AGRICULTURE AND RURAL DEVELOPMENT DEPARTMENT APPEAR BEFORE PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE AMID COVID-19 PANDEMIC
KwaZulu-Natal Legislature’s Portfolio Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development held its scheduled virtual meeting on Tuesday (21/04/2020) where it received and considered a number of reports from the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development including the department’s response to COVID-19 pandemic.
The committee also adopted the department’s Annual Performance Plan and the 2020/2021 Budget.
Normally, portfolio committees meet at the legislature or sometimes at locations around the province to consider reports, hear evidence from witnesses or receive submissions from members of the public.
However due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic the legislature has resolved that all portfolio committee meetings are to be held through video conferencing.
Committee Members under the leadership of Chairperson Honourable Ntombikayise Sibhidla-Saphetha were generally satisfied with the reports received from the department of Agriculture and Rural Development which was led by MEC Bongi Sithole-Moloi.
Committee members noted the department’s COVID-19 intervention including the following:
i) Mass production of sanitizers by the department which are distributed to departmental employees, small scale farmers and would also be used in sanitizing informal settlements and hostels.
ii) Provision of Personal Protective Equipment to departmental employees who are working during the COVID-19 National Lockdown.
iii) Departmental efforts to distribute part of the R1,2 billion announced by National Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Honourable Thoko Didiza to deserving small scale farmers.
Committee members were assured by the department that COVID-19 pandemic will not affect food security in the province and that more than 500 departmental officials would be working during lockdown assisting farmers to ensure continued food production.
The committee also resolved, amongst other issues, that in its next meeting it would call the department to explain how farmers benefitted from the drought relief fund in the past financial year.
The committee also expressed concern at the department’s failure to spend conditional grant.
“There is a worrying issue presented by CFO (Chief Financial Officer) that under conditional grant there is a R75 million underspending which happened last year. I think the committee deserves to know why there was this underspending especially on conditional grant. We request this (explanation), based on the resolution of the finance committee adopted by the legislature that all committees must monitor conditional grants and ensure that these monies are fully spent at the end of the (financial) year,” said Sibhidla-Saphetha
She also indicated that the committee intends calling the department to make a presentation on food security in the province in the context of COVID-19 epidemic.
Issued by the Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development Hon NN Sibhidla-Saphetha
Cell No: 0833013622.