Comprehensive Agricultural Support Programme (CASP), MAFISA, Ilima-Letsema, Landcare & other Department of Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries new programmes: national and provincial briefings

Committee: Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Chairperson: Mr M Johnson (ANC)

Date of Meeting: 15 May 2012

Summary

The Committee expelled the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) when it was briefing the Committee on CASP, the Micro Agricultural Financial Institutional Scheme of South Africa ( MAFISA) and other new programmes. This resulted in DAFF not finishing its presentation and abandonment of the main objective of the briefing.

Before DAFF could make presentations, the Chairperson remarked there were two main issues that needed to be looked at thoroughly during the briefing and those were affordable and accessible finance and the extension services programme. He further expressed unhappiness when he discovered DAFF was going to present figures on expenditure only on these programmes.

Three Members stated that figures alone meant nothing if there was no document that was going to spell out achievements and failures of these programmes and policies in place, and it was disrespectful for some provinces not to come to the briefing.

The Chairperson highlighted there was a lack of communication between the chairpersons of the provincial portfolio committees and the National Assembly's Committee. However, he allowed DAFF to begin the presentations.

DAFF indicated that CASP was allocated R1 billion for the 2011/12 financial period. 63% of the total budget has been spent already. R50 million of the budget was earmarked for infrastructure revitalisation and re-opening of agriculture colleges. Since its inception a sum of R4 billion had been allocated and 97% of the budget was spent.

MAFISA was allocated R500 million of which R261 million was disbursed and R320 million transferred. Loan repayments from intermediaries were noted as a major challenge. A sum of R78 million had so far been collected from farmers, and a portion of that money was spent on funding small farmers. Intermediaries were said to be performing below the expectations of the Department.

Members commented that the MAFISA presentation was wanting and had many gaps which did not help the Committee to understand things achieved and jobs created; that both presentations lacked critical analysis on issues of outcomes and outputs; remarked there were no detailed accounts on the spread of the loans in order to get a sense of progress in each province; and DAFF was making it difficult for the Committee to know where to assist because beneficiaries were identified and money allocated but no jobs were being created in the process.


Minutes

CASP presentation
Ms Helda Mtshisa, DAFF, in her brief CASP presentation said that as at the end of the fourth quarter an allocation of R1 billion was made for the period 2011/12. 10% of that total budget went to the training of farmers. R50 million had been allocated for infrastructure revitalisation and re-opening of  agricultural colleges. 63% of the total budget had been spent. It was indicated that during the first quarter provinces got given 10%; in the second one they received 20%; and then in the third and fourth quarter they got allocated 35% respectively. Since its inception a sum of R4 billion had been allocated and 97% of the budget was spent.

Discussion
Committee Members told Ms Mtshisa to stop her presentation because there was disjuncture between the document she was presenting and the one in front of the Members. They lambasted DAFF officials for such clumsiness, and requested another speaker to present the next item on the agenda.

MAFISA presentation
Mr Mkhangu Ramashiya, DAFF, said MAFISA was allocated a sum of R500m. R261 million of the budget went to disbursements and R320 million went to transfers. It was highlighted that intermediaries were struggling to make loan repayments. Some of the blame was apportioned to the lack of monitoring in the Department and the intermediaries were performing below expectations. Reporting was said to be in disarray because it was not computerised and this was making it difficult for internal auditing processes.

A sum of R78 million was collected from farmers and, in turn, that money was being used to fund small farmers. DAFF was undertaking to increase the outreach of MAFISA by partnering with other stakeholders in order to be able to have a sustainable fund to help farmers; to integrate Fisheries into MAFISA policies; and to have computerised reporting.

Discussion
It was at this stage that Members interrupted the presentation saying it was a waste of their time because they were interested to know things that MAFISA achieved, not the wishy-washy stuff they were being fed.

Ms A Steyn (DA) commented the document was not stating the number of jobs created in each province, and was not getting into details about the R78 million collected from farmers on whether it was money owed to it for the past three or five years or not and the form in which it was going to help farmers.

Mr L Gaehler (UDM) wanted to know if DAFF had a policy in place for farmers who could not pay back their loans because farming was a risky business, and asked the Department to unpack its Eastern Cape allocations, disbursements and transfers because it appeared there was nothing done on the ground regarding MAFISA programmes.

Mr B Bhanga (COPE) remarked the presentation was lacking critical analysis because it was unclear on outcomes and outputs, and this was making him to doubt if MAFISA was genuinely serving the intended beneficiaries.

Ms M Pilusa-Mosoane (ANC) indicated that job creation by MAFISA was not convincing as that was the area where lots of jobs needed to be created. In the document there were areas where no jobs were created yet beneficiaries were identified and money was allocated.

