Parliament’s land reform portfolio committee wants Land Reform Minister Thoko Didiza to freeze state funding to the troubled Ingonyama Trust Board (ITB) until it can present a budget and evidence of plans to spend money on people living on land under its control.
Members of the committee, which met on Friday to finalise the agriculture, land reform and rural development department’s budget for 2020/2021, also want Didiza to place the entity under administration until a review of its functions and finances are carried out.
The ITB administers nearly three million hectares of tribal land in KwaZulu-Natal on behalf of King Goodwill Zwelithini and has been under fire in Parliament over its poor corporate governance and its failure to present plans of how it will use funds for development programmes for women, youth and people with disabilities living under the traditional authorities.
Committee chairperson Mandla Mandela said the committee would propose to Didiza that she continue holding back the ITB’s funding for the year. He said that the ITB was meant to manage the Ingonyama Trust for the well-being of people living on trust land but had failed to do so.
At a budget hearing earlier this month, ITB chairperson Jerome Ngwenya told the committee that the board, which, according to its annual report, took in about R90-million last year from leases, had no community programmes because the government was not giving it funding for such work.
Mandela said the committee had also noted the large number of vacancies at the ITB and the fact that its top six executives had been placed on special leave.
In January Ngwenya placed the ITB’s chief executive, Lucas Mkhwanazi, chief financial officer Amin Mia and four other executives on special leave.
Last month the six and four other staff members who had been suspended went to the labour court to compel Ngwenya to pay their salaries, which he had stopped after Parliament withheld the ITB’s 2020/2021 allocation of R22-million because it failed to submit a budget along with its annual performance plan.
Mandela said the ITB had also failed to carry out a survey of land under its control.
The budget was finally submitted to Parliament this week, but lacked any allocations for spending on development programmes.
“The status of the budget presented in the committee briefing is uncertain. The ITB must table the budget, by an addendum, indicating allocations to further the purpose of the trust,” Mandela said.
Mandela said the committee wanted Didiza to report on progress made by the inter-ministerial committee appointed by President Cyril Ramaphosa to deal with the future of the trust, which she had failed to do.
While the high level panel appointed by Parliament and Ramaphosa’s own advisory panel had recommended that the trust be scrapped or reformed, the president did not act on its recommendations, instead appointing the inter-ministerial committee to deal with its future.
The move by the presidency came after some traditional leaders and their supporters in the province, mobilised by the ITB, threatened violence if the trust was dissolved. Zwelithini also reacted strongly against the high level panel report, with Ramaphosa subsequently meeting him to reassure him the trust was not under threat.
“The failure of the ITB to account for the R22-million allocated to it by the department is noted and therefore the committee supports the suspension of its funds until a review is done,” Mandela said.
The ITB’s lease programme is the subject of a high court challenge by residents, backed by a number of nongovernmental organisations, which was set down for argument in March but was adjourned until a date to be determined by the KwaZulu-Natal judge president, Achmat Jappie.
The ITB accounts to Parliament for the R22-million it is allocated, but not for the revenue it takes in from leases, mining rights and other levies.
Last week lawyers for the applicants in the lease case wrote to Jappie, requesting that the matter be heard by video conferencing.
Lawyers for the ITB have since opposed a video sitting, saying they want the matter argued over two days in open court. Amakhosi from around the province had been mobilised to attend the hearing which was postponed.
Ngwenya did not respond to calls from the Mail & Guardian on Friday.
In an affidavit to the labour court during the application brought by Mkhwanazi and his colleagues, Ngwenya blamed them for the delay in submitting the budget.
At an earlier parliamentary committee meeting, Ngwenya told the committee that the ITB was not required to account for any monies beyond the funding it was given by the government, which he said was not enough to pay salaries. He added that it was not required to account to parliament for income from leases and other sources.