Strong words were exchanged between the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and the Portfolio Committee on Agriculture recently. Over several months the Committee had voiced its disquiet at the absence of the Minister and Deputy Minister from Committee meetings. This was conveyed to her when she finally met with the Committee to discuss the closure of the Ncera Farms, a public entity that was supposed to provide training and support to small-scale farmers, but which has been beset with problems leading to a forensic enquiry.
The Minister immediately took exception to the criticism and said that the Portfolio Committee was making her work extremely difficult by asking that she attend Parliament so often. She accused the Committee of incompetence, and blamed opposition MPs, in particular, for preventing 20 pieces of legislation that were urgently needed to rectify problems. The Committee countered that in fact it had constantly been questioning the Department as to when the legislation would be tabled, and the Minister then said there was no point in bringing legislation before “such a hostile environment”.
The Minister claimed that the Committee’s core business was to provide a legal framework within which the Department could operate, not micro-manage, and criticised its “obsession” in calling for her dismissal. Furthermore, she failed to see why so much time was being spent on Ncera, since it accounted for only 0.05% of budget. The Committee pointed out that its core function was in fact to exercise oversight, to check how public funding was spent, and that problems at Ncera obviously affected the budget and operations of the whole Department.
Later, it was disclosed that a disciplinary process into Ncera would run in November, that the farms would be de-registered, and the Eastern Cape Provincial Department and Agricultural Research Council would be trying to continue operations under a new model, whilst title deeds of the farms would be handled by the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform. Some of the 36 employees would be retired, and others transferred, if they approved, to other departments or entities. Members wanted to know if the Minister had visited Ncera, and asked what employees had been doing for the last five years.
The Minister went on to say that the Committee had failed to consider what the National Development Plan meant for the agricultural sector, and there was misunderstanding on the meaning of food security and the Department’s mandate. She claimed that the country was food secure, but individual households were not. She was disappointed that the Committee had not engaged with forestry, said that the aquaculture policy could not be presented because all the Committee did was interrogate officials, and said the Committee was completely out of touch on access to markets, asserting that in fact the Department had good relationships with overseas buyers and UN programmes.
She outlined support under Agri-BEE to commercial farmers who were prepared to bring in smallholder farmers, but claimed that “the DA would never understand this”. She referred to remarks allegedly made by an ANC member at an Agri-SA conference, to which he took the strongest exception, and both he and a DA member refused to listen any further to her “lies and insults” and walked out of the meeting.
For the full report, please see: http://www.pmg.org.za/report/20131009-progess-report-ncera-farms-minister-department-agriculture-forestry-and-fisheries-marine-living-resources-fund
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