NEWS & ANALYSIS

Land Reform: Audit shows a department unable to perform function

The department is failing in its wider mandate to the South African people.

Summary:

  • DA notes with concern another qualified audit from Auditor-General for department
  • Successful land reform cannot be achieved by a department without the political will to improve on past failures
  • DA will request that Minister appear before Parliament to account for department's poor performance

The Democratic Alliance (DA) notes with concern that the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform has received another qualified audit from the Auditor-General in its latest annual report. There is a seeming lack of political motivation and will to get the department responsible for the vital land reform process in order. In recent years, the department has been beset with problems of a breakdown in communications and functions between its provincial branches and its national operation. It has been unable to maintain consistent databases. It has outstanding lawsuits against it by land owners and land claimants. It has a backlog of post-settlement support amounting to over R3 billion. It refuses to release the vital Green Paper that will outline the Zuma administration's envisaged direction for land reform.

In short, it is a department that is failing in its wider mandate to the South African people and because of that, the key question of land reform has effectively stalled in our country, leaving many in a state of uncertainty. Internally, it has consistently failed to demonstrate proper governance practices that would allow it to at least receive unqualified audits. Yet, in recent years, the department has received qualified audit after qualified audit.

In the Department's 2009/10 annual report tabled today, the Auditor-General listed the main reasons for his qualified opinion as the failure of the Department to once again complete an audit of all state-owned land, including newly acquired land, financial irregularities and inadequate internal management.

In addition to the failure to complete the state-land audit, the Auditor-General further noted the following concerning financial irregularities:

•    R53 million lost to the Department through fraudulent activities

•    Outstanding claims against the Department amounting to R566 million

•    Irregular expenditure of R4.177 million

•    Wasteful and expenditure of R3.2 million

•    R420-million outstanding payments to land claimants

The Auditor-General also noted that because the management and staff of the Department did not fulfil their duties and responsibilities, land reform subsidies were being mismanaged.

The failures noted by the Auditor-General could provide an explanation why South Africa's land reform process is failing, particularly considering the importance of a complete land audit as vital cog in the land reform process, which has not yet been completed. Firstly, the Department has had fifteen years to complete a register of all state-owned land and has each year promised to complete this register to no avail. Secondly, last year, noting the Department's failure to complete the audit, National Treasury devised the National Vesting Master Plan which had set the goal for the Department to have a complete register of all immovable property in the name of the state by 30 April 2010. Now we know that this has not been achieved. The Auditor-General also makes it clear that the Department has kept a database of newly-acquired land.

Where is the motivation to change the department's performance? Who has been held to account for the mismanagement at the department? The Minister has already demonstrated an aversion to answering for his department's performance to Parliament as he is required to do by the Constitution, cancelling appearance after appearance before the portfolio committee at the last minute. Unless he wishes to communicate that he has no concern for the state of his department's consistently lacklustre performance, the minister shall have no choice but to finally appear before the portfolio committee now. Unfortunately, it shall be to account for governance failures instead of providing us with an update on the path of land reform in our country.

The DA believes that it is imperative that an audit of all state-owned land is completed in that this is land that could be used for land redistribution and help alleviate poverty in South Africa's rural areas.

The DA will be writing to the Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Rural Development and Land Reform, requesting that the Minister be summoned to Parliament to account for all these matters. The Minister should explain to Parliament, and the South African public, why there is a lack of concerted effort to address the most basic administrative problems affecting a department responsible for one of the most critical issues affecting South African society today.

* Annette Steyn MP is the DA's Shadow Deputy Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform. She served as a Councillor for the Gariep Municipality and has served as the chairperson of the DA in the Eastern Cape. She was elected to Parliament in 2009.