South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) & South African National Parks (SANParks) mandate and challenges, with Minister in attendance

Environment, Forestry and Fisheries

02 September 2014
Chairperson: Mr J Mthembu (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The South African Weather Service (SAWS) gave a lengthy presentation on its objectives, vision and mission, regional, national and international obligations, achievements and stakeholder perceptions. The briefing also looked at the entity’s strategic direction, key resources required, risk profile, key programmes and perspective opportunities.

Members were concerned with SAWS’s budget reduction and how this would affect its operations. Members sought progress on this issue after Committee recommendations had been made. Other questions were raised about weather predictability to assist vulnerable socio-economic communities affected by flooding with fatalities occurring, retention strategies for scientists poached by other countries and plans to attract students from rural communities.

The South African National Biodiversity Institute spoke on its role, legislation and policy, mandate and its programmes. The briefing also looked at high level structures, SANBI’s contribution to the socio-economic transformation agenda, challenges and opportunities going forward and its achievements to date. SA was the third most mega diverse country on the planet, and biodiversity was a natural capital with immense economic significance but more needed to be done to unleash the potential of biodiversity to develop rural economies. Good biodiversity management will slow down climate change and its impacts while ecosystem services such as grazing and pollination underpin our agricultural industry.

The Committee asked if SANBI’s increased mandate meant animals were included as well as botanical gardens; if the creation of new gardens meant increased job creation opportunities with; how it was attracting school leavers and graduates from rural areas; how it contributed to arbour week, how it included people with disabilities; and about the underutilised lodges built by Public Works.


Meeting report

The Chairperson said that the last time there was interaction with the South African Weather Service (SAWS) the challenges around funding were noted.

The Minister of Environmental Affairs, Edna Molewa, noted the apology of the Deputy Minister who was not well or would have been present. She was grateful for this interaction with these SAWS and SANBI. She said the issue of SAWS funding challenges needed clarification – the reduction in funding already started in the previous financial year within the context of a broader financial crisis. This translated to a shortfall in the money available to all departments and sectors collectively. The emphasis was on distributing finances equitably but without compromising activities such as education and health. Treasury had assured then that there would be an improvement in funding especially given that SAWS was recognised as a public good and not just "a nice to have". The funding reduction was not deliberate, as the media at times reported and pointed to a lack of understanding on how budgets were reached. Nonetheless, these two entities had performed well in terms of their audits. With the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), this entity was instrumental in ensuring SA’s science capacity was uplifted in working closely with various research institutions. The CEO of SANBI served on a panel of experts in research appointed by Secretary-General of the UN, Ban Ki Moon, and the recognition of SA in this capacity was important to note.

South African Weather Services (SAWS) Presentation
Dr Linda Makuleni, SAWS CEO, spoke about the objectives of SAWS which included:
▪ to maintain and improve the quality of meteorological services and ambient air quality-related information services for all South Africans,
▪ to ensure the ongoing collection of meteorological and ambient air quality data over SA and surrounding southern oceans for use by current and future generations,
▪ to be the long-term custodian of a reliable national climatological record,
▪ to fulfill the international obligations of government,
▪ to be custodian of the South African Air Quality Information System (SAAQIS) and manage and develop the National Ambient Air Quality Monitoring Network (NAAQMN).
She noted its vision, mission, and obligations in the regional, national and international arenas.

Dr Makuleni highlighted achievements of the entity, notably in the area of employment equity, with statistics currently at 23% White, 9% Coloured, 3% Indian and 65% Black. Stakeholder perceptions of the entity were all above 80%. These perceptions were based on an annual survey of overall satisfaction with the entire experience, quality of service, quality of SAWS products and the organisational image.

It was SAWS strategy to balance mandatory requirements and strategic management principles. This approach ensured continued relevance of the products and services whilst creating space for innovation and excellence. Looking at SAWS contextual overview and strategic direction, the period 2001 – 2010/11 envisaged growth, 2011/12-2014/15 saw consolidation and from 2014/15 – 2020, sustainability. Along with this were the strategic drivers which included, compliance with the relevant legislation and regulatory framework, organisational capability, resource constraints and competition.

