Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries Portfolio Committee Report on 2012 Division of Revenue Bill

Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development

01 March 2012
Chairperson: Mr M Johnson (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries appeared before the Committee to give details on queries relating to Human Resource issues, the forensic audit, Ncera Farms, fisheries and other issues that had been raised, but not answered in full, at previous meetings. At the outset, Members complained that a full document had not been made available in advance, and some did not have it at all. They also noted, as the meeting proceeded, that several of the questions were not addressed in full or adequately, and felt that the document was raising more concerns than it answered. The Department apologised, and provided more documents as the meeting proceeded. The Department indicated that no forensic audits had been done. The Department had a strategy for dealing with climate change but was still working on an Adaptation report. Reports had also been prepared on the monitoring of the work in food and agrarian matters, education and food security. The Department supported mechanisation for food security. There were still 941 vacancies that had to be filled and it was attending to this. An asset register was still required for Ncera Farms, as well as a turnaround strategy.

Members were very critical of the presentation, with several stating that it did not answer a number of issues, including the full turnaround strategy, the current position of foot and mouth disease, smallholder and subsistence farmers. Members called for reports on the delivery of tractors and for details on distribution across the provinces and plans to provide fuel to very poor farmers. They also wanted full details of how the Department intended to fill its vacancies, noting that service delivery must suffer as a result of posts not being filled, that it was undesirable to have so many people in acting posts, that priority areas of food security and agrarian reform must be addressed, and raising concerns about the number of consultants. They also raised a number of concerns in relation to fisheries, asking about the position in relation to ownership of small scale fisheries, and percentage of total catch, in the Western Cape. Some Members were critical that the fisheries function was based in Western Cape, noting that other provinces also had large coastlines. They questioned why no forensic audit had been carried out into the Marine Coastal Management branch, but the Department clarified that the forensic audit related to access to fishing rights. The Chairperson pointed out that any decision on decentralisation would have to be taken in good time to take the fishing rights process into account. Members raised their concerns also about the experimental licences in abalone fishing, noting that the income of the communities was very low, and no final report had been given. The Small Scale Fisheries policy was also questioned. Members called for reports on the Agricultural Colleges, criticised the reporting on Ncera Farms as inconclusive, commented that a time frames were needed for the turnaround strategy, and questioned whether those who had been responsible for wrongdoing were sanctioned. They noted that this issue needed a dedicated session. Members pointed out that legislative amendments were needed to several Acts, and requested that performance agreements must be presented in the forthcoming week.

Meeting report

Chairperson’s opening remarks.
The Chairperson welcomed everyone to the meeting and indicated that the purpose of the meeting was to hear the DAFF’s response to issues raised by the Committee in previous meetings. He noted the need to track the questions and resolutions, so that in future they would not remain outstanding for some time. He noted that the Committee’s oversight reports must also be done in good time so that there could be follow ups on decisions.

The Chairperson said that the outstanding issues were listed in the attached document. The Ncera Farms report had also been distributed, and it was clear that work was needed within Ncera Farms, which should be attended to without delay.

Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries report on outstanding matters
Mr Langa Zita, Director General, Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, apologised about the delay in reporting back on the issues and assured the Committee that the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF or the Department) wished to maintain its good relationship with the Portfolio Committee.

Mr Zita started to deliver the presentation, reading from a document.

Several Members interrupted, noting that they did not have any documents in front of them, and it would be useful to have that document from which the Department was speaking. Some Members noted that they had received documents only that morning.

Mr Zita then continued that there had not been a forensic audit report, since no forensic audit was conducted.

Mr S Abram (ANC) interrupted to raise his objections, and note that if there was no investigation, this posed the question of where the information was gleaned, and why no forensic investigation was done.

The Chairperson asked the Members to allow the DAFF to finish the presentation, and they should take notes for discussion later.

Mr Zita continued that there was a draft strategy for dealing with Climate Change, and a report had been prepared for discussion. However, the DAFF had not yet developed the adaptation report.

