Department of Environmental Affairs on air quality management, budget for fight against wildlife crime, & resource management programmes, with Minister & Deputy Minister

NCOP Land Reform, Environment, Mineral Resources and Energy

09 June 2015
Chairperson: Mr O Sefako (ANC, North West)
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Meeting Summary

A delegation from the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), which included the Minister and the Deputy Minister, submitted presentations on three areas of their activity. These were air quality management, the budget for the fight against wildlife crime, and resource management programmes. The DEA's Medium Term Expenditure Framework was also presented. A representative from the Kruger National Park reported on their counter-poaching strategy.

The report on the budget for wildlife crime generated the most discussion. It was apparent that the Department was struggling for funds in this area, despite the fact that rhino poaching had been declared a matter of national security. The Minister was at pains to point out that the presentation given covered only about one-third of the Department's anti-poaching activities. They had been asked to make a submission to the Committee dealing with the budget, but she wanted it to be clear that it was not comprehensive. Her call for a full-day workshop, preferably in the field, was supported by several Committee Members.

The presentation on resource management programmes drew attention to the seriousness of the threat posed by invasive species, in particular famine weed (parthenium hysterophorus). It also described some of the Department's successful value-adding projects dealing with invasive biomass, such as cheap, high-quality school desks and fire-resistant concrete-biomass composite board, which had the potential to lower the destructiveness of shack fires drastically.

The Department's Medium Term Expenditure Framework was presented and accepted by the Committee, and Committee minutes were adopted without amendments.


Meeting report

The Chairperson welcomed the delegation from the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), which included the Minister, Ms Edna Molewa, and the Deputy Minister, Ms Barbara Thomson.

Ms Thomson introduced the Department's submission, saying that its main purpose was to determine whether its budget was in line with its strategic objectives.
Presentation on three air quality priority areas
Dr Thuli Mdluli, National Air Quality Officer, DEA, said that three air quality priority areas had been established in recent years. These were the Vaal Triangle, the Highveld and the Waterberg Bojanala priority areas. They had been established by a baseline assessment, a problem analysis and the development of an intervention strategy. In the case of the Waterberg Bojanala priority area, a threat assessment had also been carried out, because this region had been made a priority area in the light of its potential future development, rather than as an existing air quality danger. Various measures had already been taken in the priority areas, such as Human Health Risk Assessments.

Ms E Prins (ANC, Western Cape) asked how many air quality monitoring stations there were in the country. How many of these were located near airports?

Dr Mdluli said there were a total of 95 monitoring stations countrywide, of which there were four in each of the three priority areas. Within the priority areas, they were located in densely populated areas and near schools, where good air quality was of greatest importance.

The Minister said that the number given by Dr Mdluli did not include dedicated stations located at airports, which supported the aviation industry.

The Deputy Minister added that some of the monitoring stations were not operational at present.

Ms Prins asked for a list of all the monitoring stations.

Presentation on budget for wildlife crime, with a focus on rhino poaching
Mr Ishaam Abader, Deputy Director-General: Legal, Authorisation, Compliance and Enforcement, DEA, said that rhino poaching had been recognised as a national security threat and a wildlife crime in general. It had been declared a priority crime through the National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure (NATJOINTS), after a massive increase in rhino poaching which had begun in 2008, when 83 rhino had been killed. In 2012, this number had risen to 668 for the year and it had stayed at this level since then. The government had responded by declaring a moratorium on the international trade in rhino horn in 2009, and had approved an integrated strategy to address the problem in 2010. Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) had been signed with identified rhino horn consumer states, starting with China, Vietnam and Mozambique. An agreement with Cambodia had been signed in 2015, and agreements with Thailand and Laos were in process. There was also an awareness campaign being run in Vietnam, with the support of the Vietnamese government, aimed at reducing the demand for rhino horn.

Moving on to the budget details, Mr Abader said that in some cases there was not a specific allocation to wildlife crime. He presented a province-by-province breakdown of the budget. Recurring issues across most provinces were under-funding and consequently under-staffing, and problems of information sharing with the South African Police Service (SAPS). Some of the more immediate needs could be addressed through donor funding, but this was not a sustainable long term solution. The under-staffing in Limpopo should be seen as a priority, given the high level of rhino poaching in this province. At present, the Department's Environmental Management Inspectors (EMIs) were able to carry special green dockets -- in a sense, on behalf of the police, who often did not have the capacity to deal with wildlife crime. These dockets were dedicated to wildlife crime and were eventually handed over to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA). Expanding joint operations with the SAPS was something the Department was looking at, especially given the apparent lack of trust accorded by the SAPS to the EMIs. In conclusion, Mr Abader said that although the number of arrests had increased over the last few years, the number of rhino deaths had unfortunately remained at the same high level.

The Minister said the presentation given covered only about one-third of the Department's anti-poaching activities. They had been asked to make a submission to the Committee dealing with the budget, but she wanted it to be clear that it was not comprehensive. She also reminded the Committee that not only rhino were vulnerable to poaching. She said there was a need for a full-day workshop on poaching, and several Committee Members supported her call. She suggested a field workshop in the Kruger National Park, where they could perform their oversight on-site.

Mr A Singh (ANC, Kwazulu-Natal) asked whether there was any screening process for the individuals employed as EMIs.

