The Committee heard presentations from the Department of Environmental Affairs Environmental Programmes on its Expanded Public Works Programme efforts. Details of these programmes and the financial implications thereof were also discussed. Responses to the State of the Nation Address were postponed to the following week.
Members were disappointed by the definition of work opportunities as the beneficiaries of these opportunities were employed for very short periods at very low rates that did not comply with the Labour Relations Act (No. 66 of 1995). The introduction of a Full-Time Equivalence concept illustrated that the reported number of work opportunities would amount to only a fraction if beneficiaries worked full-time. This risked the credibility of such reported statistics.
The Committee also had reservations about the structure of this Expanded Public Works Programme given incapacity to participate among some provinces and municipalities. The working relationships between the various departments was also noted as being particularly difficult, with reports of non-performance by some.
DEA Environmental Programmes Branch EPWP Presentation
The Chairperson emphasised that Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA)’s approach in the day’s proceedings should be on highlighting those areas within its mandate that required expansion.
Ms Lize McCourt, Chief Operations Officer (COO), Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), outlined the differences between the Natural Resource Management Programme (NRMP) and the Social Responsibility Policy and Projects (SRPP). Essentially, both units received funding as part of EPWP from the Department of Public Works (DPW) with some operations funded by the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF).
Dr Guy Preston, Deputy Director-General: NRMP, DEA, pointed out that NRMP was moved to DEA from the Department of Water Affairs (DWA) and, although it was still separate from SRPP within the Department, from April 2012 the two would merge under his leadership.
The Chairperson asked why the Committee had not been informed of such changes, and requested that in future he or the Committee be informed in advance of major restructuring/leadership decisions.
Mr Gcinumzi Qotywa, Chief Director: SRPP, DEA , gave a brief history of EPWP emphasising that the current roll-out of the programme was the result of the success of an earlier version – EPWP1 (2003 – 2008). This earlier version however was criticised for employing beneficiaries for very brief periods thereby prompting the introduction of the Full-Time Equivalence (FTE) concept in the compilation of the statistics for the current roll-out – EPWP2 (2009 – current). It aimed to create 4.5 million work opportunities, of which the DEA (as head of the Environment/Culture Sector within EPWP) was responsible for 1.156 million. Jobs provided were temporary and low-paying purposefully making EPWP an employer of last resort for solely strategic anti-poverty interventions.
The Chairperson questioned how such low-paying jobs could be created without union resistance and asked for more clarity around what was regarded as a “work opportunity.”
Mr Qotywa explained that the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) and the Labour Relations Act (No. 66 of 1995) provided for certain exemptions which allowed EPWP to circumvent union resistance. A “work opportunity” was created with every job created regardless of the duration of employment.
The Chairperson interjected by asking if the programme could meet its objectives if (hypothetically) it arranged a workshop employing the 4.5 million people for that one day and terminating their services the next day.
Mr Qotywa agreed that were it not for the introduction of the FTE statistics this could indeed be the case in irresponsible departments; however, FTEs showed how many work opportunities would have been created were the beneficiaries allowed to work for 230 days in a year (equivalent to full-time employment) on EPWP. 296 407 work opportunities were created between 1 April 2009 to 30 September 2011 translating only to 66 177 jobs FTE; meaning only 66 177 full-time jobs were actually created even though 296 407 people worked to split the workload. (See presentation, slide 20)
The Chairperson [slightly irritated] asked for how long the various beneficiaries were employed.
Mr Qotywa admitted that information was not available in his presentation for the duration of employment, but added it could be determined as all records of the beneficiaries – including the duration of employment – were kept on the DEA database.
(Please see presentation document for full details)
Dr S Huang (ANC) asked why the State of the Nation Address (SONA) was not being discussed as per the agenda, and also questioned the rationale behind DEA's reporting on bulk statistics of the Environment/ Culture Sector instead of just the Environment.
The Chairperson reminded the Committee that he had postponed the SONA response to the following week to give the DEA more time to prepare – pointing out that most issues being discussed were related anyhow.
Mr Qotywa pointed out that the EPWP was a DPW programme with four pillars – of which the Environment/ Culture Sector was one. The leadership of this sector had been delegated to the DEA by the DPW to encompass the Department of Arts and Culture (DAC), the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF), and the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR). The DEA’s performance was therefore measured against the performance of this Sector as a whole.
