The Draft Agricultural Produce Marketing Agencies Bill – A recipe for failure?

The Draft Agricultural Produce Marketing Agencies Bill is somewhere in the pipeline on the way to becoming an Act.

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It’s full of great intentions, and taken at face value, it’s set to transform our fresh produce markets. But I do not support them all.
For example, there are ambitious proposals for ‘uplifting’ markets, in other words, fixing infrastructure and facilities. As I understand, this will take place within the basic framework of our current markets – that is, belong to municipalities and run by municipalities. The Fresh Produce Markets Development Agency (FPMDA) will ensure proper planning and the allocation of funds for these improvements.

This is all very well, but it has a flaw: the markets will still be managed by the municipalities. This is a recipe for failure. As I’ve frequently pointed out, municipalities have shown beyond doubt that they are incapable of running fresh produce markets.
Whenever I visit a market, I make a courtesy call on the market manager.And every one of the 19 managers whom I meet at least once a year is caught up in a struggle with a bureaucracy that purports to have the best interests of the market at heart.

The smaller the market – and the municipality – the more difficult it becomes to access funds for even basic requirements. The other day a market manager told me that he uses his own resources to carry out basic maintenance. If he did not do this, the market would be in even worse shape than it is, if that’s possible!

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Misguided ambition
If the proposed FPMDA plans to invest serious money in markets, that’s great. But where in the proposed legislation does it say anything about ‘upgrading’ the people responsible for the fresh produce markets?

I’m not talking about staff training to upgrade skills. I’m referring to the mindset so prevalent in the public service, and unfortunately the exceptions are too few. We’re saddled with incompetence and indifference driven by political ambition. These are the people who will be expected to contribute to our ‘new’ markets once all those millions have been spent.

You cannot replace the boardroom with bureaucracy.