SA Weather Service (SAWS); SA National Biodiversity Institute: 2nd and 3rd quarter 2015 performance briefings, with Minister present

Environment, Forestry and Fisheries

23 February 2016
Chairperson: Mr J Mthembu (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

South African Weather Service (SAWS) presented its quarter 2 and 3 of 2015 performance reports to the Committee. SAWS strove to develop relevant products and cutting edge technology addressing climate change and variability. Some of the applications will assist with water resouce management and this is done in collaboration with other institutions. In Q2, SAWS achieved 23 out of 28 targets set out in their APP, two were not achieved and the remaining targets did not have set milestones for the period under review either because no action was required in the quarter under review orthey are annual targets to be evaluated in Q4. In Q3 24/28 targets were achieved and or partially achieved and 2 targets were not achieved.

Highlighted targets included the development of a feasibility study for an Air quality modelling and forecasting system, hydrological products developed targets in respect of severe weather mapping. A nitable achievement was the launch of a Hydronet platform and products. SAWS had not managed to develop the National Framework for Climate Change (NFCS), although it did employ a service provider to do this and so it was in progress and has been carried through to quarter 4.  SAWS also maintained its position as the regional Tele-communications Hub in Africa throughout the year. It had not achieved its non-regulated commercial income targets, as it fell short by approximately R0.3 million on that for the quarter 3. Overall, total revenue was below budget in quarter 2, but above budget in quarter 3, and aviation revenue was above budget in both, with the main drops seen in non-regulated commercial revenue. It also fell below target for radar availability, at 65.02% in Q2 instead of 75%. It did achieve 98% retention of its human capitalIts projections were to maintain and invest in human capital, particularly women at management level. SAWS will follow up on the business model for regionalisation of aviation services.

Members asked several questions relating to the target of 80% only for radar coverage and why it was not aiming for 100% but were told that this was assessed as finding the balance between cost benefit and being efficient enough for purpose. Members questioned whether this was due to lack of electricity supply and questioned the contract in place with Eskom. They asked what was being done about district disaster management and wanted a SAWS report at district rather than provincial level, enquired how ready SAWS was to roll out government plans for drought and what SAWS was doing to educate communities about lightning. Further questions were asked about the bursaries. The Members were generally pleased with the target achievement, but did comment that no particular financial constraints were raised. Members noted that SAWS had not managed to achieve its target of people with disabilities of 3% wondered why it had set this. Members noted that SAWS was regarded as one of the best weather services in a developing country, if not the best. One key point that Members noted is that South Africa is one of the eight WMO-designated Regional Telecommunications Hubs (RTH) in Africa. The RTH allows for the collection, distribution and real-time exchange of meteorological data between WMO Members or National Weather Services within the continent and in the other 5 continents, in order to allow for real-time exchange of information critical for forecasting and warnings of hydro-meteorological  hazards. Despite the existence of the RTHs in Africa, the continent is faced with extremely poor weather observational infrastructure and data communications, which in turn impact negatively on forecast quality and climate studies. It is for this reason that South Africa is actively mobilizing for additional regional weather observations through the use of satellite technology. This will impact positively on Africa’s safety & security and enhance regional economic development”.
 
The South African National Biodiversity Institute presented its results only very briefly, to allow more time for questions. It was noted that biodiversity was vital to developmental goals. SANBI strove always to put science to work in its policies and did not produce scientific data merely for the sake of doing so. It had 11 botanical gardens with a new one shortly to be opened, and ran six programmes. All targets were in progress, with most achieved, and the target of generating 4% of own income was revised upwards to 6%, and achieve. It had fallen short on paper in spending on staff development, because some training had not been “officially” noted as such. It had trained ten biodiversity black professionals, had built a compelling brand and image, and visitor numbers were increasing. The target for publications was below target due to retirement of one senior staff member. SANBI had applied to the global Green Climate fund. It was likely that 95% of targets would be achieved at the end of quarter 4. Matters raised by the Auditor-General would be responded to during the next meeting.

Members urged SANBI to record all staff development as it was key to achieving success and asked whether the retired staff member had been replaced, and whether he had passed on skills. Members were interested in how many publications came from young black scientists and emphasised the importance of transformation and particularly getting women in top management. One Member stressed that the whole onus for transformation could not be put on SANBI and that other educational institutions played a significant role and that transformation should also be based on merit. Figures were given on this, and it was noted that SANBI had achieved 2.5% employed of disabled, and that all top management were women, although it had not met quotas for senior management. SANBI suggested that employment statistics should perhaps be tracked with the Department and the National Research Fund to get a more cross-cutting view.
 

