The South African Weather Service and the South African National Biodiversity Institute briefed the Portfolio Committee on the work they had been involved in over the past few years. Both entities discussed: their achievements thus far; their mandates and the need to fund future projects; their financial budgets for the 2012/13 financial year; and the challenges that they faced in the near future.
The South African Weather Service provided university science students with bursaries and internships in its organisation, as this ensured the sustainability of trained professionals. The South African Weather Service was focusing heavily on training aviation personnel, in order to ensure the safety of flight passengers. The Service was looking at expanding commercial interests into the untapped industries of mining and construction, as well as working to improve its early warning system in rural areas.
African National Congress Members asked what progress has been made in informing citizens in rural areas about early warning systems, were concerned that the Weather Service budgeted only R5 million for its early warning system, stressed how important such a system, asked whether the system would be geared towards local or international areas, asked how the Weather Service managed to attract new staff while also retaining the expertise of skilled employees, and stressed that it was important that bursaries reach rural areas where skills development was most crucial. The Democratic Alliance asked whether the Weather Service charged an administrative cost for providing weather information to companies that used the data for their own commercial gain, how it planned to increase its commercial revenue, and whether it would hike existing prices or attempt to get new clients with new business opportunities.
The South African National Biodiversity Institute's mandate now included fauna, and not only flora. The organisation was working on building a new botanical garden in the
African National Congress Members asked how and where the South African National Biodiversity Institute conducted its awareness-raising initiatives, wanted to know more about the access to biodiversity information, and asked why there was so much money allocated for project funding that remained unused. The Portfolio Committee on Water and Environmental Affairs was still new to the information presented and it was hard to keep up with presenters. The Acting Chairperson said it was important that the South African National Biodiversity Institute send its presentations to the committee prior to meetings so that Members could familiarise themselves with the data and asked how the South African National Biodiversity Institute proposed to deal with people’s lack of knowledge that was destroying natural resources. The Democratic Alliance was concerned about the R10 million infrastructure investments that remained stagnant for years as this hampered any chances of improvement or expansion and wanted to know the reason behind the 77% decrease in donor funding and sponsorships.
South African Weather Services Corporate Strategy and Annual Performance Plan Presentation
South African Weather Services (SAWS): Key Objectives
Dr Linda Makuleni, SAWS Chief Executive Officer, introduced her delegation before discussing the strategy plan and annual budget of SAWS and the performance of SAWS during the 2012/13 financial year. Since 2011, SAWS added a new value to its mission statement, namely to be a caring organisation that promoted understanding and compassion, both internally and externally. All weather services in
SAWS: Achievements so far
In terms of human capacity building, SAWS had in recent years launched an outreach programme where it hosted science fairs at high schools in the
SAWS: The Challenges ahead
Due to the work it was required to do, the SAWS needed money to update its computer equipment as soon as this exceeded its expected lifespan of five years. The SAWS needed to develop an early warning system by working in close collaboration work with the Department of Communications that could assist it in disseminating information to citizens. The Deputy Minister of Communications was currently working with SAWS to educate communities in all provinces on weather information so they could have a better understanding of the early warning system.
SAWS: Financial information
SAWS discussed its budget for 2012-13. The operating expenditure (opex) grant was reduced by R10 million from 2010/11 to 2011/12. SAWS had compensated for this by cutting on administrative expenses, as most money had been allocated towards the Waterkloof Land Development Project. SAWS was grateful for the funding it had received from Government, though it would work to urge the DEA and the National Treasury to increase funding so that SAWS operations could continue. SAWS relied heavily on aviation for its revenue, though it planned to generate more income through other commercial entities. Income on investment interest was said to decrease as capital had been withdrawn in order to roll out the numerous operations of SAWS. As a result of fewer grants, operational expenditure decreased as many operations had to be shelved, though these could not be delayed indefinitely.
The Chairperson thanked SAWS for its presentation and opened the floor to MPs for questions or requests for clarity on any issues related to the presentation.
