By Hon N J Nkwanyana, IFP MPL, KZN Legislature
Madame Speaker, at the outset the Inkatha Freedom Party would like to thank the officials from the various departments and entities who appeared before the Portfolio Committee and also for their presentations. The briefing from Provincial Treasury is always helpful in understanding the spending patterns of departments and in seeking wisdom on how to manage the public purse.
In considering the report, Madame Speaker, the IFP raises its serious concerns about apparent dysfunctional state of the Department of Agriculture & Rural Development. I say this because our province in facing a severe drought crisis with farmers and ordinary citizens especially in the rural arears deeply concerned about their livelihood. But this Department has only spent 35.6% of its budget at mid-term. It of concern to us that Programme 2 : Agriculture is substantially underspent by R63.373million while food security in our province is under threat. As the political head, the MEC must take full responsibility for the reported underspending on Conditional Grants of almost 66% of the mid-year projections and 92% of the total budget. This is unacceptable in view of the crisis that we are facing. In fact this Department should be crying out for more funding to assist in its work.
The IFP has always called for greater emphasis on rural development and therefore it is of concern to us that at mid-term the Rural Development component of this Department still remains an unfunded mandate. One would expect that in view of the vast rural arears that make up KwaZulu-Natal, there should have been more progress in having this Programme up and running. We cannot accept that after all this time this component has not been fully established. This component was transferred from Office of the Premier : Vote 1 but now it has to find its own funding. It is also concerning that the Agribusiness Development Agency has only spent 56% of funds rolled over from 2014/2015 even though these are committed funds.
Madame Speaker, I now turn to the Department of Economic Development, Tourism & Environmental Affairs. It is shocking to note that this department has overspent its budget by R41.159million and in doing so it has funded events such as the Vodacom Durban July and the World Pro-am Golfers Championships that were not budgeted for in 2015/2016. It will be interesting to see how the accounting officer will explain the funding of events that were not budgeted for.
While we continue to lament the fact that our rhinos continue to be killed, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife was allocated R19.442milion for its Rhino Security Intervention project but it has only spent R3.45million of this allocation. We then ask the question: Is this Department serious about protecting rhinos or is this government just paying lip service to this global concern. Ezemvelo is also accused of grossly underspending on its rolled over funds and this cannot be accepted as it shows that this entity does not have the capacity to manage its affairs.
Madame Speaker, while children across our province come to school hungry and depend on the National School Nutrition Programme to provide them with a meal, the Department of Education stands accused of underspending of 77.2% on its NSNP grant at mid-term. This is criminal and must not be allowed to continue unchallenged. Why must our children go hungry when there is money allocated to provide them with a meal? Why is it that after all this time this department cannot get its act together with regard to the nutrition programme?
The IFP is extremely concerned about the huge amounts of money that is being squandered by the Department of Health due to medico-legal claims. This department is projecting to overspend its budget by almost R802million by year end. This department is expected to spend over R200million on medico-legal claims which could have been avoided if there was proper administration and supervision at all health care facilities in our province. It is about time that health care personnel and administrators be held personally liable for legal claims arising out of their negligence. Only when this happens will they begin to take their work seriously and give proper medical care to our people. For as long as the tax payer picks up the legal costs, negligence and irresponsible conduct will continue thereby placing peoples’ lives at risk and incurring more financial burden for the department.
One wonders why the much-talked about National Health Insurance is floundering in its implementation across our province. It must be of concern for all of us, Madame Speaker that the NHI grant has been underspent by about 70% at the time of reporting. It is even more serious because this underspending has been occurring over the past two financial years also. One wonders if this department has the foresight and will to ensure that the NHI becomes a reality in the near future. According to the report the NHI budget included a roll-over amount of almost R1.5million. It is common knowledge that funds cannot be rolled-over indefinitely and as a province we could end up losing such allocation.
Madame Speaker, when one considers the poor state of many of our public health care facilities, one wonders why is it that the Health Revitalisation Grant that has almost R40million allocated for improving infrastructure, is being spent at such a slow rate. It was reported that the department will only be able to spend R13million of this amount by year end. Infrastructure at many of our hospitals are in dire need of repairs and renovation but this department is unable to utilise the budgeted funds to improve the conditions of the buildings and hospital facilities. Why should health care workers and the public be faced with crumbling infrastructure when there are funds available to effect renovations?
Once again the province finds itself in a dilemma after the President signed a proclamation to increase the stipends to izinduna because there is no indication from national treasury as to the funding for the proposed increase. When one considers the R7 000 per month increase, it poses a challenge. Since the signing of the proclamation, an expectation has been created. It is therefore a matter of urgency that COGTA does its homework and works out how much of money will be required to fund this increase and that negotiations be speeded up in order to implement the provisions of the proclamation.
Madame Speaker, in reporting to the committee, the Department of Social Development stated that it is underspending in Programmes 3, 4 and 5 specifically with regard to Compensation of Employees as a result of the high number of unexpected resignations. This department has always been faced with a shortage of social workers because it was unable to fill posts due to a lack of funds. But now it is underspending on compensation of employees because it does not have social workers.
I am reminded that the department had allocated bursaries to social work student who have since qualified and are unemployed. The department should urgently embark on a recruitment drive to fill the posts left vacant by those who have resigned in order that service delivery does not suffer. In view of the increasing number of social ills that face our communities, it is vitally important that social work personnel are in place to respond to the needs of our people.
Madame Speaker, a common trend that was noted from the various departments that appeared before the committee, was the underspending on specifically and exclusively appropriated funds. The IFP finds this rather strange in view of the fact that these funds have been allocated for a specific purpose which purpose would have been deemed necessary. But now that the funds have been allocated, those departments do not see the need to spend those funds or do not have will to do so. Whatever the reason, it is unacceptable to tie-up much needed funds in projects when they are not utilised and could be channeled into other more urgent projects.
We view the trend of underspending in a very serious light. It indicates that some departments are not able to manage their spending programmes and are ineffective in keeping track of their expenditure timelines. We are concerned that should time run out for this financial year, some departments will resort to fiscal dumping in order to spend the reminder of their budgets. This could result in wasteful expenditure that will result in audit queries.
The IFP would like to see that departments keep track of their budgets in order to ensure that allocated funds are utilised in good time for the benefit of the people of KwaZulu-Natal.