Mr G Morgan (DA) demonstrated that, given the information already presented, the average number of days beneficiaries were employed in a year could be calculated to 51 days, and questioned why this average was not presented as per the Chairperson’s question.
Mr Qotywa explained that the very nature of EPWP projects was such that beneficiaries were employed for short periods, but also acknowledged the Committee’s request for the average employment tenure in future report presentations.
The Chairperson decried incomplete statistics and said that there were now serious reservations whether – in his SONA – The President was aware that the 4.5 million jobs to be created by EPWP would keep people employed only for an average of just 51 days in a year.
Mr P Mathebe (ANC) asked how poor municipalities, dependent solely on their equitable share, could be expected to take part.
Mr Qotywa noted that many so-called poor rural municipalities were under-spending, at times by as much as 40%, because of capacity issues and they needed to consider reallocating those funds to the EPWP.
Mr J Skosana (ANC) asked what was being done about monitoring and evaluation, given the involvement of all three spheres of Government and the risk of duplication and redundancy.
Mr Qotywa explained that the South African Local Government Association (SALGA) and the Cities Network were quite effective at encouraging municipal participation, but admitted that some provinces (like
Ms M Wenger (DA) asked what informed the targets and what would happen if funds ran out as anticipated.
Mr Qotywa addressed the unrealistic nature of the targets as set by DPW given that they had been increased substantially from the first roll-out (EPWP1) without increasing the budget accordingly; the DMR and DAFF (also part of the sector) had been less than proactive in assisting, while the DAC had even received formal letters regarding its lack of participation.
Natural Resource Management Programme (NRMP)
Dr Preston explained the need for consolidation of programmes between the DEA and the Department of Water Affairs (DWA) in line with cooperative governance principles, given that water quality and quantity were influenced by the environment and the DEA’s efforts. Details of the Working for Water Programme and its efforts to eradicate invasive alien plant species and the consequent effects these species had on water security were given. A Centre for Science and Industrial Research (CSIR) study called “The costs and benefits of biological control of invasive alien plants in South Africa” (B.W. van Wilgen & W.J. De Lange, 2010) showed a R453 billion cost saving resulting from such efforts – R400 billion of which was from water savings. The control of alien plant species results in beneficiation as these plants and trees were used in producing furniture and bio-energy, amounting to sub-programmes.
(Please see presentation document for full details)
The Chairperson asked if other sources of funding outside of National Treasury, like the Jobs Fund, were being sourced.
Dr Preston said that the Jobs Fund of the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA) had been approached, with particular reference to the Working on Fire Programme. Eskom had also been approached; however, these had not been listed as the DEA’s accounting office had not included these potential funding sources in financials as listed in the document.
Dr Huang asked for clarity on differences between FTE and 'Persondays of Employment' as reflected in the figures in slide 56.
Dr Preston replied that the FTE equalled 'Persondays' divided by 230, while job opportunities were the number of people employed.
Mr Morgan commended frankness and transparency within the DEA, particularly the efforts of Dr Preston in this regard.
Mr Skosana asked if there were any particular time-frames for the implementation of these programmes around the country.
Mr Qotywa replied that time-frames for implementation were currently delayed due to delayed funds from National Treasury.
Mr Mathebe asked whether small and medium sized enterprises (SMMEs) would be included as part of the implementation and, if so, what criteria would be used to select them, and how would advertising occur.
Mr Qotywa said that advertisements were always published in national and provincial newspapers for service providers to play a part when needed.
Ms M Mabuza (ANC) asked what it took to verify financial information as some figures were still unverified, leaving the DEA vulnerable to corruption. She asked what the Department was doing to manage private developers buying environmentally sensitive land for development. She asked about preventative measures in fighting wild fires due to the loss of lives in some fire-fighting endeavours.
Dr Preston said that, according to DEA policy, all figures need to be verified before being published, and, at the time of publication, verified figures were not available. He agreed that more prevention was needed, but advised that fire was also necessary for organic growth, so controlled fires were needed.
The Chairperson said that the structure of these programmes was questionable and wondered if these statistics of people employed in EPWP excluded those people employed full-time by the DEA.
Ms Nosipho Ngcaba, Director-General, DEA, and Ms McCourt reminded Members of an upcoming strategic planning meeting.
The meeting was adjourned.
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