Dr Makuleni explained its key resources included physical resources (key weather and climate infrastructure, infrastructure recapitalisation plan), human resources to effect the research and development strategy, an agro-hydro feasibility study and a maintenance plan. Technology resources needed to be cutting edge and innovative, to meet automated business processes and integration of systems. Financial resources required financial and fiscal discipline and to take into account a cost structure but additional funding was required. Intellectual resources were used for SAWS brand, propriety knowledge, strategic alliances and partnerships and to promote innovation, intellectual property (IP) management and indigenous knowledge management (IKM).

In terms of a risk profile, SAWS had adopted an Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) approach in facilitating the risk management process. Key strategic risks identified included infrastructure management, funding and the slow pace of commercialisation of SAWS products.

SAWS key programmes were climate change and variability, commercialisation and resource mobilisation, infrastructure recapitalisation, business optimisation ad re-alignment and human capital development.

The maintenance budget for 2014/15 was R3.7 million while the required budget for maintenance was R10.8 million. This left SAWS with a shortfall of R7 million.

Dr Makuleni spoke about prospective opportunities, in terms of top line interventions, these were with stakeholder management, partnerships and alliances and balancing commercialisation with the public good. A key area for emerging opportunities was with commercialisation and resource mobilisation for a science based solution for the Renewable Energy Industry, managing risk and protecting safety of life, planning and risk management, adaptation strategies, specifically for Early Warning Systems and Hazardous Weather Conditions and easy access to information for weather sensitive industries.

In conclusion, the critical success factors for sustainability included resource mobilization, continued investment in infrastructure and human capital, stakeholder relations management and strong collaboration. SAW’s strategic plan was geared towards long term sustainability of the entity and supported government priorities.

[The Minister had to leave due to a Cabinet meeting]

The Chairperson noted that during the budget process, the Committee Report recommended the Department, Treasury and SAWS should come together to look into the entity’s funding reduction. He asked what had been done about this process. He was uncomfortable with the fact that if the cuts continued, this would hamper the entity’s ability to do its work.

Ms T Stander (DA) commented that she knew SAWS had challenges and budget cuts of R40 million over two years but wondered if there were any shortcomings in the entity that had caused Treasury to cut the budget. If this was so, what was being done to rectify this. The Committee needed this information so that if it fought for more funding for the entity, it could do so with a sense of security.

Ms Nosipho Ngcaba, DEA Director General, noted that the Minister wanted the Committee to know a budget process was being followed and a response could only come after the process had been followed. The Department had submitted motivation for what was referred to as “unexpected and unavoidable expenditure” and a Treasury committee would be meeting on this in the next two weeks. There were also challenges in Cabinet where motivation was needed as the expenditure ceiling had already been exceeded. For this reason funding cuts were needed and the Department had even stopped filling some posts. Currently there was uncertainty until all motivations had been processed by Treasury. In the meantime, departments needed to manage with what they had.

Dr Makuleni said the entity was looking at resource mobilisation and had resubmitted some requirements as following the budget process. Moving forward, the entity was working on strong collaboration with other institutions and departments to look at the resourcing of projects because at times, the expertise was required more than just the money itself. SAWS was planning to go to the private sector for co-funding on projects so a variety of initiatives were being explored.

Mr A Mngxitama (EFF) was fascinated that weather behaviour could be predicted. Every year in the townships of Johannesburg and the Western Cape there were floods at times with fatalities occurring. Should there not be the possibility of making this predictability available to these socio-economic communities?

Dr Makuleni responded that SAWS worked closely with disaster management to provide the necessary information. Through this partnership, warnings and the necessary support were provided to these communities. This was an area where SAWS assistance could go further. The entity’s researchers had developed a rain gauge which could be connected to cell phones so that property could be moved if a lot of rain was expected. An initiative was to talk to cell phone service providers to see if this programme could be collaborated on using the technology available.

Mr S Mabilo (ANC) was impressed by the work done by SAWS in Africa and such good work should be relayed to the public to appreciate this innovation. He was concerned that he heard no word on a retention strategy given that trained scientists were being poached to work in other countries. To what extent was scare skills made attractive to students from rural communities? Was there a programme or career exhibition to attract to students to such a career path?

