Good land plans, but just ‘no moola’

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Great plans for land restitution, but no funding available. The President, Jacob Zuma, has extended Operation Phakisa into the area of land reform to speed up restitution and rural development, but he has failed to make any funding available for its implementation.

This became clear from a progress report back on the implementation of the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform (DRDLR’s) Phakisa project to the parliamentary land affairs committee meeting this week.

All was going well and the reports from the DRDLR and its main stakeholder, the Commission on Restitution of Land Rights, were being well received – until it became clear that no additional funds had been set aside for this initiative and that stakeholders were hoping for a handout from the upcoming Medium Term Budget Expenditure Statement.

The overall estimated cost for the programme over five years would be in the region of R14bn.

Operation Phakisa, which means “hurry up” in Sesotho, was first mooted three years ago in Zuma’s State of the Nation Address as a way of speeding up National Development Plan delivery. It started with projects to develop the ocean economy, and was extended into the health and education sectors.

Earlier this year, Zuma announced the launch of Operation Phakisa on Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development at a meeting in Roodeplaat, outside Pretoria. This was accompanied by a degree of fanfare at the time, under its theme of “Transforming the Agricultural Sector towards an Inclusive Rural Economy”. The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) was identified as a partner in the programme.

That was the plan, but not a lot more was heard from the DRDLR/DAFF Phakisa programme until this week’s reportback, which stated that 161 stakeholders from business, government and civil society have registered as participants, and lots of meetings have been held since April this year.

Programme Implementation Plans are being drawn up and an overall project plan for submission to Cabinet is due in the last week of October. Meetings have been held with District and Local municipalities, and they have held discussions on how to address these “backlogs in rural space”.

DRDLR-led Phakisa initiatives include the Accelerated Land Development and Redistributive Initiative (ALDRI), which “entails government buying up agricultural zoned land in per-urban areas” to be allocated to the landless and jobless. The target is to develop 579,150 units over five years. This would help stop the mass migration of people into the urban areas, the presentation declared.

District Land Reform Delivery Centres have been established in all 44 Districts and Rural Development Plans are being finalised with the District Municipalities. The target for 2018/19 is to provide essential basic services for 2 000 households, at a cost of more than R92million.

There is talk of procuring state-owned or Department of Public Works land for the development of sustainable peri-urban agri-villages which would “target value adding enterprise projects rather than primary production”. Different models are being explored.

The overall estimated cost for the programme over five years would be in the region of R14bn and, according to the verbal report, this funding would be sourced from “loose pieces of money [to be found] scattered throughout government and the private sector and bringing it all together as a finance catalyst”.

Here is where it all started falling apart in the meeting. While Committee members universally praised these “good ideas”, they appeared to be largely unconvinced.

The DA’s Thandeka Mbabama summed it up: “I am usually a very optimistic person but I cannot say I am optimistic when it comes to Operation Phakisa . It’s the usual with our government being very good at plans, plans, plans, and very good at launching, launching, launching but very poor in implementation. I really don’t know how we can have fast, quick results when there is no funding. Where is the money coming from?

“This is not just a choir. This is a symphony and we need to know who is going to be the conductor?”

The DA’s Ken Robertson wanted to know where these “loose pieces of money” were going to come from, and stated bluntly that there was a lack of resources in Public Works. “Can we ask the Department of Public Works to ringfence money for issues like this, if you say you want to prioritise the settlement of state land because that, to me, is going to be the greatest hiccup.

“This all looks fantastic on paper,” he said, but expressed concern that the financial constraints that departments face “could bring it all to a halt”.

It was agreed that additional funds are not going to be easily found. A moment of hope was dashed when the report declared that an additional R1.3bn had been “received” to fast track the settlement of land claims, but this turned out to be a typo.

What it meant to say was that R1.3bn had been “requested”, and as there continues to be no response to this request, all funding for Operation Phakisa initiatives will for now have to be drawn from the existing already strained budgets of both departments, given the financial constraints facing National Treasury.

The Banking Association of South Africa “has been engaged” and Memoranda of Understanding and Service Level Agreements are “being signed off” with the Land Bank, the National Empowerment Fund and the Industrial Development Corporation. The hope is that financial partnerships are in the offing.

The Department’s progress report also identified a number of promising objectives, including improving access to markets for commercial and emerging farmers, stimulating the development of rural economies and increasing “productivity by balancing mechanisation and job creation”.

Most ambitious of all was the report from the Commission on Restitution of Land Rights, with its goal of settling all 6,558 existing outstanding land claims in the next 48 months, 2152 of these within 24 months.

Its report caught Committee members off guard with its surprise announcement that its intention is to become an independent Chapter Nine institution, and it was already working on developing its autonomy and playing an advisory role. The Commission did not seem unduly concerned that this would require an amendment to the Constitution.

Committee members expressly asked why the Commission wanted to become an autonomous Chapter Nine institution. Robertson asked “are there interferences of sorts that you feel are dragging the Commission down and not allowing the Commission to work efficiently?”

The Commission said only that its aim is ultimately to be accountable directly to Parliament, instead of the Department. It gave no reasons for the need for this, saying only that it was an idea proposed by the Minister in his mini-budget speech.

Modelled on the Malaysian Big Fast Results programme, Operation Phakisa introduced the notion of the Laboratory, or the Lab, which is a collective comprising representatives from government, academic and research institutions as well as business, organised labour, the private sector and non-governmental organisations. The Lab, which is Phakisa talk for what is usually called a workshop, would then develop “work streams” to bring together aligned competencies and expertise (which some might call silos).

According to the Phakisa website, “These work streams are meant to assist in optimising the management of natural resources, developing skills and capacity in the agricultural sector, stimulate funding and finance, value chain development and market access, coordination and knowledge management as well as reconfiguring space and promoting functional rural settlement.”

The aim of Operation Phakisa, to enable Government to implement priority programmes better, faster and more effectively, cannot be faulted, but the Committtee across parties seemed to be in agreement that this plan was simply not doable.

There were implied questions about whether the Phakisa land project was launched to meet a presidential requirement, instead of being driven by the sector’s needs.

The chairperson’s response was phrased carefully. She asked the presenters if their plans “were aligned to the resources they have. Your plan is good but where are the resources? Is Treasury informed about this plan?” Chairperson Phumuzile Ngwenya-Mabile wanted to know.

Moira Levy is editor of Notes from the House

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