Department of Environmental Affairs overview of functions, programmes & spending to date, & legislative programme briefing

Water and Sanitation

24 January 2011
Chairperson: Mr J de Lange (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The new Committee Chairperson outlined how he would see future interaction between the Portfolio Committee and Departments of Water and of Environmental Affairs, tabled the draft programme, explained his philosophy and the Department’s approach, and outlined how the Committee would deal with the budget vote and the public hearings scheduled for March, on the Green Paper on Climate Change.

The Department of Environmental Affairs presented an overview of the work of the Department, a brief history of the Department, including its current coupling with Water Affairs under one Ministry, but two separate budget votes. She explained the factors leading to deterioration of the environment and stressed that the Department aimed to overcome these challenges, in line with international sustainable development principles and organisations. It also would refine its administration and organisation internally in order to fulfil its strategic objectives. It would ensure that it had the correct budget to perform its work, including support to local government, and she cited other priority areas of improving air quality, coastal and open space planning and waste management. Governance systems would be integrated and aligned, and compliance and proper enforcement in named areas of concern were highlighted, including healthcare waste, rhino poaching and environmental impact assessments. Climate change, the Conference of Parties and the White Paper review would be key focus areas in the current year.

The Department presented a financial report from 1 March 2010 to date. Although the baseline allocations had dropped, and donor funding had also declined, spending was on target, and was fully described in respect of each programme. Members were concerned as to the practice of awarding performance bonuses, employing consultants, and asked what was being done to recruit and train more people to work as green, blue and brown environmental law enforcers. Members asked for a report on the current status and previous dysfunctionality of Buyisa-e-Bag, and urged that it and other programmes be better publicised. Further questions were asked about waste management programmes, the replacement of the SA Agulhas with the new polar vessel, and where responsibility would lie, job creation initiatives, and expediting of Environmental Impact Assessment processes.

The Department briefly set out its proposed legislative programme. Members felt that it would be useful for any regulations to be tabled in Parliament prior to being approved by the Minister, and noted the legislative amendments and outstanding issues in the minutes. The Chairperson highlighted those issues that he would wish the Department to address in the next meeting, and those on which reports must be compiled and presented.

Meeting report

Chairperson’s opening remarks
The Chairperson opened the meeting and explained briefly his own history within the Committee, indicating that this was the first meeting he had chaired, and that he would welcome suggestions from Members on topics to be added. He also was pleased to see a large delegation from the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA or the Department) and said that although, given the nature of oversight, interaction would at times seem adversarial, he would encourage rigorous discussion and lively debate, and that although he hoped that it would not be necessary to reprimand the Department, the Committee would nonetheless at all time show respect and would not compromise the dignity of any individual, and would require explicit evidence before agreeing that there might have been wrongdoing. His goal as Chairperson, and the function of the Portfolio Committee, was to get the Department to function better.

He noted that if a planning workshop was needed it would be arranged. However this meeting was the first in preparation for the budget vote, which must be passed by 7 June 2011. The date for the elections between April to June had not yet been announced.

The Chairperson noted the apologies of the Minister and Deputy Minister, and said they would be asked to give a political overview on current matters in South Africa and the world, as well as the Ministry’s plans, priorities and visions for the year ahead. He noted the huge volume of work that the Committee must cover.

He tabled the proposed programme to end March, and a continuous agenda, which outlined issues that would have to be addressed whenever possible, for instance, between processing of legislation by other parliamentary bodies, and explained that this ensured that the issues would not be “lost”. Most of the work on the budget vote would happen in February. In this year, the Budget Vote would be done differently this year, with eight attended to each day and the entire process completed within a week, which meant that the Committee had to prepare itself well in advance.

The first two weeks in March were set aside for public hearings on the Green Paper on Climate Change, which should hopefully be finalised by mid-year to allow a Policy Document to be produced in preparation for the United Nations Conference of Parties Framework on Climate Change (COP 17) at the end of 2011. The Minister in the meantime would be sensitising the South African public to climate change and what government was trying to do to mitigate it.

The deadline for written submissions to the public hearings was 15 February 2011, but because the statement was sent directly to stakeholders it had not received much press coverage. He urged Members to notify the Committee Secretary of any parties whom they thought should be notified. The written submissions would be scrutinised and the Committee would decide which stakeholders would be invited to make oral submissions. A report would then be drafted, which would indicate which areas needed to be addressed in terms of compliance and enforcement.

He urged that the Committee and Department should also attend the European Parliamentarians for Africa (AWEPA) Conference on Climate Change to obtain new information on the subject.

