Agriculture portfolio committee hammers new DG over annual report

Newly appointed Director General (DG) of the agriculture department Langa Zita remained largely silent when the 2009/10 annual report was tabled before the parliamentary portfolio committee – a tactic that irked the committee, which has grown increasingly critical of the department of late.

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The auditor-general’s report drew particular attention to the department’s irregular expenditure of R15,1 million, put down to “non-compliance with supply chain management procedures”, and to the R12,2 million listed under “fruitless and wasteful expenditure”. In addition, the annual report didn’t clearly specify the “nature and required level of performance” of many of the department’s programmes, while the indicators of progress given for the programmes were vague.

DA agriculture shadow minister Lourie Bosman said, “the report gave no sense of what the core business of the department is”. “The DG basically admitted they didn’t have a strategy as far as food security is concerned. That’s one of the major issues the department must address and its policy framework must reflect this, but it doesn’t. The department is plagued by problems to do with the misdirection of funds and the underfunding of critical aspects of agriculture, but nowhere were these problems admitted or addressed.”

ANC MP Salam Abram said it was not “a 100% clean audit”. The department could show they had spent all the money allocated to a certain project and produce all the correct invoices, “but what you don’t see is whether the expenditure has made any impact on the ground,” he said.For example, he added, “R1,03 billion was spent on compensation of employees, but then there’s a category called ‘Management’, on which the colossal amount of R45 million was spent.

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“It’s probably just another way of paying salaries, and we want them to come clean about things like that.”He pointed out they have yet to receive an explanation as to why Njabulo Nduli (the DG at the time Minister Joemat-Pettersson took over) was suspended. “There were subsequently three acting DGs and one can accept that the present DG couldn’t sink his teeth into the report as yet.

But, on the other hand, when you take over a problematic situation, you should at least hold an indaba to start coming up with solutions,” said Abram. Bosman said Zita’s failure to answer the questions raised by the report confirmed suspicions that this was a case of “cadre employment”. Zita and Joemat-Pettersson are both from the Northern Cape, and know each other from the provincial Communist party.

Zita’s appointment raised eyebrows in September because of these prior ties, and because deputy minister Dr Pieter Mulder was dropped from the panel that put forward nominations for the post. Dr Mulder, an increasingly isolated figure within the department, believes more suitable candidates were overlooked. Zita infuriated the portfolio committee in his first month on the job, when he bunked a 17 October public hearing on agricultural sector transformation and AgriBEE charter progress.

Abram said he was not the only committee member who was growing impatient with the department. “We’ve asked for written explanations to our questions. Usually you wait until kingdom come before the department gets back to you, but if we haven’t seen answers by the end of the month, we’ll have to make a noise.”