South African National Parks & iSimangaliso Wetland Park 2012 Strategic Plans

Water and Sanitation

02 May 2012
Chairperson: Mr J De Lange (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The South African National Parks (SANParks) and iSimangaliso Wetland Park (iSimangaliso) presented their reports on performance highlights from the previous year, and their strategic plans for 2012.

SANParks noted that one of its focus areas was to keep the birth rate of rhinos higher than the losses. National Joint Operations were deployed to try to address the poaching, and rhino poaching was being regarded as a priority crime. A buffer zone initiative between South Africa and Mozambique aimed to reduce poaching, increase cooperation and conservation and provide socio-economic benefits in Mozambique. Electrified fences were erected along 112 km. Occupancy of accommodation in SANParks had decreased in comparison to the previous year, but was generally higher than across the whole tourism industry, and the numbers of visitors, including black visitors, had grown. SANParks would diversity to include special activities for children and conference lodges, and had added 3 000 hectares of land to all parks. There had been an 8.6% increase in learners participating in Environmental Education Programmes, additional rangers were appointed, and over 3 000 full time employment opportunities were created, with support given to over 400 small enterprises. The recent labour strike at the Kruger National Park, as well as (unfounded) allegations of misconduct around tenders were explained. SANParks had a 10% growth in revenue, although its allocation from conditional grants had fallen, and was predicting an operating budget deficit of R45 million. It had received an unqualified audit opinion with no matters of emphasis, but one note that it should follow open tender processes.

Members asked why white employees still occupied senior posts, enquired as to the status of land claims, sought more detail on the cause of the labour strikes, and the scope of the forensic investigations. They also asked for more detail on, and the steps taken to prevent recurrence of the shoot-out, asked why the strategy used at the Kruger National Park was not extended also to other parks, and enquired whether expansion of areas under conservation was being hindered by any other state departments. The Chairperson asked SANParks to draw up a developmental plan for communities around the parks.

iSimangaliso had been declared a World Heritage Site in 2000. It had been fully fenced, and six prosecutions were instituted in the last year for illegal developments. The registered tourism businesses had increased, and R18.6 million of infrastructure development funding was awarded to small enterprises. 66 schools participated in Environmental Education Programmes, and 45 bursaries were awarded for environmental studies. Other achievements in relation to training and job creation were outlined. It had 40 000 visitors in the last summer, an 8% increase at the gate, and a substantial increase in accommodation uptake. It was a challenge to generate economic opportunity, given the economic climate and the fact that iSimangaliso was in a poverty-stricken rural area, but the Department of Environmental Affairs was assisting in administrative and public works programmes. In 2012, iSimangaliso would be focusing on generating more revenue, optimising empowerment, conserving World Heritage values and managing the finances effectively, as well as developing the brand, rolling out infrastructure and equitable access programmes. It had received unqualified audits since inception. Its revenue had grown by 70%, although National Treasury allocations were cut, and it had a surplus.

Members suggested more cooperation between SANParks and iSimangaliso, asked if this park had experienced rhino poaching, whether there was a good relationship with Amakhosi, and asked for details of the decrease in revenue and expenditure.

Meeting report

South African National Parks (SANParks) 2012 Strategic Plan briefing
Dr David Mabunda, Chief Executive Officer, South African National Parks, outlined some major aspects of concern, highlighting that the entity (SANParks) aimed to keep the birth rate of rhinos higher than the loss rate. In the last year, SANParks had lost 200 rhinos, and in this year, had lost 100. Government had, in order to try to fight rhino poaching, deployed a National Joint Operation, employing the services of the security used during the World Cup, as well as military and police services. He emphasised that Rhino poaching was no longer an environmental issue only, but a form of priority crime and therefore a national security matter.

He noted, in regard to conservation issues, that a buffer zone initiative had been set up, to stabilise the border between South Africa and Mozambique. The buffer zone was also aimed at reducing poaching incursions, through a joint operational task force and increased cooperation in conservation management functions, in order to harmonise and establish seamless practices on both sides. The creation of a “Sabi Sands” in Mozambique was intended to provide socio-economic benefits. An electrified fence had been erected, which covered 112 km of the border and this was further strengthened by the presence of an armed response unit.