The Chairperson then outlined that he thought one of the focal points for the Department for the year should be climate change, in light of the Green Paper process and South Africa’s hosting of COP17. Members had received a report on how government was going to respond to climate change and move towards COP 17. However, this had not yet been processed by Cabinet, as the inter-Ministerial committee would meet only on 1 February, so the report was confidential to Members only. Parts of the information were potentially sensitive because South Africa had a dual role in COP, both heading it and being a participating state to represent its own interests, and must be cautious about how it put its views. 

Another priority should be ensuring compliance, and here he noted that the Department had started a compliance campaign, but the Committee was the perfect platform through which to communicate with the public on that campaign. Other issues, as well as legislation, would be prioritised as they occurred. He would be asking the Auditor-General to report to the Committee on the financial risks faced by the two Departments and how to mitigate against them. The Committee and the Departments had to identify public entities that were experiencing problems or that were strategically problematic, who would be asked to brief the Committee also.

The Chairperson also announced, in the interests of transparency, that the Committee had received an allocation of R800 000, of which R483 000 had been spent. There was some unhappiness among Committee Chairs about the budget but this would be discussed later.

Reports from work done in 2010
The Chairperson tabled the Annual Report of the Portfolio Committee for 2010, a report on the performance of the Department, two sets of minutes and a report on the performance of the Trans –Caledon Authority. Members were asked to work through them in preparation for their adoption in two weeks’ time.

Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA): Overview of functions and programmes
Ms Nosipho Ngcaba, Director-General, Department of Environmental Affairs, presented an overview of the Department, spelling out the functions and roles relating to the various programmes of Administration, Environmental Quality and Protection, Oceans and Coastal Management, Climate Change, Biodiversity and Conservation, Sector Services, Environmental Awareness and International Relations. She outlined the legislation from which the Departments of Water and Environmental Affairs (DWEA or the Department) derived their mandate (see attached presentation) and noted that her Department cooperated with the Department of Arts and Culture on environmental protection and sustainable development of World Heritage Sites.

She briefly recapped that Environmental Affairs and Tourism had been grouped together during the Third Parliament, whilst Water had been separate. Water and Environmental Affairs were now grouped together in the same Ministry, but were separate departments with separate votes, and there was a completely separate Department of Tourism. The fisheries function had moved from Environmental Affairs to the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF), although the Department of Environmental Affairs retained the conservation function for fisheries and coastal areas.

She said that the 2007 State of the Environment Report indicated that the environment was deteriorating in South Africa, which ranked amongst the world’s 20 top greenhouse gas emitters. Poor water and air quality were causing disease. There was a lack of capacity in local government to manage solid and medical waste effectively. There were un-rehabilitated mine dumps, presenting environmental as well as physical hazards. Acid mine drainage was a major challenge, as it affected areas beyond the mining areas. Fauna and flora were being exploited in an unsustainable fashion. Water quality, as well as the health of wetlands and aquatic ecosystems, was on the decline. Alien invasive plant species were threatening biodiversity and water availability. Marine and shore ecosystems were under attack from many angles, including the pouring of waste water into the sea, over-exploitation of marine resources and inconsiderate development in sensitive coastal ecosystems. The current network of protected areas did not succeed in providing ecological services and failed to mitigate climate change. Stratospheric ozone depletion caused ever-increasing ultra violet radiation, especially during summer. Land degradation and soil erosion continued unabated. The research and innovation capacity of the country did not provide solution to these challenges.

The Department’s long term vision was to overcome these challenges, while working in synchronization and cooperation with international sustainable development principles and organisations. It aimed to refine its administration and organisation internally in order to fulfil its strategic objectives.

She then set out the top priority areas of the Department. Firstly, it had to ensure that its budget was correct and provided the Department with the financial resources to pay the staff that it needed and execute its core operations, as well as address the prioritised areas of supporting local government, improving air quality, coastal and open space planning and waste management.

Secondly, it aimed to align governance systems with Government Outcome 10, in terms of mining, integrated permit management, Environmental Management Frameworks, land use issues and rationalisation with public entities.

It aimed to ensure compliance and proper enforcement in particular areas of concern, including healthcare waste, rhino poaching and environmental impact assessments. Another priority was to draw links between climate change, the green economy and sustainable development. Climate change and COP17 and the White Paper would, as outlined by the Chairperson, be a particular priority. It would also attend to key national and international engagements.

