The absence of the deputy minister of agriculture, Dr Pieter Mulder, during a recent parliamentary committee meeting, caused a stir among members of the Portfolio Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, with some members asking whether he had been “sidelined” within the ministry.
The department appeared before the committee to present the annual report for 2010/2011, which was attended for part of the time by the minister, Tina Joemat-Pettersson.
One committee member insinuated that the deputy minister had been deliberately excluded from the meeting, while another accused Mulder of neglecting his duties, which included appearing regularly in front of the committee.
Committee member and COPE MP Deidre Carter asked, “Why is the deputy minister not here? Is he being sidelined?” To this, the director-general of the department, Langa Zita, responded that he did not want to get into a discussion about why Mulder was absent.
“All I can say is that we work with the total ministry and we do have a representative from the office of the deputy minister here,” he said. ANC-MP Meriam Phaliso accused the deputy minister of undermining the portfolio committee.
“Why is he going to cabinet meetings but not attending portfolio committee meetings? He must take portfolio committee meetings seriously and he must be accountable for the department’s activities,” she said.
Mulder assured Farmer’s Weekly that he was not being sidelined. “I was not at the parliamentary meeting because I was attending an inter-ministerial meeting in preparation for COP 17 [the 17th Conference of the Parties to the UN climate change convention] at the request of the minister,” he said.
“I am always willing to appear in front of the portfolio committee if it requires my presence and I have attended meetings in the past, but the committee members should take note that I will be critical of those government programmes that I do not agree with as leader of the Freedom Front Plus (FF+).
“Before I accepted the position of deputy minister, I reached an agreement with President Zuma that the FF+ would maintain its autonomy as a political party and that I would still retain my critical role as the leader of an opposition party.”
Last year, the deputy minister’s statement was omitted from the annual report by mistake. Joemat-Pettersson apologised to Mulder, saying she had told the department to fix the error immediately and adding that there had been no sinister motives. – Denene Erasmus