Provincial conservation challenges and programmes: Department Environmental Affairs briefing

NCOP Land Reform, Environment, Mineral Resources and Energy

11 November 2014
Chairperson: Mr M Rayi (ANC, Eastern Cape)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee was briefed by the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) on the support, resources, challenges and constraints in relation to provincial conservation authorities when implementing the conservation mandate, particularly around the compliance and enforcement of biodiversity legislation. The presentation outlined the challenges, personnel, equipment and budget for each province. Although this presentation, and the questions, centred largely on rhino poaching, the DEA emphasised that wildlife and flora crime posed a serious threat to the security, political stability, economy, natural resources and cultural heritage of many countries, including South Africa (SA). The concurrent competence issue (environment and nature conservation) between the national and provincial department did cause some complications, and the DEA was concerned to bring all roleplayers together to agree upon common priorities and enforcement mechanisms. The main challenges to maintaining a stable biodiversity related to funding, lack of capacity and operational issues. The basic allocations were inadequate, and there was a need to find a proper funding model and focus - it was later explained, during the discussion session, that the national Department could not dictate to the provinces exactly how they spent their allocations. Lack of capacity was evident in the few rangers, their ageing profile, the need to recruit skilled trackers, interpreters, specialised investigators, and environmental management investigators and analysts, and link up all available resources also in the SAPS, Defence Force, Hawks, prosecutors and magistrates. Operational challenges related to vehicles and equipment, training of rangers, crime scene management and forensics.

Members noted that there seemed to be some difficulty in getting information from the provincial departments and asked why. One Member suggested the need to bring all the role players together in one room and this was fully supported by the DEA. It was also noted that there would be a workshop, arranged by the Ministry, in January, when many of these issues would be addressed. Members were interested in whether there was any centralised management of fund-raising around rhino poaching and corruption involving employees. Members asked what exactly the DEA was doing to overcome the common challenges, and said they would be interested to hear from the private security company who had suggested that for every rhino lost, an amount should be paid to the DEA to boost efforts. Members noted that in some provinces, there was a dire need for more environmental management inspectors and what was being done to support them, and what their relationship was with SAPS, and commented that the conviction rate was low. Members queried why there was inconsistency in resources across the provinces, wondered if centralised procurement was not the answer, and what the DEA was doing to address some of the challenges. Members were also interested in what had been done to boost recruitment, particularly helping unemployed youth to gain employment, and what it was doing to make sure that there was a pool of younger rangers. They asked when and where it was recruiting, and why information sharing seemed to be such a problem, asking when things had started to go wrong, and why there had not been attempts, back in 2010 when the situation was first assessed, to try to absorb more staff and get resources. Members also asked about the interaction with private game farmers and rhino owners, whether there were best practices that could be shared, and how they worked together. They also wanted more details of what training was provided to magistrates and prosecutors, whether this was paid for by other departments, the effect of the Protected Areas Act, how the DEA dealt with challenges around mining (which were to be discussed in the following meetings). New questions asked at the meeting would have to be answered in writing, and these related to the land claims situation, statistics on unprotected areas, and sharing of information.

Members adopted the minutes of the previous meeting.

Meeting report

Provincial conservation: support, resources, challenges and constraints in implementing conservation mandate: Department of Environmental Affairs briefing
Ms Frances Craigie, Chief Director: Enforcement, Department of Environmental Affairs, said that wildlife crime was a serious threat to the security, political stability, economy, natural resources and cultural heritage of many countries, including South Africa (SA). She said the concurrent competence issue (environment and nature conservation) was starting to complicate things and the main issue was about bringing people together to set a common priority in a complex environment. She outlined the challenges, status of personnel, status of equipment and the budget for each province (see attached presentation for full details)

She then outlined that the challenges to maintaining biodiversity included funding, lack of capacity and operational issues. On the funding side, the particular problems were:

- Inadequate allocation (explaining that this related to the budget in the MTEF for compensation and goods and services)
- Need to find a suitable funding model
- Donor funding – which was erratic, and the purpose often dictated by the donor. Sustainability was an issue
- The funding focus

Lack of capacity showed itself in the following ways:
- the number of rangers per square km, as well as the age of rangers
- the need for skilled trackers, specialised investigators, and environmental management investigators and analysts
- there was a need to address recruitment and management of informant networks
- interpreters were another skill that was needed
- there was questionable capacity at the requisite levels in the Hawks, Detectives and South African Police Service (SAPS)

Operational challenges included:
- the need for equipment such as vehicles and other basic equipment for rangers
- training of rangers
- crime scene management
- ballistics / linking of information when crimes were committed.

