South African National Parks and South African National Biodiversity Institute: Annual Reports 2008/09

Water and Sanitation

02 November 2009
Chairperson: Ms C Mabuza ( ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee was briefed by South African National Parks ( SANParks) and The South African National Biodiversity Institute ( SANBI) on their Annual Reports 2008/09.

SANParks had received an unqualified audit report for the fifth year in a row. However the organisation, which looked after the national parks of South Africa, was battling to deal with the issue of poaching, as rhino poaching had increased, which was attributed to statements made about the healing power of animal parts by a Minister in Asia recently. Another challenge was the lack of women managers in the organisation, and only a few disabled people were employed, making up only 0.615 of the workforce. The figures for visitors to the parks, and overnight stays in the parks, were outlined. SANParks had experienced an overall decline. Members were pleased with the full presentation, but raised queries around the ratings and occupancy figures, and particularly why Richtersveld and Mohkala were showing such low occupancy rates. They also questioned the incidents at Qwa Qwa, and the problems around removal of the fences and high poaching. Members also raised the issue of transfrontier parks at Mozambique, Gonarazhou and the Kgaladi and Limpopo Parks, and noted that many of the partner countries were still dependent on South Africa’s resources. Questions were asked about staff salaries, whether SANParks provided transport for staff, whether there was any involvement in provincial parks, the issuing of fishing licences, and the studies into pollution of the rivers running through the parks. Members were insistent that SANParks must address the issue of employing disabled staff, and also questioned whether it would consider interns and temporary staff to fill any vacancies that occurred. The programmes, particularly those involving children, were also amplified. Other questions related to poaching, what SANParks did with confiscated ivory, whether the removal of the fences encouraged poaching, and the status of the upgrades for which SANParks had received funding.

SANBI noted that it had some major challenges. The first was the perception that biodiversity was for the 'upper classes and whites, and was also considered as a ‘luxury' in the face of other demands on the fiscus, particularly for housing and water delivery. SANBI was mandated with leading the national Biodiversity Research agenda; giving biodiversity policy and advice and managing the national botanical garden system. In the past year it had suffered the effects of financial misconduct, which had led to financial internal challenges, and the suspension of the previous Chief Financial Officer. Staff members at SANBI were still predominantly male, with only 16 people employed. It was still struggling with the problems of the poor accounting in the past, including problems around the post-retirement medical aid provision, and leave provision. It had instituted cost saving measures. Internal resources were used where possible. The remainder of the presentation set out what it was hoping to achieve. Members appreciated the amount of information contained in the presentation, and asked where the planned gardens would be in the Eastern Cape, whether there were gardens planned for Limpopo, whether SANBI was helping farmers, particularly in Eastern Cape, to clear the alien vegetation as they had been told that they were responsible for it, but had in many cases not been assisted financially with the task. Members questioned the high spending on personnel, asked the impact of moving the head office to Pretoria from Cape Town, and asked whether SANBI was able to assist municipalities in improving their municipal gardens. The Committee noted that it must interrogate the misappropriation matter further.

Meeting report

South African National Parks (SANParks) Annual Report 2008/09
Dr David Mabunda, Chief Executive Officer, South African National Parks (SANParks) and Mr Themba Madilane, Chief Financial Officer, SANParks briefed the Committee on the organisation's 2008/09 Annual Report.

Dr Mabunda told the Committee that SANParks had received an unqualified audit report for the fifth year in a row. However the organisation, which looked after the national parks of South Africa, was battling to deal with the issue of poaching. Despite the fact that elephant poaching had decreased, 38 rhinos were poached in 2008/9 financial years.  He attributed this rise to a statement that was made by a Minister in Asia  that his cancer had been healed by a mixture of substances, which included horn. This was now regarded as one of the most sought-after animal parts.

Black domestic visitors visiting South African National Parks grew by 11.3%, to just over 345 000 and overnight black visitors dropped by 0.6%. However the total number of visitors was down by 7.3 % compared to the previous year. The organisation was also failing to attract enough people to some of its national parks, such as for Richtersveld. This was a community project, and was given to the organisation by the community so that they could manage it. The difficulty for Richtersveld was its location, as it was a long drive from Upington. There was also a problem with aircraft accessibility.

From an internal administration point of view, Dr Mabundla noted that there were no top women managers in the organisation, and only a few disabled people were employed. Disabled people made up 0.61% of the workforce.

The biggest challenge facing the organisation was financial sustainability in the context of economic recession, and potentially higher inflation on key supplies such as the rise in Eskom rates.