Department’s financial report from 1 March 2010 to date
Ms Esther Makau, Chief Financial Officer, Department of Environmental Affairs, presented the financial report. She noted that the allocation decreased from R2.6 billion to R2.5 billion and R65.9 million was reprioritized. The Department spent 18% in the first quarter, 29% in the second quarter and 22% during the third quarter of the financial year, which represented a healthy spending pattern, totaling 68%, or R1.7 billion, of the allocated budget for the year. The Department was, broadly speaking, on target in terms of its spending. She outlined (see attached presentation) the spending in each of the programmes, giving both the actual amounts spent, the comparison with the amounts budgeted, and the percentage of spending. She added that R 22 million out of R32 million donated by foreign governments under Programme 2 was spent on projects and programmes. Generally, there was a decrease in baseline allocation to the Department. The main expenses of the Department were the operating costs for the polar research vessel, accommodation, municipal services, the funding of new buildings and green economy and environmental awareness events and projects. There was also a decrease in donor funding, which had dropped from previous levels of R40 million to the current figure of R32 million.

Mr P Mathebe (ANC) asked about outstanding transfers to Buyisa-e-Bag, noting that in both the previous and current financial years the allocation was received two months before the end of the financial year, and enquiring why this had occurred.

Ms Ngcaba said that there had been a problem with the previous executive of Buyisa-e-Bag, as reported earlier to the Committee, and there were processes under way to deal with the maladministration and corruption. The current executive had also submitted a business plan that was below standard, which was the reason why the allocation was held back. She would make more information on Buyisa-e-Bag and its governance problems available later. The Department had met with the project staff in December 2010 and would be holding another meeting with the Board and Executive.

Mr Mathebe said that although the presentation mentioned performance bonuses for staff, the Department made use of consultants in many instances. This seemed contradictory. He also noted that many consultants had previously worked for the Department.

Ms Ngcaba replied that there was a provision for performance bonuses to be paid, in terms of the Public Service Regulations, and the Department followed this provision. Bonuses were used as an incentive to retain staff and keep them motivated, and this was allowable. They were only given to those from Level 4 upwards, and the profiles of those receiving bonuses was available. In regard to consultants, she said that there were certain services that the Department had to outsource – for instance, the Department did not have the resources to support local governments or provinces, and therefore adopted a project-approach to such support. There was justification for use of consultants, and a proper process for approval and hiring.

Mr G Morgan (DA) noted that priorities included compliance and enforcement. He suggested that 2011 was a good year for consolidation, implementation and measuring the success of actions and results on air quality, waste management and coastal management. The legislation had been passed during 2008 and 2009, and it was timeous that it now be enforced. He hoped that air quality would also be added to the list of focal areas.

Mr Morgan asked whether the part of the inspectorate dedicated to Brown issues would be increased in 2011.He said that he believed that the Environment Management Inspectorate (EMI or Green Scorpions) numbered around 1 000, of whom 800 were park rangers. He asked whether the Green Scorpions planned to work more closely together with, and support, the Blue Scorpions, since the law had been adapted to extend the Green Scorpions’ jurisdiction also to policing water-related environmental crimes. He also asked what plans were in place to increase the numbers of the enforcers.

Ms Ngcaba replied, in regard to the priority areas, that National Treasury had allocated additional funding to address rhino poaching. Initially, the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) had not had any funding to deploy patrols along the Mozambican border in the Kruger National Park, but such patrols were now active and other concrete implementation plans would be pursued with the additional resources that were provided.

Ms Ngcaba added that the numbers set out in the strategic plan of the Department would reflect how it planned to boost the numbers of EMI and implementation workers. The amendments made to the Water Act transformed it into an environmental act, which allegedly allowed the Department to use the same systems to implement and enforce compliance in respect of water. This point was under consideration by the legal team in the Department. However, the Minister had given an instruction that the Departments of Environmental Affairs and Water had to synchronise their operations around law enforcement and compliance, regardless of differences.

Mr Peter Lukey, Acting Deputy Director General, Environmental Quality Planning, Department of Environmental Affairs, replied that only 20% of the law enforcement specialists worked in the Brown area, and they were designated by the Minister or MEC. Unlike Parks Board rangers, who had been enforcing the environmental laws for many years, experience of enforcement in the Brown area was limited. Three elements of the programme would improve enforcement capacity - namely quality, quantity and confidence. There had been few arrests, but through national enforcements campaigns, like Operation Ferro, new EMIs were given hands-on experience in enforcement action, which built their confidence. Enforcement campaigns were successful. A number of EMIs were trained by municipalities, but had not been designated. More recruits were ready for training.

He summarised that Operation Ferro targeted the iron and steel industries, and had resulted in two of the “dirtiest” industries cleaning up. A dust extraction system was launched at Arcelor Mittal in Vereeniging, turning the plant, which had been polluting for 50 years, into a clean plant, while the Aspen Plant in Cato Ridge installed a dust extraction system that reduced the dust emissions by roughly 90%. These developments took place simply through proper compliance enforcement, although he did note that the Chief Executive Officer had to be threatened with imprisonment before agreeing to install the extractor.

