Call for drought relief probe

Agri SA asks pro­tec­tor to look into how funds were spent

The Herald (South Africa) - - NEWS - Ri­aan Marais [email protected]­me­ – Ad­di­tional re­port­ing TMG Dig­i­tal

UN­KNOWN ser­vice providers as­sist­ing dis­tressed farmers and er­ratic ex­pen­di­ture of al­lo­cated funds are just some of the con­cerns Agri SA has asked the pub­lic pro­tec­tor and au­di­tor­gen­eral (AG) to look into.

This comes af­ter Agri SA’s own in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the gov­ern­ment’s drought relief ef­forts left them with more ques­tions than an­swers.

Farmers across the county are still in the throes of the worst drought South Africa has ex­pe­ri­enced in decades, re­sult­ing in se­vere grain short­ages, forced live­stock sales, live­stock losses and a dev­as­tat­ing im­pact on their fi­nan­cial sta­bil­ity.

Speak­ing at a press brief­ing in Pre­to­ria yes­ter­day, Agri SA ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Omri van Zyl said their in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the spend­ing of the gov­ern­ment’s drought relief money left them with more ques­tions than an­swers, and they hoped the pub­lic pro­tec­tor and AG could pro­vide some clar­ity.

“The pub­lic pro­tec­tor has ac­cepted our re­port and will take the mat­ter fur­ther. Now we can do noth­ing but wait and see what comes of it,” Van Zyl said.

Ac­cord­ing to its re­port, money was wasted through the ap­point­ment of ser­vice providers who knew very lit­tle or noth­ing about agri­cul­ture.

Some of these ser­vice providers, ap­pointed to sup­ply and trans­port feed to strug­gling live­stock farmers, were listed as clean­ing and con­struc­tion com­pa­nies.

In the East­ern Cape, a com­pany by the name of Cro­p­land Agri­cul­tural Equip­ment, based in Gaut­eng, was con­tracted to de­liver feed to farmers.

How­ever, Van Zyl said no in­for­ma­tion could be found on the com­pany.

A Le­gal City search showed that Cro­p­land Agri­cul­tural Equip­ment was in the process of be­ing dereg­is­tered.

At­tempts to con­tact the com­pany’s di­rec­tor, Ger­shom Ra­mazan, were un­suc­cess­ful.

In some prov­inces, the wrong feed was de­liv­ered to farmers, while feed was found dumped in the Free State.

Agri SA fur­ther claimed feed prices were in­flated to ben­e­fit the ser­vice providers and de­part­men­tal of­fi­cials took some of the feed for them­selves.

De­spite R265-mil­lion spent by the Depart­ment of Ru­ral Devel­op­ment and Land Re­form on relief pro­grammes‚ farmers have told dev­as­tat­ing sto­ries of how they had re­ceived only enough feed to feed their live­stock for one day.

“We are in the agri­cul­ture sec­tor and know most of the usual ser­vice providers,” Van Zyl said.

“We found it sur­pris­ing that none of the names on the list looked fa­mil­iar to us. Some of them are listed as clean­ing com­pa­nies while oth­ers we could find no in­for­ma­tion about.”

Red Meat Pro­duc­ers Or­gan­i­sa­tion East­ern Cape chair­man Fran­cois du Toit said they were supporting Agri SA’s ef­forts to track the relief funds as cat­tle farmers were some of the worst af­fected in the prov­ince.

“Last year this time farmers were al­ready hold­ing back 20% of their stock to try and limit ex­penses as the drought con­tin­ued,” he said.

“Later they were forced to sell off cat­tle to stay afloat, and now they will strug­gle even more to re­cover as they will need new cat­tle to re­plen­ish their stock.”

Du Toit said the farmers’ strug­gle would have a knock-on ef­fect that reached all the way to the con­sumer.

“We have seen meat prices go up greatly be­cause the farmers are strug­gling to sup­ply the butch­ers and su­per­mar­kets.

“By keep­ing drought relief money from com­mer­cial cat­tle farmers, the gov­ern­ment has ef­fec­tively taken money out of the con­sumers’ pock­ets.”

Ac­cord­ing to Du Toit and Agri EC head of nat­u­ral re­sources Brent McNa­mara, the only as­sis­tance com­mer­cial farmers re­ceived was one load of feed, bought with money the provin­cial Depart­ment of Ru­ral Devel­op­ment man­aged to re-pur­pose from its own bud­get.

“But from the na­tional gov­ern­ment we never re­ceived any­thing,” McNa­mara said.

Agri SA’s re­port stated that the Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture‚ Forestry and Fish­eries al­lo­cated R212-mil­lion for drought relief‚ of which only R146.2-mil­lion was spent.

At the same time, the Depart­ment of Wa­ter and San­i­ta­tion al­lo­cated R341.3-mil­lion in drought relief funds and over­spent by R48.4-mil­lion, while Ru­ral Devel­op­ment and Land Re­form al­lo­cated R463.6-mil­lion and un­der­spent by R144.8-mil­lion.

Van Zyl also said they were sur­prised to dis­cover that R290.7-mil­lion of gov­ern­ment funds were spent on a de­sali­na­tion plant in Richards Bay, when drought relief as­sis­tance was more press­ing.

Ac­cord­ing to the Agri SA re­port, 90% of the funds spent from the R212-mil­lion went to sub­sis­tence farmers. Less than 10% went to emerg­ing farmers, while lit­tle or no funds went to com­mer­cial farmers.

Van Zyl said one of their main con­cerns was how the R212-mil­lion was al­lo­cated and why some prov­inces ben­e­fited more than oth­ers.

‘ But from the na­tional gov­ern­ment we never re­ceived any­thing

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