The Chairperson said the Committee had asked the Committee Researcher and Content Advisor to give an analysis on the presentation document, later in the week. He said it was difficult to access the information from the Provincial Departments, and the Committee was under the impression that there was regular interaction between the National Department of Environmental Affairs and Provincial Department. He indicated that the Department did not have to wait for the Committee to ask questions regarding the problems arising, especially on the rhino poaching which was high on the agenda of government, and said there should be regular interaction between National Department and Provincial Departments, and the Committee.

Mr A Singh (ANC, KwaZulu Natal) indicated that he was a member of a particular organisation, Pasture Personnel, in Ezemvelo, KZN, and there were many organisations that were raising money to address rhino poaching. He asked if the was any control over the money raised by the fundraisers or if anyone could decide to set himself up, ostensibly to do fund raising but make a living out of this. He wondered if there was any mechanism to catch the offenders of rhino poaching within the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA). He said there  were cases of corruption that had been reported, even to the extent perhaps of an employee making sure that co-workers would not report on them. He pointed out that the poachers were the ones who had the most money.

Mr Singh was concerned about the rangers that were 57 years old and upwards. He wanted to know what the Department was doing to bring more young blood in to supplement ranger capacity, perhaps those of around 25 years old.

Ms E Prins (ANC, Western Cape) said that all provinces  were raising the same challenges such as funding, shortage of staff , and wanted to know what the DEA was doing to overcome those challenges. She said that there were people who had suggested that, for every rhino being poached, money would be paid to the Department, and she would be interested to hear these people presenting before the Committee. She indicated that there were media reports every day in the newspapers about rhino poaching, and it was important to hear exactly what were the Department’s future plans to prevent rhino poaching.

Ms C Labuschagne (DA, Western Cape) asked what the Department did to ensure that the Environmental Management Inspectors (EMIs)  were provided, in greater numbers, to the provinces that really needed them - such as Mpumalanga and a few of the others where the problems were most serious. He said the EMIs were restricted to working only within the national parks, and the South African Police Service (SAPS) controlled what happened outside the parks. She wanted to know if the was any relationship between the EMIs and SAPS. He indicated that there was a huge problem, when comparing the number of cases in which convictions were achieved, with the number where no convictions were handed down, the latter being considerably higher. She  also, then wanted to know if there were any structures that worked in the Provincial Departments and SAPS to improve the situation, and if any did exist, then what was the role of the Department in those structures. She said it seemed that there was a major problem in the Department in prioritising between the Compliance Monitoring and Law Enforcement functions. She said the Department was already dealing with some challenges, such as human resources and financial resources, but wanted to know what criteria the Department was using in relation to how the provinces should use the finances.

Mr A Nyambi (ANC, Mpumalanga) wanted to know how it was possible to approve the posts that  were not funded. He said all provinces had serious challenges. He asked what the Minister and the Department had recommended on the way forward to overcome these challenges. He also asked what the Department had attempted to do with the documentation that was structured differently between these provinces. He pointed out that there was inconsistency in the allocation of resources (such as vehicles) to personnel, across the provinces, with one province perhaps having 100 people relying on one vehicle, which was a very bad situation. He asked if any of the provinces would be able to function at an optimal level. He said the Committee would be able to assist only if it could have the National Department and the stakeholders from all the provinces in one room together to really deal with the problems as a unified body.

Mr L Gaehler (UDM, Eastern Cape) asked what the Department had done to provide skills to unemployed youth to carry on with the work, to address the issue that there were ageing staff facing retirement in a few years. He also wanted to know whether the Department was making use of the funds from the Department of Public Works to provide skills to unemployed youth.