Meeting report

Chairperson's opening remarks
The Chairperson noted that the recent discussions in Paris on climate change had been very important and he also wanted to emphasise the importance of the Annual Performance Plan (APP). If this Committee was doing its job properly it would translate into the government being perceived as efficient, doing its job and serving the people of SA (South Africa). He noted that it was important for the people to be able to see progress from meetings such as this. He noted that the Minister would be attending but would be late, as she was attending other meetings.

South African Weather Services (SAWS) 2nd and 3rd quarter 2015 Performance Report
Dr Linda Makuleni, Chief Executive Officer, SA Weather Service, made the following points when summarising the performance in the 2nd and 3rd quarters of the 2015/16 financial year:

- SAWS strove to develop relevant products and cutting edge technology around the extreme weather and the drought and this could not happen without collaboration
- SAWS achieved 23 out of 28 targets in their APP in Q2, two were not achieved and the remaining targets did not have set milestones for the period under review either because no action was required in the quarter under review orthey are annual targets to be evaluated in Q4. She further inidcated that in her address she will focus on mainly the targets that have not been achieved as well as those that have been partially achieved.

Under strategic goal 1 (to ensure a weather-ready nation through the provision of relevant meteorological and related products and services) SAWS partially achieved in Q3 on delivering an approved feasibility study reportfor an Air quality modelling and forecasting system. The report was drafted in December 2015 and approval is inprogress. In respect of the implementation of the SAWS Research and Development Strategy, SAWS achieved 30% of its milestones in quarter 2 and 50% in quarter 3 as planned. It had developed one Agro/hydrological product in quarter 2. In Q3 it had developed three hydrological products, as part of the rain watch platform. It had also met targets in relation to severe weather mapping in both quarters.

Under Strategic Goal 2 (To ensure the development of relevant meteorological scientific capability through collaboration with stakeholders, partners and clients), SAWS had identified vulnerable communities and there was a stakeholder engagement plan. It had launched a Hydronet platform and product. Various conferences and exhibitions were described as well as publications (see attached presentation). SAWS did not manage todevelop the National Framework for Climate Change (NFCS), although it did employ a service provider to do this and so it was in progress and has been carried through to quarter 4.  SAWS also maintained its position as the regional Tele-communications Hub (RTH) in Africa throughout the year.

In respect of Strategic goal 3, one target out of four was not achieved. The third quarter target for non-regulated commercial revenue was R4 million and SAWS achieved approximately R3.7 million in this quarter.

Strategic goal 4 (to ensure continued provision of quality weather and related information in support of socio-economic development) was not fully achieved in the 2nd quarter as SAWS did not achieve its target of 70% of radar availability, but 65.02%. The target of 75% set for Q3 was achieved.

Strategic goal 5 (To create a strategy-driven human capital capacity in support of a weather-ready nation) showed that SAWS achieved a 98% talent retention rate.

The financial report then followed. The following were the key features of thperfomance for Q2:
- Total revenue was below budget by R1.8 million (-1.2%)
- Aviation revenue was above budget by 24.01% (R11.45 million)
- Commercial revenue 69.92% below budget (R12.93 million)

In quarter 3, the figures were:
- Total Revenue above budget by R15.37 million (7.30%)
- Aviation Revenue above budget by 24.57% (R18.01 million)
- Commercial Revenue 22.04% below budget (R2.64 million)

The challenges addressed and experienced by  SAWS in the current year were briefly outlined. These included resource mobilisation to maintain and invest in Infrastructure and Human Capital; service to the Aviation Industry –ICAO`s proposed Business Model (Regionalisation versusLocal Provision); attraction and retention of women at management level as well as people with disabilities at all levels and labour relations issues (See slide 50 of presentation).

 

Discussion
Mr T Hadebe (DA) asked why the baseline was 80% for radar coverage and not 90%, and suggested that surely the Committee and SA wanted 100% functionality, similar to what was presently the case in the USA. He asked who might have suggested – and why – that SAWS could drop its standards.

Dr Makuleni said that the USA was different to South Africa (SA). A cost benefit analysis had been conducted and that it showed that to move from 80% to 85% coverage and functionality was actually not worthwhile, and that 80% was sufficient to give SAWS information to model severe weather reports and to do what it was mandated to do.

Mr Hadebe then asked what the implications of this 80% were. He did not accept that reason, and said that the drop could not have been as result of sporadic electric supply as Eskom had not instituted load-shedding measures for six months.

The Chairperson said that the supply in the remote areas where the radar stations were was not always Eskom’s responsibility and that the lack of electricity supply in these areas was most likely under the municipalities.

