Bala Farms and Perishable Products Export Control Board: briefings

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Meeting report

AGRICULTURE AND LAND AFFAIRS PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE


5 April 2005
BALA FARMS AND PERISHABLE PRODUCTS EXPORT CONTROL BOARD: BRIEFINGS

Acting Chairperson: Ms E Ngaleka (ANC)

Documents handed out:

Deregistration of Bala Farms: PowerPoint presentation
Perishable Products Export Control Board Report (email info@pmg.org.za)
Perishable Products Export Control Board PowerPoint presentation

SUMMARY
The Committee was briefed by Bala Farms and the Perishable Products Export Control Board (PPECB). Bala Farms was reporting on the deregistration process to transfer four farming units to the intended beneficiaries. Bala Farms had ceased its operations and the final deregistration was in the hands of relevant government bodies. The PPECB then presented its budget and strategic plan. This included its legislative mandate, recent outcomes and goals, strategic programmes, black economic empowerment (BEE) and the budget.

Members asked Bala Farms about how the deregistered farms would now proceed and whether there was any assistance to be offered to the beneficiaries from the government or Bala Farms. To the PPECB, Members asked more about staffing, BEE initiatives and international involvement.

MINUTES

Bala Farms briefing
Bala Farms was represented by Sarah Choane, the Chief Financial Officer, and Mr Meyer Du Toit, the Chairperson. Ms Choane updated the Committee on their progress in deregistering four farming units that had been transferred to the identified beneficiaries. Two properties had been disposed of, and two had been transferred to the Department for disposal to avoid delays. To deregister the properties, all assets and liabilities had to be liquidated or ceded to the Department, a certificate of Compliance had to be issued by the SA Revenue Services (SARS), relevant resolutions had to be taken by the Board of Bala Farms and accounting, auditing and legal matters had to be resolved.

Discussion

Mr M Ngema (IFP) asked whether deregistration had been the only option, or if there had been any other way to transfer the company to the beneficiaries.

Ms Choane said that the decision to deregister had come from the Ministry. Bala Farms had been specifically set up to act as a holding company to redistribute land to beneficiaries.

Dr E Schoeman (ANC) asked what would happen now to ensure that the farms proceeded as operational units and whether the Department of Agriculture was involved in that process.

Ms Choane said that that was not part of the mandate of Bala Farms and that the Department was responsible for the transfer of land. Bala Farms had begun to transfer the two remaining farms to the beneficiaries but transferred them back to the Department to avoid delays, so were still involved in ensuring that these remained a priority.

Mr T Ramphele (ANC) asked whether it would be possible for the existing Bala Farms structure to be used to assist beneficiaries. Farms that had been profitable could be lost due to the lack of experience of private owners.

Ms Choane said that Bala Farms had been shut down and that no structure existed any longer. The ‘gap’ of post-settlement was a policy issue and needed to be dealt with.

The Chairperson said that the Ministry had asked for Bala Farms to be deregistered and that the issues needed to be brought forward by the Committee and policymakers to fill that gap.

Perishable Products Export Control Board briefing
The PPECB was represented by Mr Neels Hubinger, CEO, Mr Du Prier, Chairperson, Mr Johan Schwiebus, Executive: Finance and IT, Mr Dean Martin, Executive: Inspection, Cold Chain, and Ms Geraldene Du Toit. Mr Hubinger presented the strategic plan, which focused on transformation. He outlined PPECBs legislative mandate, outcomes from 2004 – 2006, the operational context of PPECB and its operating model. The PPECB was working towards assessing risk through more scientific methods, aligning with Department of Agriculture regulatory services, and developing BEE programmes. Mr Schwiebus outlined the budget for the PPECB, which totalled R104 million.

DiscussionDr A Van Niekerk (DA) asked for information on interactions with international organisations that would enable PPECB to stay updated on overseas requirements. Where did the research capacity come from in South Africa?

The Chairperson asked why white people still dominated in PPECB and what stake was currently held by individuals from historically disadvantaged communities.

Mr Hubinger said that most of the PPECB’s work dealt with export processes which was done mostly with their own expertise, and through alignment with international cold chain technology developers. They did not have the resources to maintain their own research and development unit but did have the technology to assess the application of techniques on the product. In terms of product assessment, they worked more closely with international partners.

Mr Martin said that the PPECB was involved in the International Conference for Inspection Services, which dealt with the harmonisation of international standards. They were also represented at conferences dealing with United Nations, European Union and and Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) standards.

Mr Hubinger said that the function of inspection services had been assigned to the PPECB in 1991, and they had also taken over the staff in the Department of Agriculture that had been doing this service. To sustain efficiency, the PPECB had taken a policy of moderate aggressive replacement of this staff. They did not have an aggressive policy of presenting early retirement packages, because they would be unable to replace these people, but were involved in recruiting at relevant training institutions to change the composition of PPECB.

Ms Du Toit said that three factors affected recruitment. A diploma was required, there was no trained pool to recruit from because the PPECB was unique, and those studying agriculture were not aware of the export field. They were involving stakeholders and exporters in lobbying in colleges and giving career guidance, and were engaged in curriculum development to develop a more international perspective. They were working towards removing the diploma requirement by recognising previous learning.

Mr Hubinger said that they were achieving the 42% procurement goal for previously disadvantaged communities already.

Mr Ngema asked whether the bursary programme was used to address the issues of staffing.

Ms Du Toit said that there was an internal and an external bursary programme. In terms of the external programme, they were sourcing from seven colleges to get a broad national range. Fifteen students were given bursaries for a year of training and then offered preferential treatment for permanent contracts. These students were from previously disadvantaged groups.

My Hubinger said that he was impressed to see the success of this programme.

Mr S Holomisa (ANC) asked why this board had remained relevant while other boards had been abolished.

Mr Hubinger said that during the time of deregulation of the marketing boards, the focus was on deregulating the marketing environment. At the time, it was wise to maintain and sustain standards, because many exporters were entering the field without any experience. The PPECB had played an important role as an independent statutory quality assurance service provider. It was a role-player in terms of maintaining standards, partnerships and integrity. It was wise to maintain the PPECB, but should be called something other than a ‘board’ to change its image to that of a partner in the industry.

Mr Schoeman said that this industry was very seasonal and asked if the staff were under-utilised, or over-utilised at certain stages, and whether the PPECB had made use of temporary staff in any way.

Mr Martin said that over-and under-utilisation was a problem, and that they did make use of contract technologists for short periods. Seasonal plans were derived from a National Resource Plan to manage ‘overlaps and lags’.

Mr Hubinger said that in the low season, they conducted training and staff took leave, so that there was spare capacity in only small portions of the year. They were looking at transferring this capacity into other industries or for international training.

The Chairperson asked for a formal invitation for the Committee to visit the PPECB site.

The meeting was adjourned.

 

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