Mr J Skosana (ANC) asked how the Department administered the waste management programmes at provincial and municipal level. Buyisa-e-Bag was not yet visible enough and could be strengthened, and other programmes also had to be communicated and made visible to the public. He pointed out that people did not know the purpose and function of the Department of Environmental Affairs.

Ms Ngcaba agreed that more could be done. The Department believed that domestic waste collection was a local government function, but there were capacity challenges in certain districts. The Department of Environmental Affairs had engaged with the Department of Cooperative Government and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) and the National Treasury on how best to close the gaps in funding of municipalities, as well as for landfill sites. R 5 billion was required to address the issue in its entirety. In the meantime the Department continued to fund projects, with its limited resources, providing short term support where it could, and there were records available on the different projects. She agreed that the Department should increase its advocacy. There was a good possibility of applying Public /Private Partnerships (PPPs) to waste management and the Department must decide how to accommodate this in consultations with National Treasury.

Ms S Kalyan (DA) enquired how the performance bonuses were justified.

Ms Kalyan asked if the Department was sharing the financing and responsibilities for the polar research vessel with another department, and enquired when the SA Agulhas would be retired finally, and when the new vessel would be put in operation.

Ms Razeena Omar, Chief Director: Integrated Coastal Management, Department of Environmental Affairs, explained the funding and future plans for the SA Agulhas and the new polar vessel. The SA Agulhas would function until June 2012, whilst a new vessel was being built. The Department of  Science and Technology funded some of the equipment installed in the new vessel. A company was currently managing the SA Agulhas, but management of the new vessel would be put out to tender. The new vessel’s name had yet to be decided.

Ms H Ndude (COPE) felt that it was necessary to have a programme to assess staff performance.

Ms Ndude commented that every year there were reports of deterioration in the environment, and although plans were outlined, there were few reports on what had actually been implemented. She enquired when the Committee could expect to see concrete results.

Ms Ndude noted the priority to improve the capacity of municipalities to handle waste management, but she felt that the statement around support of local government was too vague, and wanted a more specific description of the nature and the method of the support given to local governments.

Ms Ngcaba replied that the DEA’s planning had to follow the law, and the reports by each of the programme heads would outline the progress made. The Department’s main responsibility was to determine policy, and not to implement, although it was asked to facilitate implementation. This was why there was a programme to support local governments with waste management and other functions. This support programme was put in place when the old Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process was phased out, but the Department, owing to lack of staff, had to hire consultants. Regulations had been simplified to try to fast-track the process whilst ensuring that the importance of the impact assessments was not undermined, nor environmental integrity compromised.

Ms J Manganye (ANC) asked what programmes were conducted around alien invasive species, and what progress had been made.

Ms Manganye asked what other functions were imposed pursuant to intergovernmental linkages. She urged the Department to evaluate its programmes and implementation and admit any shortcomings to the Committee.

Mr Mathebe asked how the Department had prioritised job creation, and how this fitted into the programmes, and whether, for instance, the Department fast-tracked EIAs to assist projects with the potential to create many jobs.

Ms Ngcaba replied that the Department had already responded to this, under both the New Growth Path and the Green Economy, and reports on these would explain the response. EIAs were expedited because the  Department had simplified the regulations. A Strategic Infrastructure Fund instituted by the Department of Public Enterprises also supported EIAs that were linked to some road infrastructure and to the TransNet rail infrastructure. This ensured a reasonable turnaround time for the EIAs, without undermining the purpose of the tool.

Ms Lisa McCourt, Chief Operations Officer, Department of Environmental Affairs, said that the new EIA implementation was based on the 6-point turnaround strategy for environmental assessment, formulated in 2008. Efficiency was firstly improved by the law reforms in 2008, whilst simultaneously more efficient systems were implemented without compromising effectiveness, including rationalising the list of activities that fell under the system, and this came into effect in the 2010 regulations. Matters that would have an impact were still under the system, but small or known-impact projects no longer clogged the system. There was a three-pronged approach to implementation. Firstly, the Department ensured sufficient staff at national and provincial level to do the work. Strategic instruments complemented the EIA system, so that spatial planning took account of environmental considerations, to avoid problematic cumulative impacts and inappropriate locations of projects. Spatial dispensations would happen for strategically important developments. Faster turnaround times would be achieved by sufficiently large teams worked on the same matters. Developers would pay themselves, through the Department of Public Enterprises Process. The last part of the strategy was to ensure accountability by consultants doing the assessment, and environmental consultants would in future have to register, and were bound by a professional code of conduct. Reasonable pricing ranges were now being determined, to avoid clients being overcharged. The registration process for environmental assessment practitioners would be launched as soon as the Minister could accommodate this in her schedule. Currently, 97% of all applications for strategic developments were being processed faster than the regulated timeframes.

