DAFF unable to account for tractors given to provinces

The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) might soon be the subject of a forensic audit after officials were unable to fully account to parliament for tractors and other agricultural equipment distributed to provincial departments as part of the government’s mechanisation programme.

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The deputy director-general of DAFF, Siphiwe Mkhize, said the equipment provided to provinces so far included 72 tractors, 12 rippers, 20 planters, 85 ploughs, 30 bin fertiliser spreaders and various other types of equipment. This did not include the 85 tractors that were given to Mpumalanga and KwaZulu- Natal during the previous financial year. The members of the portfolio committee on agriculture, forestry and fisheries were critical of the fact that the DAFF had started implementing the mechanisation programme without having proper policy in place.

Committee member and ANC MP, Salam Abram said the main problem was that since 2011, tractors and other farming equipment had been distributed without a national policy. “The mechanisation programme is being implemented haphazardly, with some provinces drafting their own policies, and others having no policies,” he said. The department’s acting director-general, Sipho Ntombela, acknowledged that DAFF only had a draft policy in place for its mechanisation programme.

He said the draft policy did not prescribe exactly how the provinces should support poor communities, but left the distribution and allocation of tractors and other equipment to the discretion of the provinces. The committee called for full reports on exactly how many tractors were distributed, in whose names it was registered, and the names of beneficiaries.
They also wanted full studies to be done on the impact of the initiatives on the lives of the poor.

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The committee was not happy with the lack of information on servicing and maintenance and wanted this also to be specified. Members were also concerned with the principles around distribution of tractors and felt that the national department should retain more accountability, and should be able to get the information on a regular basis from the provinces.

But, Ntombela said DAFF did not have authority to invite or summon the provincial departments to appear before Parliament, and urged the committee to do so since the provinces were accountable to respective provincial legislatures. Mkhize said that once the director-general of DAFF had transferred the equipment to the provinces, it was the provinces’ responsibility to allocate and distribute tractors. The committee chairperson, Lulu Johnson was not impressed with this explanation and said that both the provincial and national agriculture departments should be called to account for the money allocated to them.

“The department has indeed jumped into this programme without preparing a proper policy. “You can’t disburse funds to provincial departments but fail to monitor (them) and hold them to account,” Johnson said. The committee members were shocked to learn that in some provinces tractors were standing idle, gathering dust and rust due to various problems like non-registration, while others were being used for the benefit of a few individuals instead of whole communities.

Some members suggested the need for an audit into the programme, but the chairperson said that this would be a final step and that more research and feedback from the provincial agricultural departments was first needed. Johnson said the committee would arrange an urgent follow up meeting to be attended by the provincial legislatures and agriculture departments to take the matter further.