Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries restructuring; Presentation on Floods with Minister; Maritime Coastal Management investigation

Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

23 January 2011
Chairperson: Mr L Johnson (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee heard a briefing from the Department on its Organisational Structure Rollout Project. This was a result of the amalgamation of Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries. Several directorships were set up under the leadership of the Director-General to deal with all organisational needs of the Department. The existing personnel, strategy and mandate had to be realigned with the organisational needs; redundant workers would either be redeployed to other Departments, spheres of government or retrained. Members concerns were: the restructuring focussed on administration while agriculture needed extension officers on the ground, why Fisheries was based in Cape Town and not Pretoria, the need to create an environment where farmers could create more employment opportunities and address national food security, government not doing enough to ensure farmers had access to foreign markets, the collapse of agriculture colleges.

The Department also spoke about the impact of the Summer 2010 - 2011 floods and what actions had been taken to alleviate the situation. Eight provinces with the exception of the drought stricken Western Cape experienced severe flooding. A disaster management unit was set up to asses the situation and provide temporary relief and supplies, while medium and long term plans were in the pipeline to reverse damage to humans, livestock, property and infrastructure. Members concerns included the need to set up early warning systems that would ensure excessive rainfall did not cause so much damage in the future. The Minister emphasised that there would be no financial compensation, but the Department would be meeting all the Agriculture Unions on 25 January 2010.

The briefing on the investigation into fisheries and the Maritime Coastal Management was closed to the public.


Meeting report

Departmental Briefing on organizational structure Rollout Project
Ms Michelle Moonsamy, Advisor to the Minister, said that the Department had seen the transfer of the Forestry and Fisheries functions from the previous Department of Water Affairs and Forestry and the Department of Environmental affairs and Tourism respectively, to the Department of Agriculture. The new mandate of the Department had necessitated realignment of strategy, objectives and mandate. These in turn led the Department to organizational design at macro level and detailed level design, then role profiling and job evaluation. The Department had to decide on a “placement” approach and strategy, and the implementation process would result in the new look Department.

Under the new organizational structure the Director-General was the head of the administerial staff, which had been running 9 units headed by Deputy Directors General. These were: Corporate Services, Finance, Stakeholder Relations and Legal Services, Policy Planning, Economic Development, Food Security and Agrarian Reform, Agriculture Production Health & Safety, Forestry & Natural Resources Management, and Fisheries.

Ms Moonsamy explained that placement or repositioning of employees from one post in an existing organisational structure to another position in a new structure within the same employer was guided by the DPSA’s Guide on Transformation and Restructuring 2006. If senior managers were not initially employed into the new organisational structure, the alternative would be to keep them in a corporate “pool” with a lifespan of a maximum of 6 months, or re-skill them where appropriate. Employees could also be redeployed or transferred to other posts or departments or other spheres of government. The last alternative would be early retirement only after they were offered voluntary severance packages. Out of 124 senior managers only 2 senior managers were redundant. After consultation with the relevant parliamentary committees, placement letters would be sent to the managers affected by the reorganisation, and then the placement process would kick off.

Discussion
Mr L Bosman (DA) felt that the organisational restructuring did not address food security and economic sustainability. Market accessibility was another issue which was not clearly addressed; there was more focus on administration. He said that the organisational restructuring project was supposed to be in place already.

Mr N Du Toit (DA) thanked the Department for consulting agriculture unions and the effort put on marketing of agricultural products. South Africa was competing with developed counties in Europe and North America that subsidised their farmers. He asked how much money was spent on the restructuring process.

Mr J B Hlatshwayo, CFO, replied that it was R15 million.

The Chairperson asked why the Fisheries unit appeared as if it was treated separately as if it was not in the same Department

Mr Langa Zita, Director General, explained that the Fisheries Unit was based in Cape Town while the rest of the units were in Pretoria.

The Chairperson said that Mr Zitha’s explanation was insufficient because Forestry could then be based in Mpumalanga because the majority of forest plantations were in that province. The Department should not continue with some things just because of historical reasons.

Mr Zitha said that the Department would look at this suggestion.

Mr S Abram (ANC) said that South Africa had the potential to be self sufficient in terms of food security and export surplus food to other countries. The role of the Department was to create an environment through which jobs could be created, because agriculture was labour intensive. He also mentioned that agricultural colleges were collapsing. He asked what the Department was doing to revive them.

Ms Tina Joemat, Hon Minister of Agriculture, replied that the Department was busy reopening all closed agriculture colleges and reviving those that were collapsing. The Department would send someone to serve in the agriculture marketing body ITEC with good acumen to deal with tariffs and export opportunities. Maize producers were not organised because two major buyers were interested in buying South African surplus maize, but the maize producers could not close that deal because of lack of co-operation between stores and traders. She had a problem with Members who had a fixation with the outdated Agriculture Sector Plan, she urged Members to familiarise themselves with the National Growth strategy. She pointed out that her performance agreement had been signed by the President.