Some the key priorities for the following financial year were the Implementation of the National Biodiversity Framework and establishing a climate change response programme.

Discussion
Mr G Morgan (DA) thanked Dr Mabunda for the presentation, saying that the presentation was impressive. He said that it was difficult for him to get a good impression of what a good unit occupancy was, and thus asked the SANParks delegation to outline what they would regard this as being. He asked why Mokhala and Richtersveld had particularly low occupancy rates, and asked what the organisation was doing to address the problem.

Dr Mabunda replied that the national norm was 55%, and an occupancy rate of between 56% and 70 % would mean that SANParks was doing well. The Kruger National Park had an occupancy rate of 92%. The rest of the industry in that region was around 57%, which was thus an indication that there was something that the organisation was doing well.

He added that Mokhala was a relatively new park. The park was not marketed prior to its opening, because there were certain uncertainties about it, since it was a product of a land claim and thus there was no certainty until the final contract was signed.

Dr Mabunda said that Richtersveld was a community project, and was given to SANParks by the community, for SANParks to manage. SANParks had laid down the requirements for national parks, but could not reach agreement with the community on the exchange of some of the goats for wildlife.

Another difficulty for Richtersveld was its location, as it was a long drive from Upington. There was also a problem with aircraft accessibility. Parks that had no regional airports had lower occupancy rates than parks that had regional airports. There was a need for a combination of road network and airlift facilities to get people to visit the parks.

Mr Morgan asked SANParks to explain the nature of its relationship with the Free State provincial government, taking into account the incidents that had been occurring at the Qwa Qwa nature reserve such as poaching and the fact that there was no fence.

Dr Mabunda replied that the Qwa Qwa National Park was part of the Golden Gate National Park, and it had experienced chronic problems ranging from looting of resources, through to facilities that were in a state of disrepair, through to poaching even by staff. SANParks had put up an R 11million rand fence at the park and the entire fence was stolen. However, SANParks had also established a system to get staff members to report for work. Many staff members had not previously reported for work even though they were being paid.  The fencing still needed to be attended to, and SANParks was working closely with the Free State government in this regard.

Mr Morgan said that he liked SANPark’s state of the infrastructure rating, however nothing was said about it in the presentation. He said that it seemed as if there might be a problem with regards to roads at the country's national parks, saying that the score was relatively low. He asked SANParks to take the Committee through the matter.

Dr Mabunda replied that 50-55% ratings in the state of infrastructure represented an acceptable road network and, as the percentage increased, then it was deemed to be much better. SANParks used the industry norms to determine when a road needed to be resurfaced. A road was essentially judged not by what was on the surface, but what was underneath the surface. However it was difficult to maintain gravel roads. The buildings were on average at 70-78 % ratings, and thus they were fairly good.

Mr Morgan asked why there was no mention of integration on transfrontier parks. He asked where the country was with regards to the integration with the Mozambique Park, and how this process was going. He also asked SANParks to explain what was happening with Gonarazhou, and asked whether this corridor was going to happen.

Dr Mabunda replied that the transfrontier conservation programme was mostly driven by the Department concerned. The treaty discussions and the bilateral talks were conducted by the Department. SANParks would only get involved once the Department handed the park over. Most of the transfrontier parks were still in the negotiation stages, with the exception of Kgalagadi Park. With the Limpopo Transfrontier Park, the Department had to translate this from a hunting area to a national park. Millions were spent on rebuilding the park, so there was some progress with the trans-national parks.

Another problem was that the countries with whom South African shared trans-national parks became dependent on South Africa for resources. South Africa had to assist those countries with the management of the parks. Their rangers were also trained by South Africa.

Dr Mabunda added that there was no progress in Gonarazhou. The animals were unused to seeing people very often and thus they were also highly dangerous. There were high levels of poaching in the park. The corridor had not been put in place at the time of this meeting. For the corridor to succeed, the Zimbabwean government had to drive the project. It seemed that the problems with the trans-border national parks with Zimbabwe would only be resolved once there was political stability in that country. However the Department would be able to give the Committee more information on the projects.

Mr J Skosana (ANC) said that there was no reference to staff salaries in the financial statements. That would have further explained why the organisation had received an unqualified audit report. He said that the presentation was good, and it seemed as if there were no problems in the parks.

Mr Skosana asked SANParks to explain its plan for developing the parks that were still struggling. There were parks that had no development.

Mr Themba Madilane, Chief Financial Officer, SANParks replied that the organisation's salary bill for the year 2008/09 had increased by 17%. There was a very low vacancy rate in the organisation compared to other departments and agencies. Like any other company, the organisation did receive complaints from employees about low salaries. Compared to the private sector, the increases were above inflation.