Mr E Mlambo (ANC, Gauteng) wanted to know how the Department did the recruitment, and where it did the recruitment of the rangers, and why information sharing was cited as a serious problem between stake holders such as Crime Intelligence, Military Intelligence and the security cluster departments.

Ms B Masango (DA, Gauteng) said the country would be able to foster much greater employment if the challenges presented by the Department were adequately provided for, especially in the provinces with high unemployment of young people. She wanted to know where things had gone wrong, and when the crises had started to occur. She understood the issues around the constitutional competencies, between the National and Provincial Departments, but when the assessments had been done in 2010 there should have been some assessment of how the Department would be able to absorb people to employment in various posts, and then follow up with the resources that were needed.

The Chairperson wanted to know why there  were no norms and standards on these issues of personnel and resources. He pointed out the substantial variances, between the provinces, in terms of procuring the equipment; for instance one province would budget  R500 for binoculars and another one would budget R800 for something else. He asked why there should not be a centralization of procurement to avoid the variances of the money spent in the provinces. He said there was no platform that brought together the Department and other stake holders to discuss these issues, for instance the Department complained about lack of information sharing with SAPS. He wanted to know what the DEA would do to address these issues because the presentation did not suggest any solutions to these challenges. For instance, he asked why the DEA could not establish an administrative task team to interact between the relevant departments.

The Chairperson also noted that there were advanced ICT tools available, which could be used to show the profile of the province at the click of a button. He indicated that there was privately-owned property with rhinos in the Free State and wanted to know the Department's role in those privately owned properties, or whether the owners had their own mechanism to address these issues and, if so, what was their success rate, and if they were having successes, then what the DEA would do to ensure sharing of information. He asked why the Department could not set up norms and standards in terms of danger allowances, noting that some of the provinces paid such allowances, but others did not.

Mr Ishaam Abader, Deputy Director General: Legal Authorisations and Compliance Inspectorate (LACI), Department of Environment Affairs, said that the Department would give a written response to some of the questions, with input from other colleagues working in the biodiversity unit. He suggested that it would be useful for the Committee to allow the Department to present again to explain some of the initiatives it already started, with the SAPS and National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) to coordinate. Mr Prins had earlier made suggestions for wider meetings and he would like the DEA to be represented there.

The Chairperson said that the Minister would be offering the Committee a workshop, to be run early January next year, and that would deal with the issues discussed and other areas the Department was focusing on. He said the National Department and the Provincial Departments would be invited. He added that the Committee would also have a chance to ask the Provincial Departments why they were not cooperating with the National Department.

Mr Abader said that would be much appreciated. He indicated that some of his colleagues, in the Biodiversity and Nature Conservation unit, had attended the World Parks Congress and they would be able to answer some of the questions asked by the Members. He said the National and Provincial Department shared concurrent mandates. In terms of the Constitution, that meant that the national DEA would get the budget to carry out its mandate. The National Department basically set out the frame work of what needed to be done but the provinces could do almost whatever they wanted to do, within the frame work, and with that perspective the Department could not force them to do certain things. He said the sector itself was underfunded. He said that if the Committee wanted to assist the sector, it needed to engage with its provincial treasuries to analyse the amount of money allocated to each province. The last time the money was analysed it was about 0.01% of the total budget, which was a very small amount, and there needed to be an examination of what the whole environmental sector was getting. This tied in to the questions that the Committee had asked on why the DEA and the provincial departments were not buying certain things; the provincial treasuries' allocations determined what could be spent.

Mr Abader noted that during the questions, Members had placed much emphasis on the rhino poaching, but the Committee had to remember, from the compliance and law enforcement perspective, that the Department also had to deal with flora and fauna. He agreed that rhino poaching received emphasis in the media, and that was why it seemed to be getting the main focus. He also said that the Committee needed to understand how desperate the Department was for money for compensation, goods and services in various provinces. In terms of the question around fundraising and control around the money being raised, he noted that Mr Moketeng from the Biodiversity and Conservation unit had raised the same question, and his section was looking into ways to centralise the collection of all rhino funding, and set up some kind of register or data base. He said Mr Singh was correct when he said other people raised funds to earn a living, and knew of cases where this had happened. He said that the Department had initiatives on that matter, and it might be useful to present these in a broader way to the Committee. The Department had a section looking primarily at rhino poaching corruption. He also said that the Department had a unit, the Wildlife Information Management Unit, that focused specifically on corruption. He noted that corruption did not happen only at the ground level but also on other levels within the provinces. He said that the unit worked closely with the State Security Agency (SSA) and SAPS and it investigated some of the officials within the provinces. However, it was difficult to answer some of the questions asked by members relating to rhino poaching, because he was not sure how the information would be dealt with.

