Land reform budget cut

Instead of making more money available for land reform and the reopening of claims, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan has cut the budget by more than half a billion rand.

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he Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Bill has been presented to Parliament for consideration. Once the bill gets signed into law, it will pave the way for the reopening of land claims, for those who missed the previous lodgement cut-off date in 1998.

But the Medium Term Budget Policy Statement, presented by Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan in Parliament recently, cast doubt on government’s ability to afford, not only new land claims, but also current claims that have yet to be settled.

Budget Cuts
In an analysis of the Adjusted Estimates of National Expenditure for Rural Development and Land Reform, Prof Ruth Hall of the Institute of Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies pointed out that more than R600 million had been cut from land reform’s appropriation budget for 2013/2014. The amount to be spent on land reform decreased by 20% from R3,39 billion to R2,76 billion.

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“But that’s only the start of what has been lost through the budget cuts, as internal adjustments within the budget will mean much greater losses to the land reform process and rural development projects.

“Despite the political rhetoric of speeding up and expanding the land claims process, this is clearly not on the cards right now,” Hall said.

Besides cutting back on the land reform budget, more than R470 million was cut from the restitution budget, leaving less money to buy land for black farmers.

The money earmarked for restitution declined by 12% from R3,38 billion to R2,91 billion.

According to Hall, rural development gained about R500 million, but about R300 million of this amount was to be used for “advertising the re-opening of land claims” and would not benefit the rural poor.

The whole budget for land reform and rural development decreased by 7% from just over R8 billion to R7,47 billion.

“The land reform and rural development budget is lower than it had been for the past three years, and taking inflation into account, it is lower than at any time under the Zuma administration.

“For both land reform (redistribution) and restitution, we are back to the levels of 2005,” Hall said.

DA calls for more money

The DA MP and party spokesperson for rural development and land reform, Kevin Mileham, said the current land reform budget did not come close to the estimated R169 billion that would be needed to settle outstanding land claims.

He said that during a recent portfolio committee meeting in Parliament, the director-general of the department, Mdu Shabane, said the national treasury would have to “find the money (to pay for land reform), as it is a constitutional obligation.”

But Shabane and Gordhan were clearly not on the same page.

During a press conference in Parliament prior to the tabling of the Medium Term Budget Policy statement, journalists asked Gordhan why no provision had been made in the budget for the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform (DRDLR) to settle outstanding claims and pay for new claims.

He replied that the department would have to perform its duties within the framework of what was possible in terms of the fiscus, and gave no indication that more money would be directed to land reform in the medium term.

Mileham said that during the upcoming budgetary review and recommendations process, the DA would push for land restitution to be allocated a larger portion of the national budget.

“The restitution and land reform process to date has been too slow; it has not provided sufficient support to reform and restitution beneficiaries to build livelihoods on land. The government needs to act on its stated position of support for land reform with the requisite budget and the DA will push for this to happen,” he said.

Targets not met

Meanwhile, the DRDLR’s performance in the current financial year had been poor. A target was set to settle 230 land claims during the 2013/2014 financial year, but during the first six months of this term only 38 claims were settled.

According to the Adjusted Estimates of National Expenditure, published last month, of the 312 000ha of land which the department set out to acquire for land reform during the current financial year, only 87 000ha were acquired between April and September, and the target has been adjusted to 180 700ha.

The department planned to recapitalise 344 land reform farms that have become unproductive since being transferred under the land reform programme.

However, during the first half of the financial year, only 56 farms were recapitalised and the target has subsequently been adjusted to 166 farms for the 2013/2014 financial year.

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