Environmental Affairs Committee Oversight Reports on Gauteng and Mpumalanga Air Pollution & Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden

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Meeting Summary

The Committee considered a number of internal housekeeping agenda items including adoption of Committee minutes and programme for the current parliamentary term; as well as an oversight report to Gauteng, Free State and Mpumalanga provinces on air quality management. Main agenda items on the programme included looking at protection of wildlife particularly rhino, quarterly reporting of the Department and its entities and looking specifically at entities closely after the Committee spent considerable time dealing with each branch of the Department in the previous term and the state of monitoring and enforcement of air quality management by municipalities. The programme was comprehensive and covered key items for the Committee to work through; the draft programme was adopted with minor amendments.

The Committee then considered its draft oversight report to Gauteng, Free State and Mpumalanga provinces on air quality management. Key findings and recommendations of the report were:

  • Some municipalities sent junior staff in contrast to the Department who sent very senior officials including the DG and DDG
  • The lack of air quality management plans by some municipalities and the fact that perhaps such plans should be included in the Integrated Development Plans (IDPs) for more enforcement
  • The lack of a structured organogram by some municipalities and the fact that perhaps there should be national standards on minimum capacity
  • Engaging Treasury on ring fencing funding to encourage greater enforcement by municipalities so that issues of environment were taken more seriously
  • Training of locals in terms of monitoring stations instead of using outside skills
  • A need for a presentation on de-commissioning
  • Fast tracking of studies to address the effects of pollution on people, the economy and eco-systems specially in the hotspot areas
  • The need for an apportionment study to apportion blame on those responsible for polluting and affecting people
  • The Committee not to take a soft stance on industry. Technology was moving fast but not in the space of pollution and this was unacceptable. There may be a need for a bench marking study to develop a picture of what other countries were doing in this space. It was important to push the boundaries and find radical solutions
  • To ensure a balanced view, to include the views of NGOs and labour

Committee minutes dated 2 June 2015 were adopted with minor amendments.

Documents Handed Out:
Draft Minutes dated 2 June 2015
Draft Committee Programme for the Third Term Programme for 2015
Draft Oversight Report to Gauteng, Free State and Mpumalanga provinces on Air Quality Management
[Committee Reports available once published on the ATC]

Meeting report

The Chairperson announced that the Committee had a new Member from the EFF, Ms P Ntobongwana, who was not present. An important meeting was scheduled for Friday where the Committee would be meeting with the entities and he suggested Ms Ntobongwana attend to develop her understanding of oversight. 

Committee Third Term Programme 2015
The Chairperson said issues of air pollution were important to the Committee; therefore it was reflected on the programme. Other matters of significance were the protection of wildlife particularly the rhino, as reflected in the programme. The Committee would be conducting quarterly oversight over the Department and its entities so that the Committee knew what was being done in terms of Annual Performance Plan (APP) obligations. The Committee would be looking closely at the entities after spending time with each programme of the Department in the previous term. The Committee wanted to know the plans of the entities, where they wanted to go, strategic plans, expectations and challenges experienced through a heart to heart discussion. This was apart from looking at audit results and looking at quarterly reports of the entities. The Committee was also interested in looking at the relationship between the boards and the entities themselves and this was also reflected in the programme.     

Ms Tyhileka Madubela, Committee Secretary, took the Committee through the draft programme, highlighting that due to an increased workload; it would be meeting on both Tuesdays and Fridays.

The Chairperson spoke to the agenda for Tuesday 22 September 2015, which was a briefing by the Department, provinces and municipalities on air quality. The Committee had recently visited Mpumalanga and Gauteng on air quality oversight and it was found that the state of monitoring and enforcement by municipalities left a lot to be desired; therefore it was decided to call the metros and district municipalities to Parliament. The Committee found, on the visit that, many municipalities did not even have air quality management plans, budgets, air quality by-laws or staff focused on air quality, which meant national air quality laws could not be enforced or monitored. Concern was raised that there did not seem to be any political will at the level of municipalities to deal with this matter that affected the lives and health of South Africans. The Department was planning to hold provincial summits on climate change. The Committee wished to add the issue of air quality monitoring and enforcement to these summits. The Committee would also be meeting with NGOs on Friday 21 August in Mpumalanga when the organisations host their own air quality summit.  A good delegation was needed to attend and interact with the NGOs. The Department would also brief the Committee ahead of COP21 in Paris, France in terms of climate change and Intended National Determined Contributions (INDCs).     

Discussion
Mr T Hadebe (DA) was pleased with the programme and supported it as it covered many areas of work.

Mr P Mabilo (ANC) sought clarity on the summit on air quality with municipalities as he felt there should be a holistic picture of the district municipalities. He asked if an overall picture of the progress of the asbestos phase-out plan would be provided to the Committee. He supported the detailed and comprehensive programme that clearly set out the work of the Committee.

Mr S Makhubele (ANC) suggested the agenda item “Chairpersons and Whips Training” be removed, as it was not directly related to the work of the Committee.