Mr Abader noted that the DEA was addressing the issue of ageing rangers. For instance, in KwaZulu Natal, DEA was training 400 to 500 rangers  in the crime scene management and other similar issues. Ms Prins questioned the initiatives, and in relation to information sharing and intelligence, the Department had undertaken various initiatives  with banks, coordinators and others. DEA had met with Interpol in June to discuss how to interact and utilise information to catch rhino poachers. He said in terms of future plans to prevent rhino poaching, the Department was engaging with partners internationally to raise awareness on rhino poaching.

Mr Abader said that the question Ms Labuschagne about the EMIs was not something that related only to the national Department, for the provincial departments also had to prioritise, in their budget, achieving a broader spread of inspectors, and the national Department was urging the provinces to do that. He said there were operational procedures with SAPS, but that the Departmental officials carried their own "green docket". The Department had a generally good relationship with SAPS but also that depended on the provinces, as the Free State Department and Limpopo Provincial Departments complained about the lack of support from SAPS, whilst others had good support. In relation to convictions, the Department had done a lot by training the police on the environmental legislation and how to handle crime scenes. In addition, the DEA had trained prosecutors on the legislation and how to handle prosecutions and evidence. The sentences handed down for poaching showed a steady increase. The DEA put out an annual report on the national law enforcement and compliance statistics, where it was possible to, for instance, look at the number and kind of sentences. The DEA played a coordinating role on how it interacted with the Defence Force (SANDF), Revenue Services (SARS) and SAPS. Whilst the National Department could not dictate to the provinces exactly how they must prioritise their funding, the Provincial departments would set their priorities. The problem was not only wildlife trafficking, but was also about the suicidal economic issues, but with a relatively small amount of investment upfront, the Department would be able to deal  effectively with this issue, socially and economically.

Mr Abader explained that there were two approaches the Department followed when it came to Compliance and Law Enforcement - a proactive component and reactive component. For example, the reactive component was used when there was a complaint that somebody was polluting a river, when the Department would then investigate the complaint. Proactive components would be used when for instance, a particular sector was causing air pollution, in which case the Department would try to approach the sector to persuade compliance before the problem worsened.

He agreed that several challenges were apparent in several provinces, and the national DEA was carrying out various interventions, starting from the lowest level the MinMEC level. He said the Department had done the same presentation two weeks ago to the MinMEC, indicating the issues of the Provincial Department and also what the National perspective would be on these issues. He said the Department was working together with the MinMEC and the MECs themselves, in relation to compliance. Some of the provinces needed to use passports and documents, but he was not sure how the national DEA would respond on that.

The Chairperson suggested that this was a matter that should be put on the agenda for a future meeting of the Committee.

Mr Abader said that the approved post listing was essentially a "wish list", but this was entirely dependent on what funding was made available. In relation to the questions on the vacancies, and whether employees were working optimally, he confirmed that the DEA's employees were dedicated and committed to their work in terms of Compliance and Law Enforcement, but were faced with the challenge that they lacked sufficient equipment. In regard to trying to bring new rangers into parks, he said there was an initiative, as he had explained earlier. There were many anti-poaching units that  used military veterans, because they had bush experience. In regards to criteria used to recruit rangers, he said he was not sure what criteria were used.

Mr Abader conceded that there were problems in sharing of intelligence information.

