revenue Services, South African Police Service, the South African National Defence Force, DAFF and the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, were all working together to curb poaching. No longer did each stick to their own operations, but they were working as an intersectoral committee. The work was more integrated, and reports were given by each entity. DAFF had only been busy with this for four months. The Eastern Cape also wanted and deserved quotas, but Cabinet was only allowing the lifting of a ban on 150 tonnes.

Mr Seleke said that abalone was one of the 22 commercial fisheries DAFF was managing. Poaching happened also across the others. However, he though that it would be effective to deal with the poaching by addressing the problems in the abalone market. If attempts to deter poachers failed, then the DAFF would have to determine where the abalone market was and where the abalone was being made available, to measure whether the poaching was increasing or decreasing. The DAFF was also dependent on the rights holders for information. He admitted that capacity was thin on the ground, because of budgetary issues. The Integrated Fisheries Management Plan was being put together, and this would address the security and surveillance side, and would detail the need for more equipment (including the replacement of vessels). DAFF also noted the need for the police to participate in order to utilise their capacity. There was currently a project that entailed utilising military veterans. DAFF was trying to upgrade and improve upon that, as it had assisted a great deal, and it also functioned as a social relief programme.

Mr Seleke outlined that there were three aspects of social relief - firstly, the allocation of the permit to fish (especially regarding rock lobster). The second was specific to the abalone rights holders, and the replacement of damaged or lost equipment, involving R9 000 per rights holder over different phases.

Mr Seleke answered the concerns about abalone in Eastern Cape by saying that there was a need to do an independent survey to gauge sustainability and the amount of the resource. This was an experimental fishery, because the extent of the resource had not been finalised. DAFF had embarked upon this process. Timing was a problem because of unstable waters and the dangers entailed. If the survey deemed the amounts available as sustainable, then the TAC would be increased.

Mr Abram again asked if there was there any involvement or financial interest of State officials in the industry.

The Minister responded that, as far as she knew, there was not. Any information on that matter would be welcomed.

Mr du Toit asked if the fact that reports of unabated poaching would result in the closing of the abalone industry would act as a deterrent to poaching being reported. This could put officials in a difficult position.

Mr du Toit also asked how poaching could be proven, as a yearly quota could be taken out in two or three days, and how DAFF was controlling this process.

Mr Abram asked if the TAC was seasonal or would extend over a couple of seasons. He also asked if the forensic audit investigation into the fisheries division had been completed, and, if so, when the Committee would receive the report. If not, he enquired how long it was still likely to take.

Mr Zitha responded that it was not yet completed. A company had been asked to work on it.

Mr Seleke said that the TAC was seasonal, but, based on the report back to Cabinet, it would be decided whether the fishery would continue. It was contingent on the conditions being satisfied. The season was for five months, but the period in which an individual fished depended on how fast that individual gathered their TAC.

Mr Abram asked for a response on the ‘war plan’.

Mr Abram referred to the Forensic Report, and thought that there had been a statement at some stage that it had been received. He also asked what the progress was, when it had been commissioned and when the report on it would be tabled.

The Minister said that she had not received the report.

Mr Zitha said the work was still ongoing and it was not completed yet. Once it was completed it would come to the Committee.

The Minister added that the report was being conducted by an independent group of auditors. The scope of the first request had been insufficient. She would issue a request broadening the scope and giving the company the mandate to go deeper and investigate more issues.

Mr du Toit said Mr Abram was asking fair questions, but no answers were being provided. He said that it had been a long time since Marine and Coastal Management (MCM) and the fisheries function had been incorporated into the Department. He asked that the Minister should tell the Committee about the initial scope, its shortcoming, and when it was issued. There must have been some good reason why that initial scope had not been issued. He also requested when she had realised that the original instructions did not go far enough.

The Minister responded that this portfolio had been handed to her in April 2010. By the end of October she would have had the fisheries portfolio for six months. It took one month for a tender to be advertised and closed. An audit company had then been appointed. She was then unhappy with the scope of the work that she had requested. Currently, she would either have to extend the work of the current company, or bring in a new company to take it beyond a superficial investigation. The new tender process would be completed before the end of the year.

The Chairperson asked when the first tender had been issued.