Mr J Skosana (ANC) wanted to know what progress has been made in informing citizens in rural areas about early warning systems. Information Technology (IT) was very scarce in these areas and it was important to educate citizens there in order to mitigate the impact of natural disasters. He commended SAWS for heading programmes in the
SAWS reassured Mr Skosana that there were plans to launch similar projects in rural areas other than the
Mr Skosana was interested to know how SAWS managed to attract new staff while also retaining the expertise of skilled employees.
Dr Makuleni said a benchmarking exercise was used to compare how SAWS compared with other weather based institutions. SAWS also had a policy on remuneration and rewards, which entailed recognising the work of scientists and providing them with the tools to do its work. Also, an incentive programme was in place, which rewarded skilled professionals who took the time to train other scientists who were less skilled. A challenge that faced SAWS was the fact that after employees received training and became skilled, they were lured into the private sector by prospects of higher salaries. Thus, in order to retain the skills of professional scientists, SAWS needed to revise its salary system and compare it with that of potential competitors in the private sector.
Mr Skosana enquired about the methods used to measure the reduction in greenhouse emissions, and asked that, if there were results, how SAWS knew whether the results were successful or not.
SAWS replied that greenhouse gas emissions were monitored at the Global Atmospheric Watch Station in Cape Point. The data was captured in quarterly reports that were sent to the World Data Centre. There was a strong indication that emissions were increasing. With proper Government funding, SAWS could help implement an internationally recognised programme aimed at reducing greenhouse emissions.
Mr Skosana stressed that it was important that bursaries reached rural areas where skills development was most crucial.
Ms C Zikalala (IFP) said she was glad SAWS was dealing with the issue of a lack of scientists, as the organisation desperately needed people trained in maths and science. Also, it was good that schools and universities were being involved, as they were very valuable to SAWS.
She requested more information on the training of pilots and stressed the importance of informing aviation entities about weather conditions, as this ensured the safety of passengers on board flights.
Dr Winifred Jordaan, SAWS Head of Training, said that pilot training included the training of all aviation personnel. The training had been tightened over the last few years because during discussions between the National Civil Aviation Authority and the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) it was said that SAWS was not strict enough on testing the competencies of aviation personnel. SAWS had thus updated its competency tests, which now formed part of the training of South African Air Force personnel. SAWS was not involved in the training of commercial pilots, which fell under the mandate of private pilot training schools. However, training of its personnel was a key priority area for SAWS.
SAWS responded to the issue of aviation dangers. Aircraft accidents were sometimes due to technical failures, but could also sometimes be caused by irresponsible behaviour of pilots. Meteorologists could only recommend where they thought pilots should or should not fly, but in the end the pilot would make up his or her own mind.
Ms Zikalala enquired about the indigenous knowledge book, and accused SAWS of not submitting it to the Committee.
Dr Makuleni responded by saying she would follow up on this issue, and if it was true that MPs had not received the book, she would request the administrative office of SAWS to send copies of the book to Committee Members.
Ms Zikalala further wanted clarity on what SAWS meant when it talked about the “safeguarding of life and property”.
SAWS responded to this issue by saying that SAWS was in correspondence with Disaster Management Authorities both nationally and provincially. They communicated with each other through an sms service to inform each other of pending weather conditions that might prove dangerous. SAWS cited the recent tropical cyclone Irina in
Ms Zikalala said she was glad that SAWS was working hand-in-hand with the Deputy Minister of Environmental Affairs by visiting municipalities and local communities and educating people on how to make use of weather forecasts in daily life.
Mr G R Morgan (DA) asked whether SAWS planned to decrease the number of upper air soundings.
SAWS responded by saying that sources of upper air data had increased due to technological advancements. Therefore, the number of upper air soundings was being increased.
Mr Morgan asked SAWS to brief the Committee on the renegotiation of its contract with Future Foresight. Why was there a need to terminate the contract? Had a date been set to terminate the contract? Was there any update on the contract since the renegotiation took place?
SAWS replied that the organisation formed partnerships with other companies such as MTN and Vodacom. In terms of the commercial contracts with such companies, such as the one with Future Foresight, SAWS was required to meet certain targets. However, due to a lack of funding, SAWS was unable to meet these targets and thus liable to a financial penalty. Consequently, instead of terminating the contract entirely, it was decided to renegotiate the contract so that targets were set at lower levels.
