MPs support Onderstepoort’s appeal for government funding

Onderstepoort Biological Products(OBP) desperately needs state funding to upgrade its infrastructure and equipment that was acquired back in 1968.

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A state-owned entity (SOE) mandated to manufacture vaccines used to prevent and control animal diseases, OBP has received no government funding since 2001 and now requires R120 million for recapitalisation. This is according to the OBP board, who recently briefed the parliamentary oversight committee for agriculture on Onderstepoort’s strategic plan for the 2010/13 period.

Ayanda Ntsho, OBP’s acting CEO, told the committee the last grant received from the state was R9 million in 2001 and added that OBP had been lobbying the state for funds needed for recapitalisation since 2000.Members of the committee were highly critical of the agricultural department’s apparent lack of support for OBP and urged the department to take immediate action.

Committee member and DA MP Lourie Bosman said, “I’m amazed at the lack of understanding of South Africa’s development needs displayed by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF).” The funding OBP requires isn’t a large amount, he added.These sentiments were echoed by other members.

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ANC MP Salam Abram pointed out that parliament had approved the provision of substantial amounts to bail out other SOEs and reiterated that the amount required by OBP to provide an essential service was comparatively small in contrast.

Peter Thabethe, acting deputy director general of operations management at DAFF suggested that OBP prepare a submission that could be presented to the National Treasury and then be submitted to cabinet for approval. “OBP will need to make a very convincing argument,” he added.

At this point, Mlungisi Johnson, the chairperson of the oversight committee, interrupted Thabethe to ask what more convincing motivation there could be than the strong recommendation made by members of parliament. “DAFF needs to prioritise and support the OBP,” said Johnson.