The Committee met with the Department of Water and Environmental Affairs to discuss the proposed withdrawal of the declaration of a portion of the Lowveld National Botanical Garden for the purpose of reconstructing the new N4 Ring Road. The portion was less than 1% of the garden. No existing or planned future services of the garden were affected by the proposed road alignment. The piece of land in question was natural vegetation, neither visible nor accessible to garden visitors.
The Department had issued a notice for any objections to the project. They had received no objections and had already given permission for construction to start. The Committee took great exception with the Department’s comments that the request to de-list was a mere formality. Members argued that Parliament had a role to play before a decision was reached, which was to speak to the stakeholders and to hold public hearings on the matter. Parliament had not heard from the municipalities or from the public on how they felt with regard to the matter. The Committee nevertheless approved the request but warned the Department not to make the same mistake in future.
The second item on the agenda was to adopt two sets of minutes from the previous year. Both minutes were adopted with minor amendments.
Briefing by the Department: Proposed Withdrawal of the Declaration of a Portion of Land
Mr Fundisile Mketeni, Deputy Director-General, Department of Water and Environmental Affairs (DWEA), explained that the purpose of the meeting was for the Department to discuss the withdrawal of the declaration of a portion of one of the gardens that was managed by the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) on behalf of the Government and the nation. SANBI managed a network of nine gardens in the country. The purposes of the gardens were for education, research and conservation. In terms of conservation, SANBI also conserved certain plants which were outside their natural habitat. SANBI was also able to take a natural plant out of its habitat and place it in a garden for the purpose of conservation. They focused on indigenous plants as well.
Mr Mketeni said that the Lowveld National Botanical Gardens (LNBG) was located in Nelspruit, Mpumalanga. Creating road networks was important for the country. Therefore, SANBI agreed with the request by the South African National Roads Agency Limited (SANRAL) to acquire 1.47 hectors from the northern part of the Botanical Garden. The portion under discussion was less than 1% of the garden and was known as portion 30 of the garden. That portion would be used for the construction of the new road, the N4.
Mr Mketeni explained that the Department had issued a notice in March, calling for any objections. They did not receive any objections, hence they continued with the process of asking for the proclamation.
There were no existing plans for future services for portion 30 of the garden that would be affected by the road alignment. The portion in question was a piece of land with natural vegetation, neither visible nor accessible to garden visitors.
Mr Mketeni further explained that all steps which were done and those which would still be undertaken were in terms of Section 34(1)(a) and 34(2) of the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act, 2004. Section 34 made allowance for the Minister, by notice in the Gazette, to amend or withdraw a notice referred to in Section 33, subject to Sub-section 2. Section 33 mandated the Minister the ability to proclaim a Botanical Garden. Section 34 also gave the Minister power to amend that particular provision of Section 33; however, in doing so, the Minister would need a resolution of both houses of Parliament. The National Council of Provinces (NCOP) therefore also needed to provide a resolution.
(See PowerPoint for exact location of Portion 30)
The Department then requested for the withdrawal of a portion of portion 30 (a portion of portion 14) of the farm Boschrand No. 283 JT, in extent of 1.47 hectors, from the northern part of the Lowveld National Botanical Garden, to allow for the development of the new Nelspruit N4/7 Ring Road.
Mr Mketeni told the Committee that development had already begun and a Record Of Decision (ROD) had been issued by the Department. The proper processes had been followed and the Department had arranged this meeting as a mere formality to comply with the Act.
The Chairperson said that she was certain that members would not oppose the construction of the road as it was for the purpose of reconstruction. Because of the type of proclamation that had to be amended, the Chairperson had to ask the Department whether there were any cost implications that would arise from the project. It was explained that the Act gave the Minister the power to do what she thought should be done and it was said that notice was permitted on the 27th March 2009.
Mr Christopher Willis, Chief Director: Conservation Gardens and Tourism for SANBI, replied that there were no costs incurred by the Department or by SANBI. SANRAL had looked at the market value of that portion of land and it was R1000 per hector, which amounted to a total of R14 000 which SANRAL would pay.
Mr G Morgan (DA) said that he agreed with the idea of building the road. However, he believed that it was essential for the institution of Parliament to be treated with utmost respect, even if that meeting was regarded as a formality. A road should not be built if the Department had not asked for permission to delist it and de-proclaim it from Parliament. He noted no objections to the building of the road and noted that it was a relatively small portion of land; however, he wished that his concern be noted as well. He wanted to know whether the piece of land that was being de-proclaimed was for a road reserve or if part of the road would be built on it.
Mr Willis addressed the question around the portion of land around the reserve. He clarified that the road itself tool up a small portion of the land.
Ms A Lovemore (DA) said that she was perturbed by the comment that the meeting was a mere formality. She did not understand why it was acceptable to allow that piece of land to go. It was said in the presentation that the portion of land was natural vegetation, neither visible nor accessible to garden visitors. However, the fact that one of the reasons why the garden existed was for conservation did not fit with destroying the plants to build a road.
Mr Willis replied that there was a significant portion of land on the portion in question which was being conserved. It ran north of the Crocodile River.
Ms Lovemore also wanted to know why the road had to be built through that particular path.
Mr Willis replied that only the engineering team knew why they had chosen that particular route.
Dr Z Luyenge (ANC) said that the statement that the meeting was a mere formality should be withdrawn as it was contrary to what Parliament was meant for. He noted that the project had already started without the Committee’s permission and wanted to know what the role of Parliament and the local authorities were in the matter.
Ms M Mabuza (ANC) remarked that the Committee should do an oversight visit to the garden to see whether it was necessary to interfere with the land.
Ms H Dude (COPE) told representatives from the Department that she shared the sentiment of the other Members about the comment that was made about the meeting being a “mere formality”. She said that the Department should not repeat the mistake again. If it was to happen again, the Committee would make their point by not holding a meeting with the Department. The fact that the Department had granted permission for the construction of the road showed that they did not appreciate the work of the Committee. She also agreed with Honourable Mabuza regarding the oversight visit to the Garden.
The Chairperson said that Parliament had a role to play before the project began, which was to speak to the stakeholders and to hold public hearings on the matter. They had not heard from the municipalities or from the public on how they felt with regard to the matter. She understood that the Department had not gotten any response to the notice of the hearings; however, she stressed that it did not give the Department the right to proceed with the road work. Parliament should have given the Department permission.
Mr Mketeni admitted that the Department did not follow the correct process and would not repeate its mistake in the future. He added that communication was a challenge that needed to be sorted out when working with Parliament.
Mr Morgan said that as a Committee they should approve the project but they should inform the Minister of the discussion.
The Chairperson adopted the request; however, she agreed with Mr Morgan that they should raise the issue with the Minister and with the Director-General of DWEA. She warned the Department that if proper processes were not followed in future, the meetings would not be held.
Adoption of Minutes
The Chairperson stated that there were minutes of the 2nd September and the 4th November 2009 that needed to be adopted.
Members expressed their dissatisfaction with the way the minutes had been drafted. They said it was unacceptable for them as a Committee to produce work of that quality.
The Chairperson said that she would hold a meeting with the administrative staff to make sure it did not happen again in the future.
Both sets of Minutes were adopted with minor amendments.
The meeting was adjourned.
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