Mr Baloyi, Chairperson, North West Portfolio Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, said the document circulated on MAFISA provided only hints, not functionality and plans of action in order to move forward. It was important the Committee to get a detailed report on each province and way forward.

Ms Skhakhane, Chairperson, Gauteng Portfolio Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, told the Department she expected it to produce a detailed report in order to help the Committee to know where to assist and this was making it difficult to interpret the figures without a narrative document, and suggested the Department to be sent back to prepare thoroughly.

Mr Nkayi, Chairperson, Eastern Cape Portfolio Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, indicated the Committee was not going to get anything from the Department because the Department was not fully prepared to engage with it.

The workshop idea
Mr Jacob Hlatshwayo, Chief Financial Officer, DAFF, suggested a one-day workshop should be held with the national and provincial portfolio committees on Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and DAFF representatives to present a detailed report so that it could be critiqued. He also asked if he could answer to the concerns of the Committee in writing.

Mr Bhanga indicated the Department should always provide context in what it was saying. The Committee wanted to see passion, but it was not there on matters like food security. Of importance to the Committee was context, achievements, challenges and way forward. He supported the idea of a workshop in order to thrash out all the things the Committee needed to understand.

Mr S Abram (ANC) and Mr Baloyi supported the staging of a workshop, but emphasised it must not be seen as a way of thinking that Members did not understand what needed to be done, challenges and way forward. They registered disappointment with the way DAFF was failing to account on matters of importance - things it was grappling with on a daily basis.

Ms N Phaliso (ANC) disagreed with the idea of written replies because the Department was a failure in that area. She stated the Committee requested a meeting with Director-General many times in order to get clarity on funds spent but to no avail. It was clear the Department was disrespecting the Committee. The Committee was not confused but wanted answers. The absence of senior accounting officers in the briefing was a clear sign the Department was not doing its work.

Ms Skhakhane said there was no reason for the Department to be in favour of a workshop. The Department was very casual in its dealings with the Committee. Maybe, it could be that it knew no punishment would be administered. The Committee knew what it was looking for. It was disheartening to see a Department given money to create jobs but which was failing in its duties, yet it was not ashamed to display a casual attitude towards the Committee.

Mr R Cebekhulu (IFP) outrightly dismissed the idea of written responses saying nothing would materialise with them. During oversight visits, the Committee asked many questions and no response was received from the Department. He insisted that the Committee should focus on the pillars of the Department and identify what it has achieved so far and rectify the wrongs.  The workshop should be held on condition the Department would answer all the questions it owed to the Committee.

Dismissal
Mr Hlatshwayo apologised to the Committee if it had taken the idea of a workshop in a negative way. The intention was not to undermine the understanding of the Members.

Ms Pilusa-Mosoane suggested the workshop be held between the provinces and Department, and politicians be excluded because they came and go and their duty was to oversee the Department and exercise oversight in provinces. The outcomes of the workshop should be communicated to the Committee.

Mr Nkayi indicated that the issues the Department raised in the presentations were of compliance in nature and suggested the Department be dismissed.

Ms Phaliso suggested the Committee not to go to the workshop. The Department was aware of what the Committee wanted and the format of reporting, and it was continuing to present departmental procedures. She suggested the Department leave the room.

The Chairperson told the Department to go away and prepare a comprehensive report. The fact was that money was allocated and transferred, yet on the ground it was a different story that the Department was telling the Committee. The Department was not doing its work.

Way forward
 The Chairperson remarked that the main aim of the briefing was to find solutions to questions related to grant disbursements and extension services which were not working at all. Extension services, it had come to his attention, were being operated through cellphones and from boots of cars and not reaching out to smallholder farmers.

Another thing he hoped was going to be discussed was the 70% imports of chicken from Brazil and how the country should address the issue and plan how it was going to salvage itself should there be a crisis in Brazil. Lastly, the issue of programmes taking place in agricultural colleges in order to bring improvements to the sector needed serious attention.

Mr Baloyi commented that the country was not balanced demographically when it came to agriculture in all provinces. A small minority was running the sector. The sector had lost direction when it came to the implementation of agricultural policies. Section 115 of the Constitution should be invoked in order for the Committee to speak to the Minister and Director-General. He suggested the following:

The Chairperson should call a meeting of Chairpersons of Portfolio Committees on Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, and invite municipal representatives, the Minister, and Director-General.

The meeting should be about the status quo of the agricultural sector and suggestions be forwarded on things that needed priority.