Dr Makuleni explained that at one time, SAWS had many scientists leaving which resulted in a turnover rate of about 28%. A talent management strategy was then put in place. SAWS was encouraging scientists with PhDs in the area of science and innovation to move up the ladder in the organisation and this had worked well. Scare and critical skills had been identified and they were paired with PhD students in job shadowing programmes. Skills were then retained to the point that SAWS now had a 3% turnover. There was also a bursary programme for 80 students with two-thirds being previously disadvantaged candidates with a 50/50 gender presentation among the candidates. The entity employed almost all these candidates so the programme was working very well. Rural areas were targeted in these initiatives. There were also career days where scholars were invited to SAWS in partnership with academic institutions. SAWS had offices in each city so these career days were countrywide. 

SANBI presentation
The briefing by Ms Tanya Abrahamse, SANBI CEO, covered the background to SANBI, its legislation, policies, mandate and role, its programmes, high level structures, examples of outputs, contribution to the socio-economic transformation agenda, challenges and opportunities and SANBI’s achievements to date.

SANBIs role, in brief, was to manage and unlock benefits of the national botanical gardens network,              undertake scientific research to monitor and report on the state of biodiversity and to provide science-based evidence to support policy and sound decision making. Other roles were to co-ordinate and provide access to biodiversity information and scientific knowledge, provide science-based policy tools and advice for effective management of biodiversity assets and ecological infrastructure and drive human capital development, education and awareness in response to SANBI’s mandate.

Ms Abrahamse looked at what SANBI did and what this work influenced. The entity began with the foundations of biodiversity which included collections, taxonomy, inventories, maps and the classification of ecosystems and species. This foundational research was used to build biodiversity knowledge through assessments, status, trends, monitoring and modelling. This then turned into policy and action in terms of information, planning, policy advice, models and tools. The ultimate influence was for human wellbeing, specifically, improved service delivery and job creation.

The briefing then looked at SANBI’s key programmes: (1) to render effective and efficient corporate services, (2) manage and unlock benefits of the national biodiversity gardens networks, (3) provide science-based evidence to support policy and biodiversity decision including impacts of climate change, (4) coordinate and provide access to biodiversity information and science knowledge (5) provide biodiversity and climate change adaption policy tools and advice in support of SA’s development and (6) drive human capital development, education and awareness in response to SANBI’s mandate.

In terms of SANBI’s biodiversity contribution to the socio-economic transformation agenda, biodiversity was more than plants, animals and nature conservation, it was conserving and using nature for economic and social benefit, now and in the future. SA was the third most mega diverse country on the planet, and biodiversity was a natural capital with immense economic significance but more needed to be done to unleash the potential of biodiversity to develop rural economies. Good biodiversity management will slow down climate change and its impacts while ecosystem services such as grazing and pollination underpin our agricultural industry. Estuaries provided nurseries for many of our fisheries, while wetlands naturally purify water and SA’s tourism industry relied on the country’s natural infrastructure. The value of selected ecosystem services so far measured in SA conservatively was estimated at R73 billion per annum while the Green Economy was predicted to generate 400 000 new jobs within 5 years. Investing in natural capital, by giving a superior return on the investment, was investing in our country. SANBI supported government and the private sector to unlock the potential value and benefits of SA’s biodiversity in fulfilment of national development objectives through research, tools and policy advice. The entity harnessed the scientific capacity of SA in a managed network (with state funded academic and other institutions) ensuring co-operation, alignment and cost saving, to provide the best scientific based evidence for sound government biodiversity policy. SANBI was responsible for nine (going on 11) National Botanical Gardens (NBGs) country wide, was world renowned, provided ‘windows’ into SA’s unique biodiversity for leisure, education, recreation, religion, culture, shelter for threatened plant species and contributed to national and international tourism. SANBI built skills and capacities for decent jobs and careers in biodiversity and related sectors and translated science into policy or translated the value of biodiversity based on science into socio-economic goals.

Ms Abrahamse said SANBI’s key challenges and opportunities going forward related to the provision of evidence based information for the Strategic Infrastructure Projects (SIPs), SIP19 coordination (with financial and human resource implications for SANBI), implementation of new invasive species regulations (with financial and human resource implications for SANBI) and the establishment of two new gardens required careful planning and allocation of human and financial resources.