He noted that there was a report containing a framework for monitoring the work of the three sectors of food and agrarian matters, education, and food security, and all these sectors were operating according to norms and standards. The Food Security plan supported mechanisation.

In relation to Human Resources matters, the Department had done quite a lot, although there were 941 vacancies that needed to be filled. The candidates’ backgrounds were checked, for criminal records and other matters. The Department needed monitoring and reporting mechanisms to monitor the vacancies in the department.

He finally stated that an asset register was required for Ncera Farms and a turnaround strategy was also needed.

Discussion.
Mr Abram said that the Committee could not possibly engage with the Department on the basis of this presentation, as it was not clear, and furthermore Members had received that document only on the morning of the meeting. He suggested that further discussion be deferred until everyone had the document.

Mr L Van Dalen (DA) also requested the documents to be given to Members in electronic form. He noted that he, like several of his colleagues, had to travel in to Parliament, and it was cumbersome to carry piles of documents around with him.

Ms A Steyn (DA) also complained that it was impossible to engage fully with the document as it had just been received. Later in the meeting, she noted that the more she read the document in detail, it became more apparent that this document did not answer the Committee’s questions at all. It did not appear to have been checked before being printed.

Ms Steyn was not happy that the Department, despite having been asked for some time to present its turnaround strategy, had not done so before; she noted that the strategy document now presented was dated in September. She asked whether the Committee had agreed on that strategy, and when this might have been.

Mr B Bhanga (COPE) agreed with other Members that it would have been preferable to circulate documents before the meeting.

Mr Zita noted that, in response to questions raised at the last Committee meeting, the Department held special sessions discussing finances. The Chief Financial Officer would appear before the Committee to present a report later. He said the Committee should understand that some of the problems the Department faced originated from the provinces. The Department had done something about it, but was trying to appointing people responsible for different areas, who would visit all the projects, and those findings would then be presented to Parliament. There were challenges on the ground in terms of capacity and the Department was working to rectify them.

Tractors
Ms Pilusa-Mosoane asked for clarity on the seventy two tractors given to the provinces and why other provinces missed out.

Mr Abram asked for an indication of how the distribution across the provinces had been decided upon. There were reports that the process was flawed. He said the entire supply chain process needed to be accounted for.

Ms Steyn demanded full details of which provinces had received tractors, how many each received, and how many people benefited.

The Chairperson raised concerns by some of the farmers he had visited who said that they had received the tractors but they did not have the fuel or diesel to use it.

Mr Zita reminded the Members that the Department was working with limited resources. The number of 72 tractors given to provinces was really very small; the aim was to make 5 million tractors available, and the Department planned to lobby National Treasury on this issue. There had been discussions about making the tractors available for free, or selling them cheaply, so that the buyers could earn extra income by renting them out when they were not being used. DAFF wished to discuss the provision of fuel for the tractors with the Department of Social Development, possibly by instituting a voucher system to take care of the needs of the most destitute people.

Mr Zita said that the tractors allocation to provinces was managed by the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) and there was a public document that was available.

Human resources
Mr Bhanga referred to the human resources matters and said that DAFF was contributing to the 72% unemployment rate mentioned by the President mentioned, noting the 941 vacancies. He asked the Department to provide a plan on recruitment of people to fill the vacancies. The Department also needed to look at promoting people internally. The Department was not doing its job in some respects and he requested what the impact would be and whether the Minister would be taking responsibility.

Ms M Pilusa-Mosoane (ANC) thought the Department was heading for trouble if it still had 941 vacancies as it could not move forward.

Ms Phaliso asked if the Department was saying that the vacant posts would be filled in this financial year, or the next financial year. She urged it to attend to this, as the Department could not rely on people in acting positions, who were needed to attend to their own jobs as well as the acting positions. She noted, in particular, the need to fill posts in food security and agrarian reforms, which were priority areas identified by the President, and enquired how the Department intended to move forward if these posts were not filled.