Ms Edna Molewa, Minister of Environmental Affairs, agreed with the Chairperson that based on the location of these radars it was most likely that they could still be affected by intermittent electricity supply.

Mr S Makhubele (ANC) pointed out that this was something not within the control of SAWS and that it should rather concentrate on matters that it could control and in setting its targets in future it should be wary of settign targets that created a dependency on others.

Mr Mnikeli Ndabambi, General Manager: Operations, SAWS, noted that SAWS was likely to have a new contract with Eskom soon.

Mr Makhubele asked why the target for the number of articles being published by SAWS had decreased. He asked why five had been chosen as the number of severe weather maps for SAWS in quarter 3.

Mr P Mabilo (ANC) asked what had been done about district disaster management, and requested that SAWS provide a report on its interactions with municipalities at district level, not just the provincial level. He asked how ready SAWS was to roll out initiatives in support of the government's plan for the drought. He wanted to know what the impact would be of SAWS not achieving the desired radar percentage. He asked what SAWS had put in place to educate communities about the dangers of lightening.

Mr Ndabambi said that SAWS was not the only government entity involved in the sciences and thus it was not solely a SAWS responsibility. On the issue of educationg the public on lightning, A conference had been held on the issues last year and A website was being created that will take all the information gathered by SAWS that was relevant to the community, and make it available and understandable to the community..

Ms H Kekana (ANC) asked SAWS to expand on page 12 of the presentation and its new products, and which were still at testing stage.

Dr Makuleni replied and said that she had the product with her and it was to do with measuring rainfall.

The Chairperson then asked what the target of 62 bursaries meant. Overall he was pleased with an 86% achievement against targets and this seemed to indicate that SAWS was on track to achieve 100%. He pointed out that the financial report had not mentioned any particular constraints or problems. He encouraged SAWS to move on to work on its next quarterly target if it achieved one target part way through the given quarter.

Dr Makuleni said that SAWS monitored the bursaries throughout the year and so it was not mentioned only in the annual report. SAWS also gave bursaries for part-time study.

The Minister amplified that SAWS in fact awarded bursaries in quarters 1 and 4.

The Chairperson then said that the presentation should have shown that there are part time and full time bursaries. He wondered if SAWS had met its employment of disabled people target.

Dr Makuleni replied that SAWS was aiming for 3% disabled employment, but was currently at 1.4%.

The Chairperson asked why SAWS had not managed to achieve the required percentage. These were vulnerable people and the disability quota needed to be taken seriously and actively pursued. He asked if it was hoped to achieve the target by the end of quarter 4.

Dr Makuleni responded that SAWS would not meet the target by the end of quarter 4, but SAWS was addressing the issue seriously.

The Chairperson asked why this target was set if SAWS knew it could not achieve it.

Mr Makhubele asked how SAWS had achieved the 1.4% and he also asked whether SAWS had been given the resources it needed to achieve this target.

Dr Makuleni responded that SAWS could encourage schools for the disabled to send candidates in to the profession, and this would increase the chances of meeting the disabled requirements. SAWS would need cooperation from other institutions and departments to do this.

Mr Ndabambi then responded to question regarding the radar functionality percentages, a point raised by the Chairperson earlier. He noted that 80% was needed to achieve a balance of cost-benefit and accuracy. Maintenance of radar was very expensive the world over. He emphasised that top consultants had confirmed and recommended that, given SAWS resources, they considered the 80% target to be reasonable and necessary. There were also other sources that supply weather information, such as satellites.

Dr Makuleni said that the SAWS publication target was reduced due to constrained human and fiancial resources. SAWS only produces five severe-weather maps, because the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) decided this number; SAWS, as a National Meteorological Service, must adhere to the WMO requirements.
 

SAWS would be piloting impact forecasting, which is not just forecasting heavy rains, but also forecasting what its impact would be and the entity would be collaborating with the relevant roleplayers. These pilots were occurring at the district level. Disasters were now being declared at the district level and not the provincial level, and this should mean that districts would no longer be in a position where they might be worse-hit by disasters but not get the right resources because of provincial level declarations. Regarding the severe drought areas, SAWS was very active in monitoring the situation  on the district level in provinces severely affected by the drought. SAWS had developed both a provincial and a national forum for this. These forums supplied advice to affected parties and this advice was updated regularly. The positive side of the severe drought was that it had brought integration within the country, as for the first time SAWS had developed a national drought monitoring plan. SAWS had always had its own drought monitoring plan which it shared with the Department of Environmental Affairs. This drought monitoring plan would also be shared nationally every Monday and there was a drought monitoring committee chaired by the National Disaster Management Centre (NDMC). Although this was a national committee it would communicate with the provinces as well.