Mr K Morapela (EFF) suggested it would be prudent if the Committee looked into the Extended Public Works Programmes (EPWP) of the Department that affected many people.

The Chairperson clarified that the environmental programmes branch of the Department dealt with employment in terms of the EPWP. Objectives were outlined in the Department’s APP and the Committee engaged on this on a quarterly reporting basis. The employment of people was dear to the hearts of the Committee, particularly that there were no negative impacts in these programmes.   

Mr Morapela was concerned about employees finding themselves in bad working conditions with some injured not compensated. This was not a good reflection and the Committee needed to engage these problems. There needed to be proper monitoring.  
 
The Chairperson asked that the Member provide details in order to be specific when engaging with the Department. The Committee could even write to the Department before engaging on the quarterly reports.

Mr Makhubele agreed, as the responsibility of the Committee in the main was to conduct oversight over the Department.

The Chairperson added the purpose of the Department's Air Quality Summit was to address issues raised by the Committee such as where municipalities do not have human resources, give budgets to important areas of work, have air quality plans or do not have air quality by-laws. By inviting the metros and districts, the Committee would get a holistic view. The Committee could also engage the Department on what the adequate number of human resources should be and the municipalities would be held against that. It was a constitutional obligation to protect people from the harmful effects of the environment and mayors needed to take this obligation seriously. It was unfortunate that not all municipalities could be invited but the Committee would focus on the air quality hotspots, for example, parts of North West, Gauteng, Mpumalanga and Durban.

Mr Morapela asked what could be done or said when municipalities said air quality management was not one of their primary responsibilities or core functions.

The Chairperson answered that there was relevant legislation that spoke to this issue. Municipalities licensed these polluting companies but could not monitor the impacts or enforce companies to adhere to the conditions of their licensing. The municipalities could not licence companies and then say it was not their responsibility to monitor the impacts. Municipalities needed to have air quality officers and various structures but for some, these structures had not been approved for many years.

Mr Mabilo added that responsibilities of the three spheres of government were guided by the Constitution.

Mr Hadebe suggested the Committee contact the SA Local Government Association (SALGA). 

The Chairperson agreed SALGA could be invited as well. The Department would brief the Committee on the asbestos phase-out plans but the issue also lay with the Department of Mineral Resources and Human Settlements, to a certain extent. The Committee would need a full picture of where the matter was and what had been done to protect South Africans from the harmfulness of asbestos.

The Committee approved the draft programme for the third parliamentary term. 

Draft Oversight Report to Gauteng, Free State and Mpumalanga provinces on Air Quality Management
The Chairperson said the Committee would consider the report while actual adoption would occur at a later time. He was of the opinion that the report should be debated in the House as part of the public discourse. The report had serious findings and recommendations for various levels of government so should not just be filed in the ATC.

Mr Makhubele took the Committee through the report where certain unnecessary information contained was omitted. He suggested the names of the Members who could not be present at the visit, because other Committees were also conducting oversight visits, and had provided apologies, should be included in the report. He also thought “ill health” should be added to the sentence which spoke to “those who had suffered an injury”.

The Chairperson thought the purpose of the visit should be included in the report so that it was clear why the Committee undertook the visit on air quality management.

Mr Hadebe thought the report was a true reflection of what transpired during the oversight visit and agreed that “ill health” should be included.

Mr Mabilo, although not present on the visit and had provided his apologies, thought the report should be clear that asbestosis was the disease caused by asbestos. This should be reflected. 

Mr Hadebe added that repository problems were also caused by asbestos.

The Chairperson said asbestosis ravaged ones lungs and everything else. It also caused respiratory difficulties and basically the insides rotted which caused a painful death. The names of the Members who provided apologies would be included in the report. 

The report was well written in that it gave a sense of what needed to be responded to. He suggested the heading of the section, “hearings”, be replaced, perhaps, by “presentations”.

Discussion should be included to get a sense of what transpired in the engagements. It should also be made clear that presentations were made by invitation of the Committee.

Mr Makhubele added it should be clear that the officials present were not those in charge of taking decisions but instead were junior staff.

The Chairperson said this was particularly in the case of local government where some officials were just standing in for the air quality officers and so had no knowledge of the number of licences etc. He asked where the discussions and deliberations for each day were. He suggested it be included under each section for each day.

Mr Hadebe asked if the fact that the Committee was not allowed to go into the control room monitoring synthetic fuel should be included somewhere in the report.

The Chairperson said the Committee did see the monitoring station. There was however a lack of continuous monitoring of air quality ambient standards.

Mr Hadebe said the Committee could not visit the control room monitoring synthetic fuel.  

The Chairperson said this could be included in the report. The specific official the Committee spoke to from Eskom should be named as was done for all the other companies. This was important for consistency.

The Chairperson noted that on the first observation, the Govan Mbeki municipality sent no staff while Steve Tshwete and eMalahleni sent junior staff.