Mr Abader referred to Ms Masango's question on when things had started to go wrong, and said that it was a difficult question to respond to, because, as explained earlier, whilst rhino poaching was at the forefront of people's awareness, it was not just rhino poaching that was problematic, but the whole issue of wildlife and it must be seen in the broader context of biodiversity. He reiterated that jobs were there, but it was up to the Provincial Departments where they allocated the money, so he was not quite sure how else to respond to issues raised by the Chairperson around the challenges of the money allocations and equipment. However, he agreed that there was a problem in that the Departmental procurement system was not centralised. In regard to the platform where the stakeholders deal with these issues, said the Department was interacting with Military, SARS, Customs and police. The Department does not have capacity to be everywhere all the time and so it relied on these colleagues to get information. In terms of the platform, the Department had a Working Group 4, that brought together all compliance and enforcement people from all the provinces to discuss these issues. Provo Joint structure brought together all the Provincial Units, SAPS and various departments, and the NatJoint Committee tried to create a platform for information sharing. Some of the issues went to the security cluster as the Cabinet identified them as high national priority crimes and they  were discussed at administrative Committee level.

Mr Abader responded to the assertion that it should be easy to get information from provinces at a press of the button, by saying that it was not that simple, because some of the provinces  were better capacitated than others. He said he spoke with colleagues on the environmental impact assessment side, to supply some of the provinces with the computers and the people to capture data. In regards to the role of the private game farms, he said they usually had their own private security but there was a joint operation between the Government bodies, private security companies and private reserve owners as well. The private game farmers did not have that much success, and the Department was the leader in all the initiatives. He said the Department had a long term initiative, the Electronic Permitting System, that was going to be developed nationally to get information on the press of a button. Furthermore, the Department had a compliance and law enforcement strategy and lot of the questions being asked  were around the strategy and the attempt to respond to those challenges. He said the purpose of the strategy was to utilise the resources available, from both a human and financial perspective. As soon as the strategies had been finally approved, the Department would start with the implementation.

Ms Frances Craigie added that information sharing was quite a tricky situation, but with the joint structures to which Mr Abader had referred, there was also an Intelligence Coordinating Centre (ICC), and in each provincial joint structure there was supposed to be an ICC. In regards to why some of the provinces had particular challenges, she explained that in those, it was likely that the provincial EMIs were not participating effectively; in KwaZulu Natal there was amazing work being done by them, but in other provinces this was lacking. In some provinces it would be found that the security agencies were collecting information and the EMIs felt left out because they were not participating in the structures, and on this the DEA would respond further in writing, to indicate why the EMIs were complaining. She said that there were a number of programmes to get youth in available positions. The Department tried to give the provincial parks the details of unemployed youth, and encourage the parks to employ them, especially in the provinces that really needed them, like Northern Cape, but it had not succeeded as far as it would like to. The Department would update the Committee on the work on structures and training in the workshop. The DEA was working with the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, looking at the issues around bail and minimum sentences for rhino poachers. The Department was looking at new ways to improve the legislation for better handling of those cases.

Ms Craigie added, in regard to the private rhino owners, that the Department had a big meeting with SAPS and private rhino poachers in May this year, from which action plans emerged and the private rhino owners' associations would be represented on the ProvJoint structures. In addition, the DEA had a unit dealing with foreign environmental crime, in various provinces, and in Eastern Cape, it was planning how to work with the SAPS, Defence Force and NPA. The DEA lacked money to get all the stakeholders together in those meetings or platforms to make them to do their work.

The Chairperson said that when Mr Abader was answering some of the questions, he indicated that all the questions would be responded to in writing because of time constraints.

Mr Singh wanted to ask a question that was not directly linked to this presentation. He said that it was a security company who had suggested that, for every rhino killed or lost whilst under their watch, it would pay R1 million to the DEA, and he suggested that this company should be asked to come and make a presentation to the Committee.

The Chairperson said the decision on whether to call them would be left to Committee management.

Ms Labuschagne wanted to know what the Department did in order to instil a greater knowledge, in SAPS and prosecutors, or the environmental legislation. If it was providing training, then it should be asking these other departments to pay, as a source of income for the DEA.


Ms Labuschagne asked the Department’s direction on the National Protected Area Extension strategy and if it included any international agreements. She wanted to know if the DEA  could improve the situation, given the challenges, to meet international standards.

The Chairperson asked how the protected areas reserved for exploration, identified by the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) would be affected.