Chairperson’s Closing Remarks
The Chairperson wanted to give some structure to how the work of the Committee and the Department would proceed.

He referred to pages 3 and 4 of the 2007 State of the Environment Report, and suggested that the Committee should use this as a template for a document that the Department should draw to highlight environmental problems, to identify large polluting industries and individual companies, and to indicate what was done and what more could be done. This would then become a checklist to measure progress.

The Chairperson was not convinced that it was a healthy practice either for departments to use consultants, or to allocated performance bonuses. The Department should analyse its use of consultants, identifying the categories where they were utilised, how much money was spent, and whether capacity could not be created within the Department, then argue whether the use of consultants was inevitable.

He believed that performance bonuses were wasteful.  A Deputy Director General would evaluate his or her subordinates, but it must be remembered that if they performed badly, then this in turn reflected on him or her, so it was likely that the truth would be creatively disguised. Sometimes staff performed very well, but would not receive any performance bonuses because there was no money. The State should devise another system, and the Department should come up with another way of rewarding good performance. People only deserved performance bonuses for performing way above expectation.

The Chairperson asked that in the next presentation the Chief Financial Officer should expand on how current priorities would fit into the current budget.

He asked that Mr Lukey should obtain the Auditor-General’s report and outline, in a separate report, what the Department did to mitigate the risks.

The Chairperson also wanted an explanation of how the Department interacted with local and provincial government and what the nature was of the support it provided. This was likely to be more obvious in the case of the Department of Water Affairs than with the Department of  Environmental Affairs. He noted that integrated permit issues caused the worst delays in development, and acted as a deterrent, making it very difficult to open businesses and invest. The Department should analyse where permits were required, and which departments were involved, then focus on cooperation between them. He asked for a document detailing this and considering ways to streamline the process.

He noted that the Department had not at first realised that it was part of the rationalisation process announced and a report must be compiled and presented on this to form the basis for discussion.

The Chairperson also asked for a report on how the Department would prioritise climate change and compliance campaigns.

Health waste was a “disaster”, with such waste being dumped in residential areas where children had access to it. Perhaps the concerns by doctors and hospitals about their status provided useful leverage to force them to comply or face penalties and loss of status.

The Departments said that the Department must start engaging the public on compliance, enforcement, air quality and rhino poaching.

Mr Skosana thanked the Chairperson for the way he had structured these proceedings and thought this would enable the Committee also to evaluate itself.

Ms Manganye still wanted to hear the Department’s report on challenges with integrated linkages.

Mr Morgan said that during the past year several regulations were passed, yet for some years this Committee was not included in that process. It needed background on why the regulations were necessary, and would like such legislation to be brought before the Committee.

The Chairperson replied that Members should look at the legislative programme, which indicated progress on the various pieces of legislation. Members should make inputs on pending regulations in time. This was provided for in the justice sector, where regulations had, as a matter of course, to be tabled in Parliament one month prior to being signed off by the Minister. He added that a unit in the Presidency should be tasked with costing regulations, because this was where the main expense lay.

The Chairperson noted that the Department of Water Affairs was beginning to review its White Papers, and he asked the Department of Environmental Affairs to inform the Committee if it wished to review its legislation.

Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) legislative programme 2011
The Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) tabled its legislative programme for 2011. The Bills listed included the National Environment Management: Ocean Ecosystems Conservation Bill, the Integrated Coastal Management Amendment Bill, the South African Weather Service Act Amendment Bill and the National Environmental Management Laws Amendment Bill. The Climate Change Policy would be submitted to Parliament in 2011, and several national guidelines would be submitted.

The Chairperson said that these would be added to the continuous agenda, and identified issues would be inserted in the minutes.  It was important not to undermine executive processes. The Committee must engage with the regulations, in line with protocol.

The Chairperson suggested that the Department of Economic Development must brief the Committee on how the New Growth Path and job creation applied to the Department.

He asked that the Department should draft a user-friendly and concise document on Climate Change to take to communities.

He noted that on the following day the Department should brief the Committee on COP17, the new Environmental Law Compliance Campaign and anti-poaching activities, and on initiatives to further regulate mining in environmentally sensitive areas. He also wanted to hear about any problematic entities, noting that the Department had no separate unit to deal with entities.

The meeting was adjourned.


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