Ms Steyn raised concerns about the spending on consultants, asking whether the Department was still using consultants at present. She also wanted to know how much was spent on legal matters.

Mr Abram said the issue of vacant posts had been raised several times. He thought the Department was dysfunctional. He was opposed to appointing people to acting posts, as this did not give them job security and therefore affected delivery. He agreed with his colleagues that specific reports were needed on the filling of posts, which was vital to the Department delivering on its mandate.

An official from the Human Resources branch of DAFF responded to questions relating to Human Resources Management. The Department shared the concerns of the Committee about the high number of unfilled vacancies. He pointed out that the appointment of people into the Department had become more and more regulated over the years, in response to various challenges, and this added to the difficulty in filling the posts. The overall vacancy rate of government was 14%, yet the Department was below this, at 13.3% vacancy, and was hoping to reduce this to under 10%. The turnover rate of staff was 6%, and the target for filling of vacancies could not be lower than the turnover rate. DAFF had set a time limit of six months for the filling of certain posts. The Department had appointed an Organisational Development Committee, chaired by the Director General, to provide oversight for recruitment. The Department also faced the challenge that it did no have enough funds to fill certain positions.

Ms Steyn asked if people employed on contracts were then appointed as permanent staff members and filled a place in the organogram.

The HR official responded that consultants or contractors were appointed for project related purposes or on a fixed contract basis. The fixed contracts could not be extended twice and if the appointment was to exceed this period, then a permanent position was required to be created and filled.

Mr Bhanga thanked the department for the lengthy explanation but he was interested in hearing how the Department could work, within the constraints that it currently had, to fill the vacant posts.

Fishery matters
Mr Van Dalen asked Mr Zita to confirm the rumour that 80% of the commercial fishing was caught in the Western Cape, noting that fishing stocks in the Western Cape were depleted and it was not sustainable to keep fishing in those areas. He also asked for confirmation that 60% of small fisheries were black-owned. He also asked for follow up about the small scale fisheries plan, noting that it had been tabled to the Committee, but a report on implementation was needed.

Ms Sue Middleton, Acting Deputy Director General: Fisheries, DAFF,  said that it was true that 80% of commercial fisheries were in the Western Cape, as a lot of the high value species were found in that province. Stock depletion, however, was not a problem only in the Western Cape, but everywhere. The small scale fisheries policy had been circulated to the Committee before and she would make a copy available to Mr Van Dalen. She pointed out that support had been shown for it by the Cabinet subcommittee, at a recent meeting, and that there would be further consultations in areas around the coast, which would culminate in a Fishing Indaba.

Mr Zita said that the figure of 66% black ownership by black people of fishing operations in the Western Cape sounded correct, if the definition of black people included coloured, Indians and Africans.

Mr Van Dalen said that there were frequently accusations that the Western Cape was still privileged and not transformed, but the figure quoted by Mr Zita seemed to give a good indication of transformation.

The Chairperson pointed out that this did not necessarily mean that everything was fine in the Western Cape, as there was a lot of poverty in the coastal communities.

The Chairperson raised a matter that was first aired during the Fishing Indaba 2011, and questioned what the Department’s reaction would be to a call for amnesty, so that all those who had acted wrongly in the past could come forward, say they had done wrong, and give an assurance to start from a clean slate. More serious issues were raised as the matter was further investigated. This was an old problem that had become entrenched.

The Chairperson noted that there were two issues to which the Minister had alluded. One related to he decentralisation of the Fisheries branch, although there were also comments that the Fisheries branch should not be based in Tshwane or in the main office. A linked matter related to the Forestry branch, which was also not based at Tshwane. He was raising this because there were certain processes due in 2013 around applications for rights. These matters had been raised over the past eighteen months, and it was then said that the process would be rolled out “over the next financial year”. No concrete plan had yet been provided, and was needed.  and that it would be rolled out in the next financial year. This was said in the previous year. A concrete plan was needed on the matter.

