Did KZN government blow drought-relief cash?

24 August 2017 - 17:49 By Bongani Mthethwa
Drought. File photo.
Drought. File photo.
Image: Gallo Images/ Thinkstock

A forensic investigation has been launched into how the KwaZulu-Natal government spent more than R200-million of its drought-relief budget‚ which was meant to help stricken farmers.

This was revealed by provincial agriculture and rural development MEC Themba Mthembu during a media briefing in Durban on Thursday. Mthembu said the investigation‚ expected to be completed before the end of the year‚ was sparked by complaints about how the money had been spent and whether it had its desired impact.

“We’re busy with the investigation on money allocated for drought relief‚ which has been embezzled. We allocated money to fight drought but there were complaints whether that translated to any impact on the ground‚” said Mthembu.

Last year‚ the department rolled out over R220-million as a drought relief lifeline to farmers. The money was meant as relief for subsistence farmers and struggling smallholder farmers‚ as well as bigger commercial farmers. The money was earmarked for livestock and water harvesting‚ the scooping of dams and the rehabilitation of boreholes across the province‚ as well as for an aggressive de-worming campaign and the provision of hay and feed.

Mthembu said KZN Premier Willies Mchunu had launched an investigation into the department’s supply chain management and has vowed to make the findings public once the audit has been completed. He also revealed that problems besetting his department had resulted in a serious drop in agricultural activities in the province. “This has been worsened by the devastating drought and slump in the economy‚” he said.

The department‚ he said‚ has been dogged by serious challenges such as corruption and maladministration in the supply chain management. He said 26 projects to assist rural women‚ which had been approved by the department‚ had been cancelled as a result of corruption and maladministration.

“These are the things that we need to put a stop into in the department. There are many questions on the supply chain management‚” said Mthembu.

Additionally‚ almost R60-million in taxpayers’ money meant to assist emerging farmers in rural areas around the province has not been accounted for‚ despite it being uncovered by another forensic report five years ago. The forensic report‚ commissioned by former agriculture MEC Meshack Radebe in 2012‚ and which cost the province R10m‚ was completed in February 2014‚ but has not been made public.

Mthembu said opposition parties were invited to have a look at the report while he was still chairman of the provincial portfolio committee on agriculture but could not explain why it has not been made public.

“There are many things in the report that I can’t discuss in public. We’re busy with senior management [implicated] on that report‚” he said.