Mr Mabilo asked if there was follow-up on the issue because it was important not to set a precedent of sending junior staff. Perhaps the report should include a point to caution against this.

The Chairperson clarified that this issue would be included in the recommendations section of the report. Additionally the three highlighted were local municipalities and not district municipalities.

Mr Makhubele thought the report should also capture that the three local municipalities did not have environmental air quality management plans.

The Chairperson thought that it should perhaps be captured as an additional bullet point.

On bullet point two, it was suggested reference be made specifically to “hotspot National Priority Areas”. 

On bullet point three, it should be made clear which DG was being referred to.  It was also important to note that the DDG: Air Quality was also present. It was important to contrast that the highest-ranking officials of the Department were present while the same could not be said for the local governments.

Mr Hadebe thought that bullet point four should be reconsidered

Mr Makhubele thought there were other observations made by the Committee that needed to be included, such as the fact that some local governments lacked a properly structured organogram and that there may need to be a national standard to ensure there was sufficient capacity and uniformity.

The Committee then went through the conclusion of the report.

The Chairperson thought the word “underlies” be amended to “underlines”.

Mr Makhubele then took the Committee through the recommendations of the report.

The Chairperson, on this first point, noted that this was an argument raised by the Committee many times and perhaps it needed to engage Treasury on the possibility of ring fencing money to municipalities. This could address how to satisfy the need identified in the recommendation.   

Mr Makhubele spoke to the fact that municipalities and provinces could easily shift funds for various things because of the power to determine its own budget.

The Chairperson noted the municipalities the Committee met with on the oversight visit did not necessarily say they did not have the monies but said the bosses did not care about the environment – this was the issue. An instrument needed to be developed to make them care and this perhaps might be through ring fenced funding so that money could not be used easily for other purposes.

Mr Morapela agreed that there was need for dedicated funding to enforce compliance by managers.

The Chairperson said there might be a need for monitoring at a higher level to ensure municipalities met its constitutional obligation. This could include monitoring of budgeting, human resources etc. Perhaps the monitoring needed to be included in the national Department.

Mr Hadebe thought the issue of air quality monitoring should be included in the Integrated Development Plans (IDPs) of municipalities. This would add to enforcement. 

The Chairperson thought this point should be included in the recommendations. He suggested the recommendations should be divided along the lines of who it targeted/spoke to. This division of recommendations could be headed industry, Parliament (the Committee), municipalities and the Department.

Mr Makhubele felt part of what industry should do was to train people especially those who would be managing the monitoring stations. He observed that those from outside did maintenance and there was no transfer of skills to the locals. Specific presentations on de-commissioning might need to be delivered to the Committee at some point to understand the challenges. Such an interaction would be important and the Committee also needed to be responsible in this way. The report should find a way of capturing this for invitation to the Department at a later stage. 

The Chairperson added the Department would need to address the effects of pollution on people, the economy and eco-system – no one answered this question apart from the Vaal Study. It was important to get this impact as the Committee raised the question before and sought regular research particularly on these three hotspots for a holistic picture of the effect of pollution along the chain. Researchers and universities could even be brought in until this picture was formed. Justice was not being done without this research study and both government and industry needed to come clean on this. There was also a need for an apportionment study to enable apportioning of blame on companies who were making people sick. Such a study should also be fast-tracked and for there to be dip-stick tests on a regular basis. The report needed to make the reasons for the oversight visit upfront so that readers did not just stumble upon it somewhere in the body of the report – this was very important. The discussions for each day were covered well except that of day one –

Mr Mabilo thought the Committee should not be soft on industry. Technology was moving fast in the world however when it came to pollution, with massive resources, industry was not looking at solutions. There was even technology for medicines to eradicate illness and even to vaccinate against diabetes. The time for solutions was now. Perhaps the Committee should look at other countries to see how they were dealing with the issue. The time was now to push the boundaries and find radical solutions. This should be crafted in the report.

Mr Makhubele agreed that the Department should be pushed to conduct studies speedily as it would give the Committee a better sense. There was also no accurate data on maintenance. The report was not complete and balanced in the main, as the views of NGOs were not captured. He asked if the Committee would include the views of these organisations when it met with them. It was also a major omission not to include the views of labour – such a presentation should be made to the Committee. The Committee could not claim to have a national perspective if the views of these two groups (labour and NGOs) were not included

The Chairperson found the points raised by Mr Mabilo were most difficult to tackle but it was correct especially to look at other countries to find out how they have measured progress – the Committee researcher was to look at this point to provide a sense of bench marking. If the Members had anything to add to the report they should provide the input to the Committee secretary or researcher.

Committee Minutes dated 2 June 2015
Committee minutes dated 2 June 2015 were adopted with minor amendments.

The Chairperson thanked the Committee for dealing comprehensively with the oversight report. It was important that industry knew it could not pollute with impunity. It was important to change lives for the better in the space of air pollution by pushing boundaries of the Department, municipalities and industry.

The meeting was adjourned.

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