In conclusion, the briefing highlighted SANBI’s achievements to date which included at least five years of unqualified annual audits, an achievement of over 95% of delivery targets in the Annual Performance Plan (APP) for 2013/14 and employment equity targets were achieved, SANBI had a highly functioning board, Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) procurement targets exceeded year on year and Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) funding was leveraged from DEA to obtain funding from other sources (such as other departments, private sector, donors). Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens turned 100 years old last year and SANBI celebrated 10 years, a new garden was gazetted in Kwelera in the Eastern Cape) and the Thohoyandou garden in Limpopo was planned and 2013/14 saw more visitors to the gardens resulting in more income than any other year.

The Chairperson noted the increased mandate of SANBI to look at other species not just gardens – did this mean there were some animals in the botanical gardens? What was the entity’s expectation for job creation in the new gardens? Were there likely to be job creation spin-offs with the creation of new gardens? He asked this because SA had the problem of unemployment.

Ms Abrahamse said the botanical gardens would always focus mainly on plants but there were also coincidental animals in the gardens like insects, reptiles and frogs on which some of SANBI’s researchers had done research because of the urban and peri-urban nature of many gardens where such species would accumulate. Essentially these were botanical gardens but inventories of some animal species were completed in collaboration with other institutions.

SANBI would be building an education and visitors centre and through this there would be jobs. The aim was to attract holiday-makers and citizens to stop at SANBI gardens to spend some time and money there so that jobs were also created in this way. Staff of the Limpopo Garden were all over the age of 55 and heading towards retirement. This Garden had huge potential because it was on the way to the Punda Gate where one could stay over for a night. Public Works had built some lodges at these Gardens and SANBI staff maintained it but no one had ever stayed there. This was a legacy issue. A challenge was that the skills level among the staff was very low but there was potential to ratchet up job creation in this area. SANBI had a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the University of Venda to encourage young graduates to explore job opportunities within SANBI.

Ms J Maluleke (ANC) asked how SANBI was attracting school leavers and graduates from rural areas.
While there were internships, the problem was that these programmes often excluded rural areas. Did SANBI also consider people with disabilities? How was SANBI contributing to Arbour Week?

Ms Abrahamse responded that the Groen Sebenza programme was started with the particular aim of focusing on children who went to high school in rural areas or came from rural areas. As a result, the majority of 818 young people in the Groen Sebenza programme came from rural areas and were hosted by institutions often not in rural areas. With education and outreach, SANBI could not have too many projects too far from where gardens were located. When gardens were in rural areas, there was engagement with local rural communities. With Kirstenbosch Gardens in Cape Town, most of the schools SANBI engaged with were in the formal and informal areas of the Cape Flats. Engagement with different angles was important. SANBI did have a percentage of disabled employees but the entity could do better on this. Arbour Week and other key days in the environment calendar were often run from SANBI’s gardens.

The Chairperson wanted more detail on the lodges built by Public Works in order for the Committee to interact with the relevant Portfolio Committee. How many lodges were built? When where they built? Why had nobody stayed there? Was the national or provincial department of Public Works involved? This information could be provided to the Committee in writing if it was not immediately available. He did not want taxpayers' money used when there was no beneficiation.

Ms Abrahamse said the lodges were in Thohoyandou built by the Limpopo Department of Public Works through the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP), ostensibly for tourism. SANBI did not own these lodges yet so she did not have many answers. It might be a good idea for the Committee to visit these lodges in the Garden there. When SANBI took these lodges over, which she emphasised had not happened yet, their best utilisation needed to be considered. Currently these lodges were not used and were standing empty.

The Chairperson said the Committee would be visiting these lodges.

Committee Report on Doha Amendment of the Kyoto Protocol
The Chairperson noted the distribution of the Committee Report stemming from the Committee's approval of the Doha Amendment or second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol at last week’s meeting. The matter would probably come before the House next week.

Report of the Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs on the DOHA Amendment to the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, dated 2 September 2014.

The Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs, having considered the request for approval by Parliament of the DOHA Amendment to the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, recommends that the House, in terms of section 231(2) of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996, ratify the said International Agreement.

Report to be considered.

The meeting was adjourned.


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