Dr Geoff Cowan, Department of Environmental Affairs, said that in terms of section 48 of the Protected Areas Act, if the area had been declared as a protected area there was no prospecting or mining allowed within the area, but that did not stop any possibilities of other effects on that area. He said the Department had to do research on that.

The Chairperson said that on 25 November, the Committee would be receiving a presentation on permits and regulations relating to coal mining, and would like a response from the DEA before that date, so he was not sure it it would have time to do much research.

Dr Cowan said the division for the National Protected Areas Extension strategy was related to some obligations in terms of International  conventions, particularly the Convention on Biodiversity, arising out of the World Parks Congress in Caracas 20 years ago, which had wanted on average 10% set aside as protected areas. South Africa currently had 5.5% of its land under protected areas. He said, given all the challenges, that it would be difficult to reach the target of 10%. The Department also looked into unprotected areas that  were privately owned, and the areas that  were not necessary in need of protection but had protected area status. KwaZulu Natal (KZN) had a number of conservation programmes running years ago, where a farmer did not do actually farming on areas that were important to biodiversity. He said the provinces were particularly jealous of the concurrent function. In 2010 there was a parallel study looking at options for re-customisation of the Protected Area Management, and the options ranged from the Tedesco to whole lot of concurrent scenarios and putting all the protected areas under one roof. The Department presented these concepts to the Chief Executive Officers' forum and there were disagreements from all the members. He said that a rationalisation could achieve about a 25% budget saving, and this would be available then to be distributed to operations. There were a number of boards, CEOs, CFOs and COOs, all of whom were being paid high salaries, and if there were only one, then substantial savings would be achieved. Although there were headquarters of boards in five provinces, they did not look the same, for in the provinces of Western Cape and KZN, the boards would look at both protected and unprotected areas, but in North West, Eastern Cape and Mpumalanga, they only looked at management of the parks. The DEA was trying to work with Group 1 under MinMEC, but there were a number of sub-groups with whom Dr Cowan met four times a year, which included representatives from the provinces, and he tried to meet with the CEOs' forum at least once a year.

Ms Craigie wanted to speak again on the training issue. The Department had Sub-Directorates focusing in the Enforcement Training and all the EMIs had to have completed the basic training before they could be designated. The DEA looked at the training of customs officials, to try and increase detection around ports. It also dealt  with the Prosecutors' and Magistrates' training, and this went back some way, about eight or nine years, in terms of agreements with Justice College, which was, at that stage, training both the prosecutors and judicial officers, and there was a cost-sharing arrangement. The Department of Justice had refunded the DEA for costs incurred on the second edition guidelines on environmental crimes, and this manual was intended to raise awareness on environmental crimes, the legislation, and how to deal with them. Both basic and more advanced training had been given to prosecutors. The Department was now busy with a project funded by the Global Environment Facility Unit, which was focusing on rhino poaching issues.  He said the ideal was to bring the Prosecuting Authorities dealing with the rhino poachers together in one room, to understand what the challenges were and what was working, to replicate these results in other provinces. Matters had worked well, with the prosecutorial and  magisterial training in the Justice College, but the training of magistrates had now moved to the new Judicial Education Institute, and the DEA was now engaging with that Institute to formalise the training, to reach more magistrates, after a gap of about a year during the transition.  He said things were working well with the Prosecuting and Magistrate training in the College until the training of the Magistrate moved outside the Justice College to create the new structure called the Judicial Educational Institute. He said the Department was engaging with them to formalise it because it was better to formalised the training to reach more magistrates. Further written reports on operations would be provided.

Ms Labuschagne suggested that the questions she was going to raise could be answered in writing, but, if preferred, could also be dealt with in another meeting. She had wanted to ask about the influence on the process of the land claims, and whether it was possible to know the statistics for unprotected areas.

Mr Prins said that he wanted to know about the relationship between the privately owned game parks and DEA, and how the information was managed between them.

The Chairperson suggested that the answers to these must be included in the written response. He noted that some of the issues would be addressed next year. The Department was asked to come to the meeting on 25 November, fully prepared, as it had been provided with the programme, and at that meeting the DMR would also be giving a presentation.

Other business: adoption of minutes
The minutes of the last Committee meeting were adopted, without amendments.

The meeting was adjourned.

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