Mr Morgan wanted to know whether SAWS charged an administrative cost for providing weather information to companies that used the data for their own commercial gain.
SAWS responded to this by saying that the fees charged for providing data depended on whether the data was raw or processed, the latter type being charged more. SAWS said, however, that data provided to university students for research was provided free of charge.
Mr Morgan asked how SAWS planned to increase its commercial revenue, whether it would hike existing prices or attempt to get new clients with new business opportunities.
To this issue, Dr Makuleni responded by saying that SAWS would not increase its prices. Instead, it would expand its business into untapped industries such as that of mining and construction. She mentioned how
Dr S Huang (ANC) was concerned that SAWS budgeted only R5 million for its early warning system. He stressed how important such a system was, and asked whether the system would be geared towards local or international areas.
A representative from SAWS explained that R5 million was not the only amount that would be geared towards developing an early warning system. R5 million was the amount that the organisation requested from the National Treasury during the 2010/11 financial year. SAWS only received the funding late in 2011, and had used it since to educate users on the early warning system. This education was done in collaboration with partner departments such as the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform.
Dr Huang wanted to know the reason behind the predicted decrease in aviation income as stated in the budget. Also, considering the organisation’s plan to increase its staff in the near future, how did it intend on maintaining the 2% decrease in employee costs as stated in the budget?
Dr Makuleni responded by saying that SAWS aimed to maintain employee costs between 55-59%. In order to do this, it must regularly revise its employment framework. For instance, if an employee retired or left his job for whatever reason, the organisation must re-evaluate and decide whether that post was still necessary.
Ms M Wenger (DA) asked why SAWS was concentrating its bursary opportunities on human resource and finance posts instead of using the bursaries to develop the skills of weather scientists.
Ms J Manganye (ANC) wanted to know whether university students who participated in internship programmes at SAWS were eventually absorbed into the organisation. Were there other companies that competed with SAWS in the employment of these individuals once they graduated?
The Chairperson asked what criteria were used when bursaries were awarded. Also, he asked whether SAWS considered all provinces when awarding bursaries.
Dr Makuleni responded by saying that during 2005/06 SAWS was under-funded and thus had to re-evaluate its priorities. Managers must be trained in order to ensure the long-term sustainability of leadership within the organisation. Today, however, the weather service was working towards building the skills and competence necessary to manage day-to-day operations. Therefore, in close collaboration with the
Dr Makuleni briefed the Committee on a new initiative of SAWS, namely community rainfall stations. She said this project was particularly important in rural areas near rivers where rainfall was abundant. Members of the community would identify a community leader who would assist the Disaster Management Authorities in monitoring rainfall levels. This information could then be communicated further via cellphones. However, funding was needed for SAWS to implement this pilot project. She said SAWS had managed to get R2.4 million in funding from the Water Research Commission to implement a project in collaboration with the
Mr Skosana acknowledged the fact that SAWS recruited people in schools and universities for positions in IT, Human Resources and Finances, but he wanted to know what SAWS was doing to involve people who fell outside of these systems.
Dr Makuleni responded that the positions for which individuals were recruited was entirely contingent on the areas where there were vacancies. She said it was important for SAWS to consider its own equity.
