The Select Committee convened a virtual meeting to hear the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform, and Rural Development (DALRRD) approach to the second round of land claims, considering the lapsing of the Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Bill [B19-2017] and the failure to adopt the Constitution Eighteenth Amendment which aimed to amend section 25 of the Constitution. The Committee wanted to know how the Department was communicating the way forward and the impact of these events on the tens of thousands of land claimants who submitted restitution claims in the second window from 1 July 2014 to 28 July 2016 before the Constitutional Court declared that Amendment Act invalid due to insufficient public participation by the National Council of Provinces and the provincial legislatures.
The Committee decided to postpone its meeting because the Minister, Deputy Ministers as well as the Department Director General were not present in the meeting. The Committee felt the meeting was very important and needed at least one of the political leadership to be present. The Department also needed to revise its responses to the Committee questions because the answers did not address the issues raised by the Committee after its 21 September Free State oversight visit.
The Chairperson was informed by the Committee Secretary that there were three apologies from the Department, including apologies from the Minister, Deputy Minister and Director General.
The Chairperson said the Department has two Deputy Ministers and it was expected that at least one of them would attend the meeting in the absence of the Minister. The meeting was very important and needed at least one of them as the political leadership of the Department or the Director General to be present. She was unsure of how to proceed with the meeting and asked the Members for their opinions.
Mr L Bebee (ANC, KZN) said this was embarrassing because the discussion was very important, and the Committee could not rely on Department officials for the engagement. The meeting would be fruitless because the Committee would not get sufficient feedback from the political principals of the Department. She asked the Committee Secretary if they had mentioned reasons for their absence.
Ms Rendani Sadiki, Chief Financial Officer: DALRRD, said the DG was abroad on a work assignment and the Minister was attending a Cabinet Committee meeting, but she did not know the reasons for the absence of the two Deputy Ministers. The Minister was represented by the Deputy Director General Kgobokoe in the meeting, and the Chief Land Claims Commissioner was also present and would lead the presentation on Land Restitution.
The Chairperson asked Members on how to proceed with the meeting.
Mr A De Bruyn (FF+, Free State) suggested a meeting postponement until the Minister or one of the Deputy Ministers was in attendance because the nature of the meeting would not allow them to continue.
Mr A Arnolds (EFF, Western Cape) said such meetings should not be convened without the political principals in future because they need to be present to account for their mandates and responsibilities. He asked the Chairperson to communicate to the Minister that this would not be allowed by the Committee.
Mr C Smit (DA, Limpopo) said it was totally unacceptable that there were no senior officials or political principals in the meeting, and this had become their modus operandi. He proposed that the Chairperson write to the Deputy President to insist that ministers start taking the Committee seriously as the Committee had asked them to comply many times and they failed to do so.
Mr I Ntsube (ANC, Free State) agreed that the meeting must be postponed because there may have been political questions and the administrators would not be able to reply to them. This was the highest form of ill-discipline by the Department. Something needed to be done to hold them accountable as time was wasted.
The Chairperson said the DALRRD presentation did not address the Committee’s questions asked during the oversight visit.
Ms Bebee agreed that it did not address the Committee questions. The Committee was being undermined. She urged the Department to revise the presentation and provide sufficient answers.
Mr M Nhanha (DA, Eastern Cape) agreed with the suggestion that the Chairperson must write to the Deputy President in his capacity as Leader of Government Business in Parliament to deal with the matter of delinquent ministers and deputy ministers who continued to undermine the Committee.
The Chairperson noted the point.
Mr De Bruyn also agreed with the suggestion. The Committee needed to ensure the meetings did not coincide with Cabinet meetings because ministers tend to use them as excuses to not attend.
Ms Nomfundo Ntloko, Chief Land Claims Commissioner, noted the point about the Department presentation and asked what was expected of them. Based on the invitation received last Thursday 20 October, the Commission on Restitution of Land Rights was asked to account for the New Order Claims. She also apologised on behalf of the Department.
The Chairperson said the Committee had sent its questions to the Department last month and accepted the apology of the Commission.
Mr Nhanha proposed the finer details of what was not reflected in the report to not be discussed in the meeting because they would be starting a debate. He suggested that the Committee Support Staff and Ms Ntloko discuss the issue aside and ensure that the Committee would receive the information it required.
The Chairperson agreed and said the meeting would be postponed until such a time where the Minister, the Deputy Ministers or the DG would be present. The Committee was not undermining the DDGs that were present in the meeting, but it needed the political principals to be in attendance so they could answer pertinent questions from the Communities and the members of the public. The Department also needed to revise its responses to the Committee’s questions because the answers did not address the issues raised by the Committee after the oversight visit.
She said Minister Thoko Didiza and Deputy Minister Mcebisi Skwatsha normally attended meetings upon invite from the Committee, so she could not write to the Deputy President after they had just missed one or two meetings. She would instead write a letter to the Minister to remind her to ensure at least one of the Deputy Ministers should be present in the meeting when she would not attend. If they then failed to do so, she would write to the Deputy President as the Leader of Government Business.
She allowed the Department to exit the meeting as the Committee would proceed with its internal matters.
The Committee Secretary, Mr Asgar Bawa, noted that the Committee did not have enough members for a voting quorum as one province was not represented so it would not be able to adopt the Committee Report and minutes.
Mr Nhanha said he found it odd that for the Free State province oversight visit, someone chose specific Members to attend and he wanted to understand what informed the decision to exclude other Committee. Members. There was no communication to members on why they were treated differently from others. One of the major contributors to his fight against apartheid was being treated differently from White people, so it was an insult to him that they were treated differently in the Committee.
The Chairperson thanked Mr Nhanha for raising a valid point and assured him that all Committee members were equal. The decision to go on oversight in the Free State was taken as a matter of urgency after a discussion with the Chief Whip. There would be another oversight visit by the Committee to deal with the same issue. She assured him that they did not mean to exclude certain members, but they chose members to represent each province to attend the emergency oversight visit to the Jagersfontein mine dam burst. They would ensure everyone attends the next oversight visit. She also apologised for the lack of communication.
Mr Nhanha accepted the apology.
The meeting was adjourned.
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