The Minister replied that the first tender came out two months after she had taken over the fisheries portfolio. The tender request had been closed by July, and was then issued. She had sat down with the audit company in August or September. She said that the work had in fact been done within a short time frame. No report had been given to her. The company appointed had reverted to her, and said there was not sufficient mandate to cover the expected work. That company needed an understanding of how wide it needed to go in order to issue the extended tender. The more information requested, the longer it would take.

Mr du Toit thanked the Minister for this reply. He wondered if, in regard to the initial scope of the tender, the lack of mandate would not amount to having wasted funds, especially if the work had to be done over again. He wondered who would accept the responsibility for this, and whether it was the Department, who had not issued the correct conditions of tender, or the company, for doing a report and then realising that not all the requirements could be fulfilled.

The Chairperson said the Committee had to accept that it was only now that the process was starting.

The Minister responded that she did not think there were any funds wasted. If the investigation were to be taken to different levels, the first request took the matter to level one, and opened up the need for further investigation because it produced insufficient information. She decided not to broaden the first tender, but to issue a new one. It was also possible to have retained the first tender, then extended the terms.

The Chairperson asked for the tender to be made available to the Committee.

Mr du Toit enquired about the Minister’s response that she had no report. The fact that the company had reported that their research showed that a deeper investigation was needed seemed to indicate that she had a preliminary report.

The Minister replied that there was no written report, and it was an oral interaction.

Sable antelope report
Ms Kanteni Nagrah, Head of Legal Services, DAFF, briefed the Committee on the issues around the sable antelope. DAFF had been issued with a Court order in January, and the Department had then proceeded with the drafting of the policy. The ITCA Veterinary group, consisting of provincial departments, decided that a broader policy was needed to cover all cloven hoofed animals, not just sable. A few weeks ago the African Foreign Import permit holders had taken DAFF and the Ministry to Court over the issuing of their permit, which they alleged was now due. DAFF disagreed because the process of the policy drafting had not been finalised. The matter was then postponed and did not go to court. DAFF was now moving forward on the policy.

Mr Abram said that it was of extreme concern a national Department of State was ordered by a court to ensure that policy was in place, but, after ten months, there was still no policy on the table. This illustrated why he was pessimistic about the delivery in the Department. If the Department had approached an international organisation, it could surely have provided a draft that could be adapted to South Africa’s requirements. This state of affairs was unacceptable, and placed in question the light in which South Africa was to be viewed by other countries, if it could not accede timeously to Court instruction, which in turn impacted upon whether investors would be happy to invest. This indecision had ramifications for the entire government.

Mr Abram agreed with the Minister and Director General that some officials were excellent, but others were not, and action was required on this. The Committee, as an oversight body, had to ensure that government policies were carried out, and this included investment issues. He wondered if the Committee would have to wait for another ten months to be told that the policy was now in place, or whether the Minister would put the officials on notice to put the policy before her by a specific date. The Committee would back her up if she gave stringent time frames for delivery.

Dr Bosman agreed with Mr Abram on this issue. It had a long history. Preferences had been given to certain people, and undertakings for agreements had been made with Zambia, which were not able to be executed. The Minister had been in confrontation with people in DAFF. South Africa had to ensure that its status as being free of Foot and Mouth disease was intact, to avoid disastrous consequences to import and export. This would affect more than just the red meat but other products as well. He said that all countries in the world agreed to the standards set by the international body, to which 140 member States belonged. DAFF simply needed to approach that body. The Head of the Department of Veterinary Services could surely have been contacted and it was surely possible to deal with the matter quickly. If not, then he and the Committee would like to hear the reasons. It was not correct that the issue could be dragged out and that people be moved from departments, even getting demotions in some cases, and then say that no policy was in place. He said that Mr Visser had been assured that he would get an import permit, and had outlaid millions, and negotiated with the Zambian government. This illustrated very poor management on the side of the Department. Mr Visser even went to court to force DAFF to come up with an answer. He asked the Minister to finalise the matter as soon as possible.

Ms Pilusa-Mosoane agreed that DAFF must produce a deadline, and asked when this should be.

The Minister responded that an affidavit had been issued on behalf of the Department, stating categorically that Mr Visser was never given the assurance that he would be given a permit. He took the animals into quarantine on his own cognisance. She agreed that there was an international standard setting body for exports and imports, and that in January the Red Meat Forum had taken the Department to Court to force DAFF to come up with a policy. The Court order had set out the steps to be followed. It was the Departments’ intention to keep South Africa free of Foot and Mouth. Permits had been issued previously (since 1999 and again in 2000). It was precisely because permits had already been issued in South Africa that DAFF was trying to protect its Foot and Mouth-free status. She would not pressurise any official. That was why the matter was continuing for so long. The affidavit stated that the policy must be ready by the end of October. It would be made available as soon as it was drawn.

