Free State Casp system: Why fix something that isn’t broken?

Free State Casp system: Why fix something that isn’t broken?

Organised agriculture in the Free State has called for the scrapping of the proposed tender system on the comprehensive agricultural support programme (Casp) system which is set to be introduced by the provincial government.

Free State Agriculture (FSA) has called on the MEC of agriculture in the province, Saki Mokoena, to reverse the decision and go back to the vouchers that were used before.

A perfect recipe for corruption

Commercial manager of Free State Agriculture Jack Armour said his biggest concern was the reasoning behind the drastic change and alleges that this could lead to corruption.

Free State CASP system: Why fix something that isn't broken?
Dr Jack Armour, commercial manager of Free State Agriculture. Photo: Supplied/FSA

“Tenders create unnecessary middlemen that get an undue share for doing very little, more bureaucratic red tape and processes which can be captured, and most importantly to the struggling farmer. As such, it creates huge delays in getting the necessary right inputs to the farm on time,” he said.

Armour emphasised that farmers experienced challenges during the drought period in trying to access government support which was done through a tender process.

According to Armour, the private sector, especially manufacturers of animal feed, has become too hesitant to do business with the government because of a lack of trust.

“For example during the drought, the prices charged by the animal feed manufacturers to the person who got the tender was higher due to the risk of doing business with the government,” he added.

Minimal impact on the ground

Armour said their concern was that tenders would be coming out and millions of rands would be channelled towards those tenders which end up having little to no impact on the farmers on the ground.

“From a provincial perspective, we as the Free State Agriculture are very much against tender processes which are superfluous, onerous, inefficient, and ineffective purely for the sake of Black Economic Empowerment (BEE),” he said.

In a detailed letter written to Mokoena, FSA has asked the MEC to explain why the previous successful model was being changed.

Government promises more engagement

Meanwhile, spokesperson for the Free State department of agriculture Zimasa Mbewu said the department is yet to engage with various stakeholders including Free State Agriculture and the African Farmers Association of South Africa (Afasa) on the matter.

“The department is, however, dismayed that this internal issue is being ventilated in the public even before it has been formalised. There were a number of concerns and or irregularities on the transfer system.

“This system is being reviewed so that there can be accountability on the side of the department. There is nothing untoward when certain processes are subjected to a tender process,” Mbewu said.

According to Mbewu, internal processes make an allowance for tender processes to be affected particularly when procurement is above R1 million rand.

‘It simply won’t work’

Free State-based grain farmer Phaladi Matsole said there is a need for the provincial government to look at an approach that will do away with corruption, unaccounted expenditure, and manipulation of the system especially at the district level where farmer support is critical.

Free State CASP system: Why fix something that isn't broken?
Free State grain farmer Phaladi Matsole. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

Matsole said he supports any initiative by the MEC to clean up the department of any wrongdoings of the past. However, he does not agree with the tender system, simply because of what had happened in the past.

“I give the MEC my 100% support to clean up the wrongdoings and suggest that the MEC institutes forensic audits. However, as for tenders, I see bad history repeating itself.

“I think we must have learned our lesson from Estina Vrede Dairy farm and many other collapsed projects resulting from tenders and the tendering system. However, it is his prerogative as a political head of the department to make policy amendments where it deems fit,” he said.

Free State Afasa member Tumelo Pedi, who has experienced the transition firsthand, believes that changing the system from vouchers to tenders would negatively affect all funded farmers.

“The tender system is a waste of time and farmers never get what they initially wanted. The company that is awarded the tender wins more than the farmer at the end of the day.

“We are already midway in September and still no funds have been allocated to farmers because our MEC wants to make changes that no farmers will agree to,” he said.

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