Dr Makuleni said that products being tested included alleviating heat stress in animals, especially animals in the poultry industry. SAWS had regional responsibility for the South African Development Community (SADC) and year-to-year mandate given by the WMO. SAWS was quite competent in its field and one of the best weather services in a developing country, if not the best.

The Chairperson affirmed this.

Dr Majokweni said that SAWS conducted its outreach nationally. Celebrations for World Met day are held in a different province or area each year. Other outreach projects include a project that was conducted in partnership with NEPAD. Through this project farmers in KZN and the Free State were trainied on the interpretation and use of meteorological information. This project was conducted 2015/2016 year. SAWS had also developed a community engagement plan for vulnerable communities.  There are a number of plans that are scheduled to be rolled out in the next five months. One such outreach project was to rollout a community rain gauge. It measures rain and has a telemetric device, which sends out SMS messages/warnings to identified community members and disaster management authorities when the rain levels rise. SAWS had run two workshops with community and small commercial media in the 2015/16 financial year on how to report on weather and climate change issues. SAWS further services and runs outreach programmes through the offices it has around the country.


The Minister spoke to the reporting structure and said that it looked like this because of the nature of the APP, and followed the usual style of government reports. The areas in blue showed targets were met – but there was some confusion because these procedures still needed to be communicated to all government officials and MPs.

The Minister said that South Africa is one of the eight WMO-designated Regional Telecommunications Hubs (RTH) in Africa. The RTH allows for the collection, distribution and real-time exchange of meteorological data between WMO Members or National Weather Services within the continent and in the other 5 continents, in order to allow for real-time exchange of information critical for forecasting and warnings of hydro-meteorological  hazards.  Despite the existence of the RTHs in Africa, the continent is faced with extremely poor weather observational infrastructure and data communications, which in turn impact negatively on forecast quality and climate studies. It is for this reason that South Africa is actively mobilizing for additional regional weather observations through the use of satellite technology. This will impact positively on Africa’s safety & security and enhance regional economic development”. The political issue is that through the sharing of the data globally SAWS may lose some of its competitive edge within the markets it wishes to trade.


The Chairperson agreed that the Committee was equally worried about this information problem and cautioned government “feeding a dog that might come back and bite us”. He noted that SAWS was a reliable institution and held in very high esteem not only in SA, but the world over. He congratulated SAWS and said it seemed that it would achieve its goals in the quarter 4.

The Chairperson excused the Minister at this point
 
South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) second and third Quarter 2015 performance briefing
The Chairperson noted that the Committee wished to assist in the protection of the environment.

Ms Tanya Abrahamse, Chief Executive Officer, SANBI, noted that biodiversity was vital, not merely something that was “nice to have”.  It was linked to developmental goals and was absolutely necessary.

She started to take Members through the presentation but the Chairperson said that the Committee would accept the presentation as read. He asked her not to go through everything but simply to focus on important areas, or areas of difficulty, where SANBI had not achieved the targets in quarter 2 and 3.

Ms Abrahamse reminded the Committee that SANBI would work science into its policy – one example of this was its mining biodiversity tool. SANBI has eleven botanical gardens and there will be a new one opening in Mpumalanga. SANBI has six programmes, the first programme was a corporate one. Its four targets were all in progress, and the progress was tracked in green, meaning that they were in line. SANBI had set itself the target of generating 4% of its own income, but that was later adjusted to 6% when SANBI realised that it could do this – and indeed it did achieve this 6% figure.

One matter where it had fallen slightly short was that only 1% of the payroll was spent on staff development, rather than the goal of 2%. There was, however, other training going on in the organization, which was not registered on the formal budget. In particular, SANBI had done very well in training ten biodiversity black professionals. It had managed to build a compelling brand and image; for instance, hosting concerts in their botanical gardens. She appreciated the National Treasury contributions and said that in the quarter 4, a new garden would be built as well as considerable maintenance carried out on an existing garden. The seasons and attendance were closely linked. Visitor numbers generally had increased because of how expensive travel had become, so that places closer to home cities, such as gardens, were getting visitors.

She noted that Professor Smith had retired, which explained why the target for publications was not achieved, with 17 out of 20 publications achieved. However, in quarter 4, SANBI was on track to meet the target of 15 000 records and 20 publications, and she repeated that SANBI was good at making sure that science was not done into no particular goal, for everything that it did would be translated into policy and serves the people.

Mr T Bonhomme (ANC) interrupted to ask for an explanation of the phrase “SANBI has created two tools2.

Ms Abrahamse replied that a tool was given to the mining sector regarding rehabilitation.