The Minister said that there was no agreement with the Zambian Government that they would import the antelope. The draft protocol was available. The second draft would be available at end of October. She asked Dr Bosman to read the information carefully, noting that he seemed to have got his information from various sources. The animals were already in the country, which posed some questions as to the Foot and Mouth status.

Mr Abram said that amongst these documents was an undated letter from DAFF, perhaps issued around the end of September or October 2009, in which a senior official made a commitment to keep the parties updated. The Court affidavit alleged that nothing had been heard since. If a senior official made a commitment to inform a person regularly, this should have been done. These officials should be dealt with. There was also a letter from a veterinarian, who stated emphatically that he saw nothing wrong with the allocation of a permit. This created uncertainty. People who were not fulfilling their responsibilities had to be dealt with.

Dr Bosman commented on the 1999 importations. He said that South Africa had previously imported sables. The status of countries, and of rules and regulations of South Africa and the international body changed every year. Each year new regulations and systems were drawn up, sometimes making it possible to import animals from contagious countries. Every case had to be handled individually. The current status was that South Africa was Foot and Mouth free. There had been outbreaks in the past, but South Africa could not afford to have them again. He asked, in respect of the proposed regulations, whether these had been, or were to be, submitted to the international body for international publication.

The Chairperson asked what the processes were towards the creation of a policy.

The Minister said that the processes were spelt out in the Court order. Ms Nagrah noted that the original protocol was published in December, and thereafter the document was re-engineered and this would now be published. The draft policy should be ready by the end of October for comment. Information must then be considered, approved by the Minister, and then published.

The Minister said the process would happen over December, when Parliament was in recess.

The Chairperson said that other policies with far reaching implications had been issued over December, when Parliament was not in session. The timing was a potential problem.

Mr Abram said that if the policy was made available by the end of this month, then it would have to be advertised. Stakeholders needed time to respond. This might only happen in mid November. It was unfair to expect them to respond during December. He expected the process to continue into the new year.

Mr Zitha said that the Committee should not worry about the timing of this. It was an important public matter garnering much interest, and people would respond. There was too much interest, and a lot at stake.

The Minister agreed with Mr Abram on this. She noted that she had deliberately stepped aside on this as she had been accused of being confrontational and an article in Farmers Weekly even suggested that she may have been corrupted on this. She did not want to give any indication that this should be done hastily. The affidavit indicated that at the end of October the policy would be ready. She would give the public as much time as possible to comment. She herself thought that nothing would be gained from trying to rush it.

The Chairperson noted that personal financial gain should not enter into this matter, but all discussions should centre on what was good for the country.

Mr Abram wanted to clarify that the Red Meat Forum originally raised their concerns about the red meat industry. He sometimes was worried about the responses received, asking about the integrity of the officials involved. He wondered if they could be susceptible to committing misdemeanours, and said that if officials had their own individual agendas, then the DAFF was on a slippery slope. Forty million people were on social grants. They needed to be uplifted. If this was how resources were being used, it was very serious. Nobody had lobbied him.

In respect of fisheries issues, he said that the questions had not received an adequate answer, which made him suspect that some interests were at stake. It was crucial to maintain integrity. There was a need to be ruthless when dealing with any corruption, or it would leave a serious legacy. The Director General had to follow through. In addition, the Minister had every right to order her own Department to perform.

Mr Zitha responded that he was only saying that this issue was hotly contested, with emotions running high. There were large sums of money involved, and people were being lobbied, so it was necessary to try to get the support of everyone.

Mr Mulder asked that if there were any suspicions of corruption, the information should be conveyed to the Ministry, and he would certainly act on them. It was often difficult with such a large Department to identify the people creating problems.

The Minister appealed to Members to speak honestly on this matter. The Ministry had received secretive calls, with innuendos and gossip. She had no vested interest in the matter. She respected what Mr Abram had said and agreed that inefficiency should not be tolerated. Allegations of corruption had to be addressed. All information must be presented. She was willing to call the police if corruption was suspected. She asked for a new date for responses on the issues raised. She was willing to attend on a weekly basis, and was committed to responding fully on these issues before Parliament went into recess.

The meeting was adjourned.



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