The Chairperson continued that the second issue raised by the Minister related to abalone and the experimental licenses. He referred to a community in Hamburg, which had 133 beneficiaries, yet this community had received an allocation of only 1.5 tonnes, which was far too little to allow them to survive for the year; it had been calculated that they would earn only R300 per beneficiary for the entire year on this basis. The experiment had raised the expectations of the community. The present regime made it difficult to protect the oceans from which several poachers were benefiting. He noted that a review had been requested, but there had been no indication given by the Department as to what happened to the matter.

Ms Sue Middleton, Acting Deputy Director General: Fisheries, DAFF responded to these issues. The matter of decentralisation or centralisation, or having a presence in the provinces, was being discussed and debated at Ministerial level. She supported the Chairperson’s proposal that once the Department had come to a conclusion, and if this was in favour of decentralisation, then the plans must be in place before the long term allocation processes started in the middle of the coming year.

Ms Middleton said that the abalone experimental fisheries in the Western Cape were conducted with a view to determining whether it would be viable to open up a commercial arm in the Eastern Cape. The conclusion was that stock was too limited, and DAFF would need to come up with another solution. The season closed in February, and the Department would need to review the exercise and come up with recommendations.

The Chairperson raised that the main issue related to the timing. This matter had been raised in the previous year, had gone through the Cabinet process, and was then extended again for another three years. This was unfair because it was raising false expectations. Clearly, in view of the R300 earnings, an alternative had to be found that would allow the communities to earn a decent livelihood while the experiment was ongoing.

Mr Zita said that the Department had a project in Fisheries in the area in aquaculture that would pay better wages. There was a lot of abalone in the area, but there was also a lot of poaching there.

The Chairperson accused the scientists from Rhodes University of misleading the government by giving them false information. He also requested the Department to think seriously about the community and their survival.

Mr Van Dalen pointed out that it normally took about five to six years before the abalone was ready for commercial harvest.

Ms Middleton said that the Department would report back on the abalone issue in Hamburg.

Ms N Phaliso (ANC) stated in no uncertain terms that she thought the Marine Coastal Management (MCM) unit’s management audit was questionable and that an investigation was needed, even if the  Auditor-General did not deem it necessary. The complaints from people on the ground appeared to be genuine. She also noted that it was not necessary to base this unit in Western Cape, pointing out that there were four other provinces with a marine coastline.

Ms Middleton noted that it was not entirely true that Fisheries had no presence in provinces other than the Western Cape; it did have a presence, though mostly for enforcement purposes.

Mr Bhanga also raised the issue of the forensic audit of the Marine Coastal Management (MCM) entity, noting that the Department would need to commission an audit for the entity.

Mr Abram also raised again the issue of the forensic audit report for the MCM, saying he too was surprised to hear that the audit had never been commissioned as he remembered the Committee being told that there had been an investigation.

Ms Steyn noted the large amount of R3 million spent on breeding stocks and asked what the idea was behind it.

Mr Abram referred to the Small Scale Fisheries policy, and complaints about exclusion of community members, some of whom had testified that they had been asked to leave meetings, despite the fact that they were the very people whose views had to be respected.

Mr Zita answered that the DAFF had a list of participants who had attended the meetings for Small Scale Fisheries, and noted that this would prove that nobody was excluded.  Mr Zita reminded the Committee that the meeting was organized by the state and civil society and there was an all-inclusive process followed.

Mr Zita requested the Members to furnish the Department with any specific issues they were finding in Fisheries.

Ms Middleton said that she wanted to make a distinction between the Fisheries clean audit report and the report on the issues of access to fishing rights, which was the subject of the forensic audit. A different process was needed to deal with this. The Department was now faced with an opportunity to address the past and the allocations process could deal with this. 


Colleges
Ms Steyn asked for a written report on activities in Nooitgedacht, as she had not seen the report.

Mr Zita said that the issues relating to Nooitgedacht was not in the report and it was a matter relating to the Agricultural Research Council (ARC), who needed to explain this.