South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI)Presentation
Mr Tami Sokutu, Board Chairperson, SANBI, said that SANBI had recently taken on a broader mandate which included not only flora, but also fauna. Naturally, this gave rise to a whole new set of challenges. As a result of poor funding, the positions of retrenched workers could not be filled. Though the majority of its staff members had been relocated to
Ms Tanya Abrahamse, SANBI Chief Executive Office, said that the mandate of its organisation was based on the National Environmental Management Biodiversity Act (NEMBA) as well as a letter form the Minister of Environmental Affairs, which were both gazetted. Also, the National Biodiversity Strategic Action Plan, which was approved by Cabinet in 2009, set a framework for biodiversity that outlined the key objectives of SANBI. The obligations of SANBI were in line with President Zuma’s Outcome 10 programme, although this document had not yet been gazetted. SANBI was also proud of the role it was given in terms of the White Paper on Climate Change that was adopted by Parliament. SANBI’s role included providing evidence-based information for assessment and monitoring of the state of biodiversity, and reporting back to the Minister in this regard. SANBI was also responsible for developing tools, maps and guidelines that were used to better manage animal and plant collections. The National Botanical Garden System had been expanded and now included a garden in the
SANBI was proud to lead the National Fresh Water Ecosystems Priority Areas study, which mapped out the state of all the rivers, dams, and other sources of fresh water in
All SANBI’s mandate responsibilities were contained it its five-year Corporate Strategic Plan, which was revised annually by its board, the National Treasury and the Presidency. From this revision, an Annual Performance Plan was set out and formed the basis of SANBI’s annual audit. SANBI provided the DEA with quarterly reports on how these plans progressed. Given its broad mandate, SANBI aimed to have cross-cutting programmes which helped the organisation cut back on unnecessary expenses. SANBI wishes to receive sustainable MTEF funding, as reliance on external donor funding created uncertainty within the organisation. Finally, a challenge that SANBI was ready to meet was marketing botanical gardens in a way that would allow people to enjoy them more.
SANBI: Financial budget
Mr Tom Bouwer, SANBI Chief Financial Officer, said that, according to SANBI’s budget for 2012/13, its total MTEF funding would be an estimated R204 million. Funding from Government departments such as the Department of Science and Technology amounted to R137 million. Money from foreign funders would be about R37 million. Thus, SANBI predicted it would be very dependent on MTEF funding during the 2012/13 financial year. The organisation was therefore in need of more sustainable funding to sustain its broad mandate.
The Chairperson thanked the CEO and CFO for their presentations and opened the floor to Members for any questions or comments.
Ms Wenger was concerned about the R10 million infrastructure investments that remained stagnant for years, as this hampered any chances of improvement or expansion.
Mr Sokutu acknowledged her concern, and said a lack of proper infrastructure investments by SANBI could become problematic for the organisation. He therefore urged Government to do more to develop
Ms Wenger wanted to know the reason behind the 77% decrease in donor funding and sponsorships.
Ms Abrahamse said foreign donations had decreased because many of the big long-term projects, such as the World Bank Fynbos project, were coming to an end. She also attributed the decrease in sponsorship to the global financial downturn. However, she said that SANBI was set to receive funding from the Global Adaptation Fund in the near future.
Mr Skosana asked how and where SANBI conducted its awareness-raising initiatives. He wanted to know more about the access to biodiversity information. Also, he asked why there was so much money allocated for project funding that remained unused. Finally, he stressed the point that the Portfolio Committee on Water and Environmental Affairs was still new to the information presented by SANBI, and that he found it hard to keep up with presenters.
The Chairperson said it was important that SANBI send its presentations to the Committee prior to meetings so that Members could familiarise themselves with the data and thus not have to struggle to keep up with what was being discussed during meetings.
Mr Sokutu acknowledged this point. He invited the Committee to meet with SANBI’s team of officials in the Kirstenbosch garden, so they can see the work that SANBI had done. Arranging a meeting would ensure that everyone was clear on the key themes and objectives of SANBI.
The Chairperson raised the issue of disseminating information to local communities in rural areas, where people lacked the internet, but were dependent on media such as radio. How did SANBI propose to deal with these people’s lack of knowledge that was destroying the natural resources in
Ms Abrahamse said SANBI realised its role in creating awareness about the need to sustain biodiversity. Due to
Dr Huang said he was concerned about the fact that SANBI only utilised roughly half of its R10 million MTEF funding. What was the unspent money used for?
Ms Abrahamse said the reason why such a big part of the budget remained unspent was because the projects allocated ran over a period of three years. Therefore, the money was not unspent; it was allocated towards funding specific projects that rolled over into the next financial year.
Mr Bouwer reiterated her point and said the reason why money did not always get used in any given financial year was because of the nature of project cycles. The unused funds could thus not be referred to as loose money, but rather money that was committed to specific projects.
Ms Abrahamse said she would ask SANBI's head of communications to arrange for Committee Members to visit the
The meeting was adjourned.
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