In relation to tourism, Dr Mabunda noted that the occupancy rate on accommodation had declined when compared to the previous year, but was relatively higher than overall South African tourism industry occupancy figures. The total number of visitors had improved by 2,3%, and more and more black people were visiting the parks. Further activities were planned for children, and so an initiative to diversify the product was taken. This had led to plans to establish the Malelane Safari Lodge and Skukuza Conference Lodge. Funding had already been approved for these projects,  and Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) were being done. It was envisaged these projects would create more than 200 permanent jobs.

In relation to operational issues, he said that in the last five years, 3 000 hectares of land were added to all parks. If the budget so permitted, the entity would like to conserve under-conserved bio-areas. The number of learners participating in Environmental Education Programmes has improved by 8,6%. Additional rangers were appointed, and personnel from the South African National Defence Force had been deployed to the Kruger National Park to fight rhino poaching. 262 arrests had been made so far.

7 524 employment opportunities were created, but only 3 240 were full-time positions. 420 Small, Medium and Micro Enterprises (SMMEs) had been supported.

Dr Mabunda then gave some details on the recent labour strike, from 3 February 2012, of 248 employees in the Kruger National Park. The labour unions refused to support the employees, because their demands were ridiculous, including demands for an increase of 78% on salaries. SANParks called on strikers to return to work, and follow established internal grievance processes to address their concerns. SANParks resolved to investigate the cause of the strike in order to prevent similar incidents in future, and strikers had reported back for duty.

There had been allegations of irregularities in tenders, as well as maladministration, but Dr Mabunda noted that the Auditor-General had found no evidence of tender irregularities and maladministration, and that rumours were spread by a dismissed employee of the Kruger National Park. In addition, further investigations by SizweNtsalubaGobodo Forensic Services and the Public Protector did not find any wrong-doing, and the investigation was closed.

Dr Mabunda presented graphs and tables on budget allocation and expenditure. He said that there had been a 10% growth in revenue, although the SANParks experienced a significant drop in Conditional Grants from the government, which had hampered progress on projects needing to be finalised. It was estimated that National Treasury allocations had been reduced by R243 million. The operating budget showed a deficit of R45 million. Operational costs increased by 7%. SANParks received an unqualified audit opinion with no matter of emphasis. The only issue the Auditor-General noted was that the entity should have followed an open tenders process, instead of opting for the route of three quotations.

Discussion
Mr J Skosana (ANC) wanted to know why the most senior posts at Kruger National Park were occupied by white employees.

Dr Mabunda explained that SANParks had a challenge around hard skills and scientific services. The entity had deliberately followed a strategy of not letting experienced staff leave without replacing them, and that was why it still maintained the status of having white employees. Students had been awarded bursaries to pursue studies in the fields where white employees specialised, and in related areas, at various universities. He noted that six out of the top nine positions in SANParks were held by black employees.

Mr Skosana enquired about the status of land claims.

Dr Mabunda noted that this was not within the mandate of SANParks. It was the responsibility of the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform. SANParks only responded to what the State ordered. The Department of Rural Development and Land Reform had to propose what should happen to those communities in order to reach finality on the land claims, and although there were efforts in relation to other parks, he noted that restoration of land would not happen at Kruger National Park, for example, because of its World Heritage Site status.

Mr Skosana asked what other issues had contributed to the labour strike.

Dr Mabunda replied that the only issues related to salary disparities and allowances.

Mr Skosana enquired if the investigations into the alleged irregularities covered everyone, or were confined to the managerial team

Dr Mabunda said that the allegations had given names, but the Auditor-General had also tested the systems, whilst the forensic investigations had also looked at the issues. No evidence of irregularities was discovered.

Ms M Wenger (DA) asked what mechanisms were in place to avert a recurrence of the incident where police and rangers shot each other.

Dr Mabunda stated that the whole issue was triggered by a sound of a gunshot. Special forces closer to the boundary arrived later. It was a freak accident, where people wearing the same uniform had shot at each other. There was only one commander in charge, who had given instructions, and it was difficult to say whether there was a specific motive, but an inquest docket had been opened.

Ms J Manganye (ANC) enquired why SANParks was not using the same strategy in other hot spots.

Dr Mabunda replied that the proclamation stated that the strategy should be applied to Kruger National Park and its boundary only, and it could not be used on other boundaries not specified.