Dr Mabunda said that the struggling parks were under the jurisdiction of provinces. SANParks did not have the mandate to control provincial parks. SANParks only managed heritage parks and parks that had national importance.

Mr Skosana asked if there were any challenges with regards to the issuing of fishing licences for parks that had rivers and dams.

Dr Mabunda replied that SANParks was not in charge of issuing fishing licences. That was a function of the National Department of Agriculture. 

Mr Skosana asked if the organisation provided transport for staff members who lived outside the parks, seeing that most of the parks were not very close to residential areas.

Dr Mabunda replied that there was always a community around the parks, and in most  instances the staff members were from those communities. There was also a very good public transport system around the parks. SANParks did not provide transport for its staff members. The people who worked at the parks were paid enough to ensure that they could afford their own transport arrangements.

Mr Skosana said that the issue of disability had to be dealt with as there were very few disabled people employed in the organisation.

Dr Mabunda replied that the issue was receiving attention, and SANParks was doing its best to address the matter. There were people with different disabilities in the organisation.

Ms A Lovemore (DA) asked SANParks to explain the media hype around crocodile deaths in the national parks. The crocodile deaths were attributed to polluted rivers. The rivers running through Kruger were heavily polluted. It was said that the pollution was from the upstream municipalities.

Dr Mabunda said that the subject was very complex, SANParks had a river research programme that had been implemented ten years ago and covered all the rivers in the parks.  The problem was there were economic activities that were vital for the economy of the country happening upstream from the national parks. Those activities included mining, agricultural activities, which released pesticides into the rivers, and also the sewerage that got into the rivers.

SANParks had been working with Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in conducting research into the rivers. A report had been submitted to the board, and there were scientists that sat on the SANParks board. They were not happy with the fact that the information was anecdotal and thus wanted specific information from the researchers. The researchers appointed by SANParks then had gone out to do research on the riverbed, and discovered that there were very high rates of toxicity. The solution would be to hold an educational campaign for companies, municipalities and other institutions. The campaign would be aimed at encouraging people to stop polluting the rivers.

Ms H Ndude (COPE) asked where the 157 000 learners that were referred to in the presentation came from, and in particular asked for an indication of the provinces where they were found.

Dr Mabunda replied that 157 000 learners were from schools that were in the vicinity of SANParks' parks. SANParks had two programmes targeting learners. The first was the Kids In Parks programme and the other one was called People and Parks programme. These programmes ran in each and every park under SANParks.

Ms Ndude asked where South Africa was ranked in the world as far as eco-tourism was concerned.

Dr Mabunda replied that the level of confidence that the conservation agencies had in the parks determined the ranking. South Africa was well respected. There was also a delegation from the United States of America national parks that had arrived on the morning of the meeting to learn from SANParks.

Ms Ndude asked if the poaching between South Africa and Mozambique was a result of the removal of the fence Mozambique and South Africa.

Dr Mabunda replied that the removal of the fence did not automatically result in the upsurge of poaching. The country had been experiencing illegal activities from Mozambique, but most of the poachers in this instance were killing animals for survival purposes and not commercial purposes. The poaching of rhinos counted as organised and highly commercial crime. The poaching also did result from socio-economic factors. The Mozambiquan people were generally very good trackers and could disappear for days in the bush, but before being tracked themselves would already have killed the rhino. 

Ms Ndude asked if the organisation would first consider the non-permanent staff members when filling the existing vacancies within the organisation.

Dr Mabunda replied that SANParks would draw from the pool of interns to fill the existing vacancies at SANParks. Temporary staff would also be employed to fill those vacancies.

The Chairperson said that in the South African yearbook of 2008/9, there was information that SANParks had been given R541 million for the upgrading of tourism accommodation and the building of the conference centre. She enquired about the progress of these projects.

Dr Mabunda replied that SANParks was almost 95% finished on the projects for which this funding was received. He assured the members that the projects had improved the image tremendously, and that this upgrade had taken it outside of the normal national park standards.

The Chairperson asked Dr Mabunda to explain what SANParks did with the ivory that if had confiscated from poachers.

Dr Mabunda said that the ivory was stored, as SANParks were not allowed to sell the ivory. The ivory was registered with a body called Traffic, until it was given the instruction to destroy it.

