Questions are looming over alleged irregularities in the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries’ procurement of R50 million worth of tractors for use by small-scale farmers in Mpumalanga and KZN.
During a recent parliamentary meeting to discuss the department’s annual report for 2010/2011, departmental officials where unable to answer questions about the purchase from members of parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
Several committee members also wanted to know when tractors would be supplied to small-scale farmers in other provinces and whether or not the department was monitoring the use of the tractors that had already been bought.
This issue has been raised in parliament before, when the department briefed the committee on its fourth quarter performance for the 2010/11 financial year in June.
According to the minutes of the meeting, compiled by the Parliamentary Monitoring Group, committee member Inkosi Cebekhulu, IFP MP, expressed concern that tractors weren’t used to benefit all small-scale farmers and were only used for certain crops during the season. For the rest of the time they were apparently locked away.
Siphiwe Mkhize, a director at the department at the time, explained to the committee that only KZN and Mpumalanga had a functioning tractor programme and that the provinces distributed the tractors.
After a lengthy discussion, committee member Salam Abram, ANC MP, expressed concern about the lack of proper answers on the issue, asking the department to admit that the procurement process for the tractors had been compromised.
Although Abram requested a full report from the department during the June meeting, at the recent meeting he noted that no such report had been supplied. “The committee would still like to know if the procurement process was compromised,” he stated. “And if so, what went wrong? Who was responsible and has anyone been charged with wrongdoing?”
The department’s director-general, Langa Zita, responded that the provinces were running the distribution and utilisation of the tractors, but gave no answers to questions regarding the procurement process and the outstanding report. Jacob Hlatshwayo, the department’s chief financial officer, only confirmed to the committee that Mpumalanga and KZN had been allocated R50 million each and that each had been given 84 tractors.
Deetlefs du Toit, DA MP, told the department’s officials that they couldn’t simply appear in front of the committee stating that tractors would be made available to the remaining seven provinces in due course without giving a clear indication of how the programme was progressing and supplying feedback on the tractors that had already been given to Mpumalanga and KZN.
During a second round of questions, Abram reiterated these sentiments, telling departmental officials he wasn’t interested in the fact that the tractors were handed over to the two provinces, but wanted responses that related to the alleged irregularities during the procurement process.
Abram added that the department had to give an exact indication of when other provinces would receive tractors. – Denene Erasmus