Agriculture in underspending furore

The KZN Department of Agriculture came under fire for failing to spend millions of rand in grants meant to develop farming in rural areas. The money has now been handed back to the National Treasury.
While tabling her adjustment estimate budget speech, Finance MEC Belinda Scott said agriculture was among some of the offending departments which had underspent on their grants.

The budgets showed that about R53million had to be returned to the national revenue fund in terms of the various unspent and uncommitted conditional grants. This amount was significantly higher than the R3.5m returned in the previous year.

DA MPL Francois Rodgers said the failure to spend the money was tantamount to treason.

“When you try to collapse the government, that is treason. That R34m was a conditional grant; if you fail to spend a conditional grant, the National Treasury takes that money back.

“That money was meant to develop agriculture in rural areas and we are calling on the ANC government to be responsible and fire the person who failed to spend the grant,” he said.

MF MPL Shameen Thakur Rajbansi said it was worrying that the departments of agriculture and education had failed to spend their grants.

“This (agriculture funding) touches on issues of food security,” said Rajbansi.

Scott said she was always concerned when departments underspent or overspent on their budgets, adding “any under-expenditure of conditional grants is unacceptable”.

However, Scott reiterated a call made by the finance portfolio committee earlier this week that government departments should rein in their spending because the provincial treasury did not have money to bail them out in the event of overspending.

“There are no funds for a bailout and the contingency fund that remains is not sufficient to protect the provincial fiscus if departments overspend their budgets at currently projected levels,” she said.

The departments are projecting overspending of R1.2 billion and the provincial treasury has about R175m.

She said departments must act responsibly in managing budgets.

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