The Chairperson asked if there were any expansions that SANParks wanted to embark upon that might have been blocked by other state departments.

Dr Mabunda stated that the only challenges related to land earmarked for conservation that presently were occupied by the South African National Defence Force.  Only recently had SANParks received the authority for the indigenous forests around Knysna, but no adequate funding was received to attend to that.

The Chairperson asked that SANParks draw up a developmental plan for communities around the parks that it operated.


iSimangaliso Wetland Park Strategic Plan 2012 briefing
Mr Andrew Zaloumis, Chief Executive Officer, iSimangaliso Wetland Park, noted that the iSimangaliso Wetland Park (iSimangaliso) was part of the Lubombo Spatial Development Initiative. In 1999 iSimangaliso was inscribed on to the World Heritage List and it was proclaimed a World Heritage Site in 2000. This was due to its unique ecological and biological processes, as its biological diversity comprised 2 500 species and fresh water systems, as well as its natural beauty.

He reported that the entire park had now been fenced, comprising around 300 km. Six prosecutions had been instituted for illegal developments. Between 2000 and 2010, there was a 89% increase in the number of tourism businesses registered. R18.6 million of the amount that was earmarked for infrastructure development went to local small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs). Black Economic Empowerment expenditure amounted to 76%. iSimangaliso had begun the roll out of a three-year programme, had completed phase 1 and was now moving into phase 2.

During the 2010/11 financial period, 66 schools had participated in the Environmental Education Programmes. 45 bursaries had been awarded to university students to pursue environment studies and related disciplines. Land claims agreements were signed with affected parties. Training on art development and cultural heritage had been provided to 2 241 people. More than 3 000 jobs were created, and 24 of those were permanent. The park received 40 000 visitors during the last summer. Gate numbers increased by 7.2%. A 97% increase in the number of rooms and accommodation had been recorded.

Mr Zaloumis emphasised that it was quite a challenge to use biodiversity to generate economic opportunity, because iSimangaliso was situated in a poverty-stricken rural area. It was difficult to achieve investment generation in a recessionary economy. There was scarcity of resources for the implementation of the macro projects of the government. However, there was support received from the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) in regard to the regulatory and legislative framework, and through the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP), to provide funding for tangible benefits and People and Parks Programme.

For the 2012/13 period iSimangaliso would be focusing its energies on optimising the generation of revenue, in a commercially and environmentally sustainable manner, in order to foster job creation and empowerment of historically disadvantaged communities. It aimed to optimise empowerment in all its park’s activities in a way that would improve the livelihoods of historically disadvantaged individuals and communities living adjacent to the Park. It also aimed to conserve and maintain the World Heritage values. Finally, it had to ensure that the operations of iSimangaliso were properly funded, and managed in a cost-effective way, whilst maintaining an appropriate system of internal controls.

He noted the particular focus areas, which would include development of the brand, the People and Parks programme, infrastructure roll out, maintaining its record of unqualified audits, its equitable access programme, and the rollout of Tourism 101 across the park.

Mr Zaloumis presented the graphs and tables of budget allocation and expenditure. He noted that iSimangaliso had managed to achieve an unqualified audit opinion for the last nine years, since its inception. Two independent national assessments were done, by the World Wildlife Fund and Department of Environmental Affairs. Its revenue had grown by 70%, and was currently at R140 million. 58% of the budget was spent on Capex projects. He warned, however, that it was facing cuts in the allocation from National Treasury. The surplus was sitting at R53 million.

Discussion
The Chairperson remarked that SANParks and iSimangaliso Wetland Park should try to strategise together on certain developments.

Mr Skosana wanted to know the views of iSimangaliso on rhino poaching, and its relationship with Amakhosi.

Mr Zaloumis explained that iSimangaliso had 250 rhinos. No rhino poaching incidents had been reported as yet. There was good intelligence on the ground. He noted that although iSimangaliso tried to maintain open communication with Amakhosi, the exact nature of the relationship varied from time to time.

Ms Wenger asked why there was a decrease in projected revenue and expenditure.

Mr Zaloumis stated that revenue reflected donations or funds received from fundraising. Expenditure reflected only the grants or funds that have been committed to projects

The Chairperson asked iSimangaliso to send the Committee a detailed report on two issues.

The meeting was adjourned.

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