The Chairperson then asked why there was not a tool baseline.

Ms Abrahamse clarified that one had already been made and that another was on track to be made in quarter 4.

Ms Abrahamse continued to take the Committee briefly over the presentation so that she could hone in on the amber markings and discussions. She gave a progress report on the Minister’s request that SANBI apply to the global Green Climate fund. It had applied and was in the first stage of the application process. She asserted that the training targets were met in quarter 3. She then went on to give a summary of the presentation and SANBI’s overall performance. Four of SANBI’s targets are behind schedule in being achieved. However, it was likely that 95% of targets would be achieved at the end of quarter 4.

Finally Ms Abrahamse asked if the Committee wanted her to respond to questions raised by the Auditor-General.

The Chairperson asked her to respond on these at the next Annual Report meeting. He knew that it was preferable that before coming with the Annual Performance Plan, it was best to seek guidance from the Auditor-General on that APP.

Finally Ms Abrahamse said that ICT was very important but would assume that the Committee had looked at this aspect along with the rest of the presentation. ICT was seen as a moving target.

Discussion
Mr Mabilo said that it was not acceptable that the HR head did not register all money spent on staff development and that he would not accept this as a reason for under-expenditure in this area. Staff development was key to ensuring the success and growth of an institution. He then addressed page 9, and said that ICT is the backbone of any organization. He also criticised SANBI for not replacing Professor Smith, and recommended that SANBI recruit someone quickly, saying that it was vital that such a critical role be filled.

Ms Kekana asked questions of clarity regarding the retirement of Professor Smith, and wondered why, in his contract, he was not required to train someone to take his place.

The Chairperson then asked how many publications came from black young scientists. He asked what the uptake of black people in this sector was. He then asked SAWS how it had achieved on getting women into top management. He emphasised the importance of transformation of organisations, especially government organisations. He asked what the strategies were to transform SAWS. If SA was to be a transformed society its institutions, both government and private, must be representative of the entire country. Apartheid and colonialism had excluded black South Africans and this needed to be rectified.

Mr Hadebe stated that South Africa had to address the education in this country and that the Committee should not place the whole onus on SANBI. Education was the most important component in transformation. The country did, in his opinion, need to see transformation on the basis of merit, not race and prompts.
 

Ms Abrahamse took the Committee through Programme 6 in the presentation, which showed what SANBI was doing about transformation. She said that SANBI was trying to excite young children about the environment and biodiversity. She said that SANBI must engage with civil society and that it was already doing that. The major ways that SANBI had been addressing transformation was through the Groensabenza program. The target for this project was 1 000 unemployed youth, with preferential treatment to people who went to rural high schools. 90% of these people were previously disadvantaged. SANBI had created 500 permanent jobs for the 1 000 unemployed youth.

She reminded the Committee that the sector in which SANBI operated was not lucrative. Ms Abrahamse said that SANBI has not achieved its target for 3% of employees being disabled, but it had achieved 2.5%.

The Chairperson noted that SANBI had thus exceeded the required 2% and congratulated it.

Ms Abrahamse reported that top management of SANBI were all women with two coloured and one black. Senior management, however, had not met the black female quotas (33% is the quota and SANBI was at 12%). The target for coloured women in senior management positions was 5% but that had not been met since there were no such women in these positions.

The Chairperson then went on to explain why the Committee asked questions about transformation. It would be very sad if those who were historically on the periphery stayed there and this would mean also that this Committee and the SA government will not have done what they promised the people they would do.

Ms Lorato Sithole, Chief Financial Officer, SANBI, suggested that it may be useful to track young women and people of colour, with the involvement also of the Department of Science and Technology and the National Research Fund, so that SANBI would have a cross cutting view and approach to solving the problem of SANBI’s failure to meet the transformation quotas as mentioned earlier.

Ms Abrahamse agreed that the issues commented earlier were not the responsibility of HR but she would follow up. Professor Smith had been with SANBI for many years, and was instrumental in bringing up black and disadvantaged scientists and so he did train up people to take his place.  SANBI does incentivise the mentoring of young scientists and for the first time some of SANBI’s young black scientists had received NRF ratings. She also said that a very competent person had replaced Professor Smith. In her concluding remarks, she said that the 2016/2017 equity goals would be included in the Corporate Social Plan and that she had taken the Committee’s remarks seriously and wanted to accord transformation its rightful importance.

The Chairperson noted that there was a lot said about SANBI’s work by the European Union. He requested that Members must read SANBI’s annual reports. The Committee had taken note of the quarter 2 and 3 reports. In future, he would like to see transformation targets included in the reports. People must see this government as their government.


The meeting was adjourned.

 

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