Nothing seems sacred anymore as R1bn drought relief fund joins captured list – Herbst

JOHANNESBURG — In yet another timely contribution, Ed Herbst once again highlights the depths of theft everyday taxpaying South Africans are having to fund. No stone is left unturned, and as Herbst puts it, if that stone isn’t bolted down…it’s stolen. Making mention of how once sacred institutions have been turned into troughs with  no place untouchable. This time it’s the drought relief fund, of which only 5% of the R1 billion raised made its way to farmers. South Africa has the resources to fix itself, the problem lies with those in charge of fixing it. – Stuart Lowman

By Ed Herbst*

If it’s not bolted down…

… it’s stolen.

Veteran journalist Ed Herbst

We acknowledge the veracity of Gwede Mantashe’s claim that the African National Congress has become a den of thieves, that the ‘Broad Church’ has morphed into a Whited Sepulchre, governed by the equivalent of the biblical moneylenders, that the country is being stolen blind by the party’s deployed bludgers who have learned to breathe through their ears so that they can keep their vulturine beaks permanently immersed in the tenderpreneurial gravy.

The absence of shame, however – and the extent to which we have become inured to that – still has the capacity to surprise.

Nothing seems sacred anymore and over time we have come to accept that with resignation.

For a start Robben Island was, without protest, turned into a trough years ago and how soon we have forgotten that the mayor of East London and fellow councillors were arrested after money was siphoned from service delivery programs in the name of Nelson Mandela.

But the idea of drought relief funds being stolen takes perfidy into a different realm and what troubled me was the indifference of the media response.

The Democratic Alliance was the first to red flag the problem in late October last year and the Daily Dispatch followed up with a local angle three weeks later but these were just foetid fragments in the flotsam and jetsam of the ANC’s Tsunami of Sleaze, fleeting footnotes in the Domesday Book of Snouting.

I was first alerted to the fact that drought relief funds have been stolen  by a front page article in Die Burger on 31 May written by Elise Tempelhoff, environment reporter for Beeld,  which I have translated.

A day later Agri SA called a press conference to announce that it would request an investigation by the Public Protector, the Auditor-General and SCOPA into the disappearance of National Drought Relief funds.

File Photo: Dried maize corn plants grow in a drought affected field operated by farmer Ryan Matthews in Lichtenburg, North West Province of South Africa. Photographer: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg

In the press release which was carried on Politicsweb Agri SA pointed out that last year’s drought was the worst in a decade and that six provinces were declared disaster areas.

The drought resulted in severe grain shortages, forced livestock sales, loss of livestock life and a negative impact on the financial stability of farmers across the affected areas.

Agri SA set up a countrywide task team to assist affected farmers and two sentences in that press release sum up the disdain and contempt which an utterly incompetent and utterly corrupt African National Congress routinely manifests when it comes to local farmers while neglecting their own farms and their own farm employees.

Read also: Desperate farmers beg for financial aid as national drought disaster looms

Agri SA in its own capacity addressed numerous formal and informal requests to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, the Minister of Finance as well as the DG of DAFF but to no avail.

Despite concerted requests by the DTT directed to government to establish a partnership in order to get drought relief supplies and humanitarian aid in the most effective and efficient way to distressed agricultural communities all over the country, government continued to ignore these requests.

Of the English newspapers only The Times carried the story in any depth and this after Agri SA held a media conference and issued a press release which was posted in full on Politicsweb.

Here is Ms Tempelhoff’s translated article, further proof, not that proof is needed, of the stellar role that the Afrikaans press is playing in the Sisyphean task of keeping the ANC honest.

A comment below the Agri SA press release on Politicsweb is apt: ‘Weep the beloved country.’

Drought relief apparently stolen – farmers get 5%

Die Burger, 31 May 2017, Elise Tempelhoff

Only 5% of the more than R1 billion that was to be spent on drought relief assistance last year, reached farmers. No tenders for the management of the funds were invited after South Africa experienced this disastrous situation.

Agri SA did its own investigation into the individuals and so-called companies involved in the drought relief scheme and found indications that some of these companies did not even exist and were not registered anywhere. Agri SA therefore requested the auditor general (AG) and the public protector (PP) to launch a forensic audit to determine whether fraud was at play.

Omri van Zyl, Agri SA chief executive, yesterday said it was time to expose the fraud and corruption in the government’s drought relief programme. Agri SA had already compiled reports on this and would be handing these to the AG and PP that day. It was suspected that officials in the departments of agriculture, forestry and fisheries and water and sanitation had been benefitting from the scheme.

These two departments and the department of rural development were responsible for making the drought relief funds available to affected farmers. Van Zyl said Agri SA, TLU SA and the African Farmers Association of South Africa (Afasa) last year offered to assist state departments in managing the drought relief but the proffered assistance was refused.  

‘We have all the structures to do this, but our offer was refused.

Read also: Johannes Wessels: Drought’s R16bn tsunami – small, medium towns at risk

‘In our investigation it was found that one of parties involved in the scheme had quoted R287 000 to sink a borehole and install pumps whereas it should have cost around R187 000. We want to know who pocketed the money that was due to the farmers,’ Van Zyl said.

The Northern Cape in particular experienced significant irregularities. ‘We suspect a lot of tenderpreneurs have benefitted greatly from the drought relief, and we want to get to the bottom of this,’ he said.

In March Parliament learnt that around R380 million made available in 2016 never reached the agricultural sector for almost a year. The parliamentary portfolio committee on water and sanitation heard that the national disaster management centre and the department of cooperative government and traditional affairs ‘preferred not to use the allocation to provide disaster or drought relief’. The funds were available in provincial and municipal disaster management allocations and the national disaster management centre and the department of cooperative government and traditional affairs had only to ask for it.

In his state of the nation speech this year Pres Jacob Zuma announced that R2.5 billion had been made available for drought relief assistance at that stage.

‘We want to know who pocketed the money that was due to the farmers,’ van Zyl said.

  • Ed Herbst is a retired veteran journalist who writes in his own capacity.
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