The Minister admitted that the current situation could not have come about without the contribution of insiders. Two policemen had been arrested the day before.

Mr Fundisile Mtekeni, CEO, South African National Parks (SANParks), said that they conducted integrated testing of potential staff.

Mr Singh wondered whether the United States of America (USA) government, which had contributed funding to conservation in the past, was still doing so. He asked whether rural prosecutors were competent to handle poaching cases.

Mr Abader said that the Department trained not only prosecutors, but also magistrates, judges and SAPS officials, to prepare them for wildlife crime cases.

Mr Singh asked whether the country's stockpiles of rhino horn were being targeted by poachers.

Ms Nosipho Ngcaba, Director-General: DEA said she could not give details because of security considerations, but she admitted that there had been a break-in at a stockpile in Mpumalanga last year. They did not know the source of the leak.

Mr J Parkies (ANC, Free State) said that there was a general ignorance of the work of the DEA. This was one of the reasons for the lack of cooperation the Department was experiencing from the SAPS.  There was a need to look at budget priorities. If poaching was a national security threat, why was it so critically under-funded?

The Minister agreed that outreach was important, and admitted that the Department's outreach programmes were not enough. They also needed to explain issues in terms that ordinary people could understand. There had been a government-wide agreement to cut budgets over the last few years in response to the state of the world economy, but this alone did not justify the problems the DEA was experiencing.

The Chairperson asked about the regulatory framework surrounding international donor funding. He asked for details of the DEA’s collaboration with other departments.

The Minister said that the level of cooperation in the fight against rhino poaching, at a general societal level, was the third best she had ever seen -- after the liberation struggle and the soccer World Cup in 2010. Inter-departmental cooperation was also good. She mentioned NATJOINTS, and the close cooperation with the Department of Home Affairs regarding border control and human trafficking. This was important, given the large number of trans-frontier parks with neighbouring countries. At the Cabinet level, the DEA was part of the Justice, Crime Prevention and Security (JCPS) cluster, where poaching was discussed on an ongoing basis.

Kruger National Park counter-poaching status report
Major General (Ret) Johan Jooste, Commanding Officer for Special Projects for SANParks, reminded the Committee of the central importance of the Kruger National Park (KNP), given its great size. He said that co-operation with local communities was key in the fight against poaching. The southern part of the Kruger Park was an intensive protection zone, and half of the KNP's rhinos – and a quarter of the world's rhinos -- were there. In the northern part of the park, there were joint cross-border operations with Mozambique. He stressed the importance of dismantling the organised criminal networks behind the poaching, as there was only so much they could do “on the frontlines”. Obtaining reliable intelligence was more important than increasing the number of rangers in the park.

Presentation on National Resource Management programmes
Dr Guy Preston, Deputy Director-General: Environmental Programmes, DEA, showed a map of invasive species in the country. About 20 million hectares of land, mostly along the east coast, were currently occupied by invasive species, at various levels of density. Without intervention, these species would take over these areas completely. The Working for Water programme, which had a budget of R1.2bn for 2015-16, aimed to cover about 800 000 hectares. The returns on investment with this programme and similar ones, like the Working for Fire programme, were exceptional.

As an example of a particularly devastating invasive species, Dr Preston discussed famine weed (parthenium hysterophorus). It was spread by wind and cars, inhibited the growth of other plants, and the seeds could survive for 50 years. It was harmful to humans and animals, causing allergic reactions and lung infections that could be exacerbated by tuberculosis. He pointed out that all our efforts to save the rhinos would be wasted if we did not also protect their habitat. Famine weed had had a devastating effect on agricultural yields in other countries. Sorghum and cattle yields were reduced by up to 80 percent, and pasture up to 90 percent. Species loss in forest gaps could be up to 95 percent. Allergies could affect up to 40 percent of the human population. There was a dedicated programme to combat famine weed, but it was critical that biological control agents were found.

Dr Preston moved on to discuss the Department's value-added industries, which aimed to turn invasive species into useful products. One of their most successful projects was the production of school desks. These could be produced for R580, and 500 000 had been distributed so far. The Department was looking at energy generation, using the biomass of invasive species. The most exciting project was to develop ways of using invasive biomass as building materials.

He ended with a short video clip demonstrating that shacks lined with a concrete-biomass composite board and fitted with fire shutters made of the same material, almost completely contained a fire, and was as effective as an expensive, imported fire-resistant board.

Mr Parkies asked about the availability of invasive biomass furniture, particularly the school desks.

Dr Preston said that the Department was looking at partnerships to distribute the furniture.

The Minister stressed the original purpose of the project, which was dealing with the invasive biomass. 
Ms B Masango (DA, Gauteng) asked what would become of the programme if the invasive species were eradicated.

Dr Preston said that they would probably never be eradicated completely.

Medium Term Expenditure Framework report
Ms Esther Makau, Chief Financial Officer, DEA confirmed the budget cuts mentioned by the Minister. Treasury had cut their funds every year for the past four years. She pointed out that the South African Weather Service was funded by the DEA. Its budget for the next three years would be R160m, R209m and R199m.

The Chairperson read a statement to the effect that the Committee had considered the budget presented to it and had concluded its deliberations thereon. This was moved and seconded. Meeting minutes were adopted without amendments.

The meeting was adjourned.

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