South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) Annual Report 2008/09 presentation
Ms Tanya Abrahamse, Chief Executive Officer and Mr Moeketsi Khoahli, Chief Financial Officer of  SANBI presented the Annual Report for 2008/09. Ms Abrahamse told the Committee that SANBI's role was to lead the National Biodiversity Research agenda; give biodiversity policy and advice and manage the national botanical garden system.

The main challenge facing SANBI was the perception that biodiversity was for the 'upper classes and whites. Biodiversity was considered a 'luxury' in the face of other demands on the fiscus, such as housing, water delivery and other essentials for life in the short term. The institution was also facing financial challenges due to financial misconduct that had occurred. The misconduct led to the suspension/ dismissal of the previous Chief Financial Officer.

Staff members at the Institute were still predominantly male, with only 16 people employed.

The Institute was still living with problem of historical poor accounting, such as the post-retirement medical aid provision, and leave provision, due to the legacy left by the previous Chief Financial Officer. Money had also been looted from the Greening the Nation programme. To try to deal with these financial problems, SANBI had adopted strict saving measures such as double sided printing, using low cost airlines and not using business class when traveling. The use of consultants was also kept to the minimum. Internal resources were used where possible.

Full details are contained in the attached document.

Discussion
Ms Lovemore appreciated the report, and the amount of information that was in the presentation. She asked where the site of the planned botanical garden would be in the Eastern Cape, and when would it be completed.

Ms Abrahamse replied that she was not willing to give the site information to the public, as that would normally cause the land prices to go up. There had always been a debate about where the Eastern Cape garden should be.

Ms Lovemore said that she served a constituency in the Eastern Cape that was largely rural. The constituency had a lot of alien vegetation and she was receiving many complaints from the farmers about that they were required, as land owners, to be responsible for the removal of the alien vegetation. They did not get any assistance for doing so, despite the fact that it was extremely expensive for them to remove the alien vegetation. She asked if SANBI provided any assistance for the farmers.

Ms Abrahamse replied that the Department of Agriculture dealt with the issue of farmers removing alien vegetation. However SANBI had been working in many wetland areas in the Eastern Cape removing alien vegetation. SANBI was giving farmers incentives to clear alien vegetation.

Ms Ndude thanked SANBI for the in-depth information, saying that she had benefited a lot from the presentation. She noticed that the organisation was facing financial difficulties, but its progress was still looking good. 34-35% of the organisation's money was spent on personnel costs, and she queried whether this amount was not too high.

Ms Abrahamse replied that SANBI spent a lot of money on personnel because the institution was driven by human capital. The Board felt that SANBI was an organisation that could spend 75-80% on clever people. This was because SANBI was a scientific institution.

Ms Ndunde asked what had been the impact of moving the South African National Biodiversity Institute head offices to Pretoria from Cape Town.

Ms Abrahamse replied that the head office was moved before she joined the institution. The decision to move the head office was made without taking into consideration what it would mean. The situation that the institution now found itself in was that although most of its research was done in Cape Town, only the senior staff had moved to Pretoria.

Ms Ndunde said that previously, municipal gardens in small towns used to be beautiful, but that today they tended to be dry and were not properly cared for. Ms Ndunde asked how SANBI was assisting the municipalities to get their gardens back to being the pride of the towns.

Ms Abrahamse replied that the issue of municipal gardens was part of the programme of municipal mainstreaming. What had happened in municipalities was that directors of different programmes never coordinated their work. SANBI was now bringing them together. Municipalities often did not have the resources to maintain the gardens, because the gardens were not seen as a priority. She added that SANBI was having discussions with the Tzaneen Municipality, and was working with it on the green programme. There was also some amazing work being done by the Johannesburg City Parks in Soweto. The work increased people's happiness in the township.

Mr Skosana said that the Committee had to interrogate the misappropriation of funds matter at SANBI. He asked how was SANBI monitoring its funds after someone had been given a project to implement.

Ms Abrahamse said that the Greening of the Nation project aimed at putting the resources in the hands of localised non-governmental organizations,in order to do the greening programme. 90% of the project had run well. It just took a few dishonest people to destroy all the good work that had been done.

Mr Skosana noted that minimal information was given to the Committee about the work of SANBI in other provinces besides the Western Cape. There was nothing much said about Limpopo and the projects taking place in the provinces.

Ms Abrahamse replied that botanical gardens were largely concentrated in the southern parts of the country. In the Eastern Cape the country had five meeting each other and there was no garden. SANBI relied a lot on SANParks to fulfil the role of having parks areas where they could not have gardens.  She agreed that a National Botanical Garden was needed in the unique parts of Limpopo

The meeting was adjourned

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