Cape Town - 110913 - Minister of Trade and Industry Rob Davies - Jacob Zuma fielded questions from the opposition during a sitting in the National Assembly in Parliament. President Jacob Zuma took a great deal of heat from opposition over the Minister of Public Works - Photo: Matthew Jordaan

Deon de Lange

Political Bureau

OPPOSITION parties have reacted angrily to the ratification of an agreement between SA and Cuba that will see a R350 million taxpayer-funded “economic assistance package” handed to the island nation.

They say the money would have been better spent at home, and that public money should never be used to “prop up an anti-democratic and nepotistic regime”.

The National Assembly’s committee on trade and industry agreed yesterday – by a single vote – to ratify the agreement, entered into after President Jacob Zuma visited Cuba last year.

The deal offers Cuba a R100m “solidarity grant” – which will not have to be repaid – and a R250m credit line.

Of the latter amount, Cuba will be given R40m to purchase seeds – of which R5m must be spent on SA seeds – and R210m in tranched loans.

The package follows the government’s controversial decision last year to write off R1.1 billion in Cuban debts.

DA trade and industry spokesman Geordin Hill-Lewis said yesterday that the government “should not use public money to maintain the political friendship between the ANC and the Castro regime in Cuba”.

“We cannot afford to be throwing money away like this. It will… only help to prop up an anti-democratic and nepotistic regime in Cuba.”

FF Plus finance spokesman Anton Alberts complained about the lack of conditions attached to the deal, particularly the government’s failure to insist that Cuba reform its human rights record.

Speaking at the signing of the agreement in February, Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies said “all costs related with facilitating and implementing the economic package will be financed through the R350m, which was the amount approved by cabinet”.