Ms Steyn also asked for follow-up reports on the Fort Cox and Middledrift Agricultural Colleges, noting that there had been reports about vandalism, strikes and demonstrations at the Potchefstroom Agricultural College. In the previous year, DAFF had mentioned the upgrade of these Colleges, and there had been money budgeted for this. She therefore wanted an update.

Ms Pilusa-Mosoane also made reference to the three colleges that the  Department had said it would renovate and refurbish the previous year. The report suggested that these colleges were operative already. She thought this was incorrect, pointing out that there was no difference apparent in some of the colleges she had visited in Limpopo.

Ncera Farms
Ms Steyn continued that she had managed to skim through the Ncera Farms report, but asked when the farm was bought and how long it had been under the Department’s (or the previous Department’s) control. She wanted to know about the land allocation for the nine developing farmers, and asked if the financing included all the different types of farms. She suggested that in future, it would be helpful to separate the different types of farms, making a distinction between state owned ones and privately owned farms.

Ms M Pilusa-Mosoane (ANC) criticised the report on Ncera Farms as confusing especially since it noted that the asset register had excluded ten farms that were apparently part of Ncera.

Mr Bhanga asked for clarity on the Ncera Farms asset register, the value of the assets when the farm was bought, the value at the present moment, and what portion of the assets could be accounted for.

Ms Phaliso also said that a time frame was needed for the Ncera Farms turnaround strategy. She asked if the Department had taken any action against the people who had committed acts of corruption and were responsible for job losses due to bad management practices.

Mr Zita responded, in relation to allegations of corruption at Ncera Farms, that the Department had instructed its legal division to give advice on what needed to be done. The Ncera Farms were based in Eastern Cape, and the service providers came from Limpopo.

The Chairperson suggested that the Ncera Farm issues needed to be dealt with in a dedicated session.

Mr Zita said that the Department had given its formal view on the issues, but if the Committee felt that it needed to go further, then it would need to provide the Department with a written request to open up the process again.

Legislative amendments
The Chairperson said that no legislation had been tabled to the Committee by the Department since 2009, and he questioned why this was so as some of the legislation was old and needed to be amended. It was not up to the Committee, but the Department, to attend to the drafting of the necessary amendments.

Ms Steyn noted that the Committee had visited some of the areas mentioned in the report. She had visited a quarantine station, on the day following the Committee meeting at which some questions on this issue had been raised. She found that some of the lists of products were outdated, and an amendment was clearly needed to deal with this. She also noted that the Liquor Act presented an even bigger problem in that the Act did not deal with “ale”, which people were now producing in large volumes.

General
Mr Abram agreed with comments made by his colleagues. He expressed severe disappointment with the report. The DAFF had listed twenty five to thirty bullet points that needed responses, but the Department basically answered none in detail, and key issues had not been addressed. The country had a problem with foot and mouth disease but there was no report on it. Mr Abram noted that The Committee had continuously called for detailed reports on all smallholder and subsistence farmers receiving assistance, but these were not forthcoming. He said it was not a good practice for the Committee to be sitting in Parliament approving budgets worth billions without getting any reports on them.

Mr Van Dalen asked about the price of abalone, and questioned whether the Department was really concerned about stopping the poachers. He pointed out in this regard that the state actually benefited from the stealing, as it sold confiscated abalone on auction and in some cases the very people who were responsible for the poaching were buying the abalone back. He also asked if the auctions were conducted openly.

Mr Zita explained that the Department was working towards the amendment of the Coastal Management Act to prevent such a situation. Ms Middleton said the price ranged from R1 800 to R2 000 per kg. The auctions were open, and that the Department would inform the Committee when the next one was to be held, although she pointed out that they were not very frequent.

The Chairperson requested that the performance agreements be presented to the Committee the coming week.

The Chairperson concluded that the Department had answered items in the list of the document before the Committee, and some of the background reports were before the Committee.

The meeting was adjourned.

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