They’re underspending and overspending!

Expensive meetings, incomplete projects and millions unaccounted for while farmers struggle to get finance. Will this be Tina’s legacy?

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It was with great concern that I read the Budgetary Review and Recommendation Report of parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

We’ve heard the department complain that its budget is not enough to allow it to deliver on its mandate. But now it has been revealed that, in the 2010/11 financial year, it failed to spend about R103 million of its R3,95 billion budget (up from R3,8 billion in the previous year).

And how’s this for irony? The department spent a fortune on meetings planning how to spend its budget, yet was still unable to do so properly!

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Tina Joemat-Pettersson has admitted to spending about R1,6 million in taxpayers’ money on hotel bills since May 2009.

According to the report by the portfolio committee, the department spent only 97% of its allocated budget in 2010/11, down from the 99% expenditure it achieved in 2009/10. The unspent money was attributed to:

  • An unpaid lease of R12,3 million for office accommodation, as the building was not ready for occupation at the end of the financial year.
  • Transfer payments to the tune of R41,2 million for the Comprehensive Agricultural Support Programme (CASP) withheld due to under-spending by some provinces.
  • An incomplete fencing project on the Lesotho border, which has resulted in R2,9 million not being spent. The money will evidently be rolled over to complete the project.
  • Incomplete registration of smallholder farmers through the Farmer Register Project, amounting to under-spending of R19,5 million. This too will be rolled over to complete the project, which has been slammed by farmers’ unions that say it won’t work.

The unspent amount which has been explained adds up to R75,9 million, leaving about R27 million unaccounted for. So there’s plenty of money at the department’s disposal, yet it claims it could not achieve certain objectives due to lack of funds.

But my deepest concern is that almost 40% of the unspent money had been earmarked for CASP. How many struggling farmers could have benefited from that R41,2 million? Emerging farmers who apply for CASP funds are told that there is no money, yet millions of rands lie untouched.

Another concern is the Lesotho border fence. Considering the money lost to stock theft, especially in this vulnerable area, one would think that the matter deserved urgent attention. In 2008 and 2009 the industry lost R365 million to stock theft, of which R109 million was in KZN alone.

The money is there to address the problem but the department isn’t spending it. Government should start employing qualified people who are capable of doing their jobs. Cadre deployment is costing us dearly.