Ms M Pilusa-Mosoane enquired about causes of employee redundancy.

Ms Moonsamy explained that redundancy meant the posts no longer existed but those employees could be utilised within the Department.

Mr Du Toit mentioned that he had heard that there was enough maize for export but freight rail transport was not properly functioning. He urged the Department to have a look at it.

Mr Zitha replied that two countries wanted SA maize but the sector could not deliver because the relationship between farmers and traders was not good at all.

Presentation on Floods
Mr Langa Zita, Director General, said that SA had experienced dry conditions in 2010. An  assessment had been done to ascertain the extent of the drought throughout the country in 2010. A drought declaration was made in October 2010. Late rains brought floods and in some cases disasters. Flooding occurred in KwaZulu Natal, Mpumalanga, Gauteng, Free State, Northern Cape and the North West.

The preliminary assessment of recent floods showed that 8 provinces reported flooding and only the Western Cape was spared. The most affected were the Free State, North West and Northern Cape due to their proximity to the Orange River. The impact was damaged infrastructure such as farm dams, roads, houses, loss of life, death of livestock, loss of electricity and damage to crops. Lots of farm workers had lost jobs while the seasonal harvesting workers could not be employed by the affected farmers. 

The Department had disseminated early advisory information to guard against further losses. It had regular contact with affected municipalities to provide technical strategic support on disaster management. The Department had facilitated the classification and declaration of affected areas. An Inter Ministerial Committee (IMC) had, among other things, set up a National Disaster Management Centre to declare Disaster Areas and report back to the IMC after water levels have dropped. The South African Weather Service warned that above normal rainfall was still expected all over the country. More floods were expected because the soil was saturated with water. Challenges included inaccessibility to farming areas which had prevented proper assessment and quantification of loss and damages. Full assessment and verification would be conducted after water levels had dropped. The poor quality of infrastructure had contributed to the problem, because most of the infrastructure was old and poorly maintained. Farmers with farms along flood plains (along the rivers) needed strategy and risk reduction to minimise damage during such disasters.

Discussion
Mr Bosman thanked the Minister for the efforts taken by the Department and said that South Africans should be made well aware of future potential for disaster. Insufficient planning resulted in improper utilisation of catchment areas. He cited the example of the Orange and Vaal River dams releasing water simultaneously which then resulted in the flooding of down stream areas. He suggested that a National Disaster Insurance Scheme Fund should be set up for disaster relief. All flood prone areas should be clearly demarcated in future so that people did not build houses in those areas.

Mr Abram said that the summer 2010-2011 floods were preventable. If adequate action had been taken to release water in time so that the dams could capture the oncoming flow. He acknowledged that the Department of Water Affairs wanted to make sure that the dams were 100% full before water was released to go downstream. Places like the Hartebeestpoort Dam, a playground for the rich, where they had built palatial holiday homes, were not safe at all. South Africa needed strict regulations against building settlements on river and dam banks and flood plains and the total eradication of informal settlements at such places. He reiterated Mr Bosman’s position about early warning systems.

Ms N Thwala (ANC) enquired about the methods used to disseminate information about the impending disaster.

Mr Zitha replied that radio and other mass media such as pamphlets were used to warn people in affected areas.

The Chairperson explained that climate change made it very difficult to predict large scale disasters.

Mr Du Toit mentioned that the Du Toits Kloof area in the Western Cape had the highest rainfall per square kilometre in SA. The dams in that area were so coordinated that there had been no floods in that area for the past 30 years. Most of the people responsible for releasing water on time were on leave because of the festive season holidays. More people needed to be trained in disaster management. The Government needed to help farmers to get back on their feet. He explained that the soil in flood plains was highly fertile and yielded more than other areas, therefore it was attractive to farmers. He suggested the establishment of a disaster management unit in the Department.

The Minister mentioned that the SA Weather Service had warned farmers about La Nina phenomenon. It caused drought in the Eastern and Western Cape while the rest of the country experienced tropical thunderstorms which resulted in floods. The Department had to wait for motivation from municipalities before they could declare them as disaster areas as stipulated by the Disaster Act. The risk was managed to reduce more fatalities. Proper assistance to the affected localities could only be done once all the data had been collected. Infrastructure would be rehabilitated and more assistance would be forthcoming in the form of seedlings and other necessary items. The Minister emphasised that there would be no financial compensation, but the Department would be meeting all the Agriculture Unions on 25 January 2010.National Disaster Fund insurance was a long term solution because it needed to be legislated on. Medium term assistance would be the rehabilitation of irrigation infrastructure, while immediate intervention was done by the Department of Health by providing water purifiers and chlorine to guard against water borne diseases. The Department of Social Services in each province provided clothing, blankets and temporary shelter while the Department of Home Affairs helped those people who had lost or had damaged identity documents. The South African National Defence Force engineers were also helping in making temporary roads and bridges.

The meeting was adjourned.



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