The Chairperson should write a letter to the Speaker and state that the Director-General was not always available to account to the Committee, and state the nature of presentations by the Department to the Committee.

The Chairperson should embark on a full scale of unannounced visits and pick one programme from either MAFISA or CASP and see what was happening in provinces.

Mr Mashaba, Chairperson: Limpopo Portfolio Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, said he discovered that in certain areas of his province money was given to old people who had never practiced farming. He wanted to know if there were programmes in place to train farmers. He emphasised that he was not suggesting money should be given to youngsters just because they were young and could not find jobs. What he was conveying to the Committee was that if the practice of funding very old people was continuing, the country would not be able to produce African farmers. But if there was a programme in place to train farmers, then the country would stop having emerging farmers. To drive the point home, he cited many instances where land and money were given to communities to farm, and later people quarreled among themselves and the intended projects collapsed.

Mr Bhanga stated that food security was no longer an ANC thing, but a national priority. He further noted that if the Minister was getting the same format of reports that were presented to the Committee that meant there was a crisis in the Department. If employment was standing at 70% that meant young people interested in agriculture should be given opportunities in the sector to propel the economy.

He urged the ruling party to look deeply into the running of the Department. The Minister and the Director-General should be summoned to tell the Committee of their frustrations. He supported the idea of unannounced visits so as to see what the Department was doing and programmes it was embarking on. If that was not happening he would do it by himself in the name of his political party.

Mr Gaehler indicated that the issue at hand was not about which party you belonged to, but it was about the country. The youth were impatient as they were always asking what was being done to make sure that  they were getting access to the sector and its programmes. He cited a situation where there were foreign people in the Eastern Cape running farms, but that was not allowed in other countries and the Department was silent on the issue.

He further noted thorough and proper research needed to be done on the agriculture sector. It was disturbing to find bananas planted in an area not suitable for them. Indigenous farmers, he suggested, should be supported so that people stopped being depended on social grants; and that the Department should give the Committee a list of programmes so that it could visit areas where such programmes were taking place.

Ms Phaliso said the Committee would not go to the workshop of the Department. There was no crisis from the Committee side. The Committee should instead crack the whip if during oversight visits nothing was happening. Being trapped in sessions and meetings organised by the Department meant the Committee would not have time to do its oversight functions properly. She supported the idea of unannounced visits.

She added that the Committee should take things head on. There was no reason for it to allow the Director-General to spend more time overseas; the Deputy Minister appeared before the Committee twice; and the Minister had never been to one Committee meeting. The Committee should be firm and administer punishment where necessary.

Furthermore, the Committee should be given a clear explanation on why the Minister was refusing to appear before it, and why the Director-General was selective in choosing Committee meetings; she noted that Agriculture needed a big research capacity because it was one of the biggest Departments in the land.

Ms Pilusa-Mosoane remarked it was a shame what the Department had done. For a very long time it had been blaming the provinces. But when the provinces were in the meeting it failed to display professionalism and do simple things. She supported the motion of unannounced visits and indicated the Committee should be joined by its provincial counterparts, and not attend the workshop of the Department. It would be good if the Committee and its provincial counterparts could come up with a plan on how these unannounced visits would be done.

Ms Skhakhane boldly stated that if the Department was failing to respond to the concerns of the Committee, then the Committee would need to revisit the rules and be firm in its actions. This casual attitude of the Department became clear during its budget where there was a lot of noise and clumsiness in the  presentation. This manifested itself in the manner it conducted itself when it was presenting to the Committee. She suggested the Committee should first take itself seriously, otherwise people would not if it was not taking itself seriously. The Committee should not be apologetic. She supported the approach of unannounced visits.

Ms Steyn said she had told the Director-General that the Zero-Hunger campaign was a good idea but conditions on the ground were different. She also asked the Committee to interrogate the issue of white farmers doing work in the rest of the continent. She highlighted that when her party tried to do an oversight in the Department it got chased away. When it enquired from the Minister about protocol to be followed, it was told the Director-General was the first person to be contacted.

Mr Abram complained that the Committee had done many oversight visits and filed recommendations, and no response and acknowledgements were received from the Department and Minister.  This meant the Committee had never reported back to the communities it had visited. As a result, the Committee had done a disservice to the communities; it had compromised food security; for three years the Committee had nothing to show of what the Department has done; and that meant the Department was full of actors. So, the Department was no longer dysfunctional, but non-existing.

The Chairperson concluded that there was a need to feel and smell agriculture; that a letter should be written to the Minister and Director-General to alert them about the concerns of the Committee; research needed to be carried out in the agriculture sector; and that Members were for the idea of unannounced visits.

The meeting was adjourned.