Committee chair postpones parliamentary ‘circus’

When it comes to the agriculture, forestry and fisheries ministry, the truth seems to be endlessly elusive. Yesterday, the portfolio committee for this department was scheduled to meet Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson, but it transpired that the meeting was postponed by committee chairman Mlungisi Johnson, an ANC MP.

However, MPs were geared up for the 2pm meeting, which was originally scheduled to take place at 9.30am but had to be rescheduled when a joint sitting of both houses of Parliament was called to honour South Africa’s Olympic medallists in the morning. Pieter van Dalen, DA fisheries spokesman, had invited various fishing community leaders to be present in the public gallery ahead of the minister’s appearance. “The infamous Tina Joemat-Pettersson has again demonstrated that she is not keen to account for her management… She has indefinitely postponed her scheduled appearance [yesterday],” he charged.

According to parliamentary papers, the minister was due to brief members on plans for the allocation of valuable fishing quotas in eight fisheries sectors next year.

Johnson said last night that the minister’s spokeswoman was quite right to say that it was the chairman’s prerogative to postpone a meeting.

Ministry spokeswoman Palesa Mokomele said DA agriculture spokeswoman Annette Steyn’s “latest diatribe blames the minister for postponing the portfolio committee that was scheduled today”. She said, like other members, the minister had been invited to the meeting and was informed that it was postponed.

“It is the prerogative of the portfolio committee chairperson to convene and postpone meetings. The real reason that Ms Steyn and Mr Van Dalen are disappointed that the meeting was postponed is that their plan to turn the meeting into a circus to humiliate the minister, collapsed.”

Johnson said the meeting with the minister would probably take place next week “or the week thereafter”. He said the reorganising of the parliamentary programme had necessitated the postponement. “We are looking at the programme… but she was invited by the committee and we are the ones that call her to a meeting.”

The circus, clearly, has been postponed.

Biofuel

Energy Minister Dipuo Peters announced in the Government Gazette on Friday that guidelines for the production of biofuels would be available soon. Grain SA has welcomed the initiative after assisting the government to make a success of it.

“Farmers were trained (especially new black farmers), funds were recruited to identify the best-suited cultivars on the market for ethanol from sorghum and partnership agreements were signed with the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform to recapitalise farms in the Free State, North West and Mpumalanga provinces to produce additional tons of sorghum and soya beans for this purpose,” the organisation said in a statement.

Record prices of soya beans will definitely encourage farmers to plant more in the coming seasons for biofuel purposes, as drought in the US paves the way for agricultural success in South Africa.

The precise date when these regulations will come into effect has not been revealed, but the decision to institute biofuel regulations is a win for emerging farmers looking to get a foothold in the market.

“For seed multiplication to take place the seed industry has to contract farmers before the end of September 2012 to multiply the seed for the 2014 crop when the biofuel plants will be ready for intake,” said Grain SA chief executive Jannie de Villiers.

“A greener future will benefit everybody and the jobs that will be created will benefit not just South Africa, but also the rural areas where this grain and biofuel will be produced.”

The onus is now on the minister to ensure that she announces the implementation date and administrative prices of the biofuels so the private sector comes on board and ensures adequate preparation.

Grants

The rich are getting richer in South Africa, but the poor are also getting richer. Though South Africa is a notoriously unequal society, a release from the SA Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR) noted yesterday that the proportion of adults with the lowest living standards fell from 11 percent in 2001 to 1 percent last year.

In the same period, the proportion of people with the highest living standards increased from 5 percent to 6 percent.

It said the trends were captured using living standards measures (LSMs), a marketing tool designed by the SA Audience Research Foundation. LSMs classify people according to their living standards based on a range of factors, including “whether they are urbanised, own motor vehicles or major appliances or have running water or a flush toilet in or outside the house”. LSM1 is at the bottom and LSM10 at the top.

In 2001 the greatest proportion of adults (14.3 percent) were placed in LSM3. By last year the LSM3 proportion had dropped to 6.1 percent, while the greatest proportion (22.4 percent) was in LSM6. Over the last decade there has been a migration from the bottom three to the middle four LSMs, showing an increase in living standards.

But the improvement at the bottom of the economic pyramid is largely due to government support.

SAIRR researcher Georgina Alexander attributed the shift to social payments. “The number of recipients of the child grant increased by 1 200 percent between 2001 and 2010/11,” she said.

“In 2001 some 8 percent of South Africans were beneficiaries of grants. This proportion increased to 29 percent in 2010/11 and accounted for 10 percent of government expenditure.”

As the population grows, this burden might grow. So more is needed in terms of economic growth to redress inequality.

Edited by Peter DeIonno. With contributions from Donwald Pressly, Ayanda Mdluli and Ethel Hazelhurst.


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