Department of Environmental Affairs on its 2015/16 Annual Report, CITES preparations, with Minister in attendance

Environment, Forestry and Fisheries

24 May 2016
Chairperson: Mr O Sefako (ANC, North West) and Mr M Mapulane (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Select Committee on Land and Mineral Resources and the Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs were briefed jointly by the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) on its 2015/16 Annual Report and its preparations for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) Conference Of the Parties (COP17) on climate change, which would be hosted in Johannesburg at the Sandton Convention Centre from 24 September to 5 October this year.

The DEA had hosted the COP17 on climate change, but this time it was involved with trade in plants and animals. Decisions had to be taken on how trade between countries would be dealt with. A committee of inquiry had been set up with regard to rhinos, with recommendations by the Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) and the Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC). A ministerial meeting would be held on 23 September 2016, where the nexus between sustainable development goals (SDGs) and the CITES legal wildlife trade and sustainable use and illegal wildlife trade, would be discussed. The role of CITES and how it could advance the achievement of the SDGs, and whether it was the appropriate mechanism to use to address illegal wildlife trade effectively, would be a key discussion point on the agenda.

The Department reported that it had received an unqualified audit report. The overall DEA performance for 2014/15 showed that 79% of its targets had been achieved, and in 2015/16, 81% had been achieved. A two-step process of consultation had been established with regard to chemicals and waste management. It was the provinces which licensed municipal land fill sites. All 57 unlicensed land fill sites would be completely licensed by the end of this month.

The Committee asked for clarity about CITES with regard to the trade in rhino horns, particularly in the light of the current court judgment which had ruled in favour of the domestic sale of rhino horns within the country. Members asked about the licensing of land fill sites, and municipalities’ capacity to comply with the conditions of the licences. They raised the issue of illegal fishing off South Africa’s coastline, and what role the Department was playing in countering this. What did the Department hope to achieve out of the CITES COP17 conference? What was it going to do about addressing those areas where it had failed to meet its targets? 

Meeting report

Ms Edna Molewa, Minister of Environmental Affairs, said that with the Committees' permission, the Department would start with the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) presentation.

Briefing on CITES COP17
Mr Shonisani Munzhedzi, Deputy Director General: Biodiversity and Conservation, Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) said that he would brief the Committee on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) on wild fauna and flora. Members would recall that the DEA had hosted the Conference Of the Parties (COP17) on climate change, but this time it was involved with the CITES COP17 which dealt with trade in plants and animals.

He would be talking to where the Department was in terms of its preparations in South Africa, and also other relevant information, including some of the proposals on the table that would inform how the Department would approach its position. Decisions had to be taken about how trade between countries would be dealt with. There was a mechanism for the decision making which was informed by where those species of plants and animals were listed, and this listing was done according to categories. The Convention met every three years to review the implementation of the Convention’s decisions. The Convention would be hosted in Johannesburg at the Sandton Convention Centre from 24 September to 5 October this year. There was a Local Organising Committee (LOC) which had been established in 2015. This Committee was responsible for coordinating all logistical and security preparations.

The Inter-Departmental Substance Committee was responsible for the development of a position paper. The communication strategy had been approved, and the legacy programme dealt with sustainable use and community involvement. With regard to the delegation and observers, the Minister had submitted a letter inviting Ministers of relevant government departments and chairpersons of boards of entities, as well as the Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee, to attend the Ministerial High Level Segment on 23 September 2016. They had also been asked to indicate whether they were interested in attending the CoP17, and the Minister of Environmental Affairs and Minister of International Relations and Cooperation would determine who would be provided with credentials.

A decision making mechanism had been put in place to consider a possible decision on cycads (Encephalartos species). Cycads were globally the most threatened group of plants, with more than 60% classified by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

A committee of inquiry had been set up with regard to rhinos, with recommendations by the Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) and the Inter-ministerial Committee (IMC). A ministerial meeting would be held on 23 September 2016, where the nexus between sustainable development goals (SDGs) and the CITES legal wildlife trade and sustainable use and illegal wildlife trade, would be discussed. The role of CITES and how CITES could advance the achievement of the SDGs, and whether it was the appropriate mechanism to use to effectively address illegal wildlife trade, was a key discussion point on the agenda.

DEA’s fourth quarter report on its Annual Performance Plan 2015/16
Ms Nosipho Ngcaba, Director General: DEA, said that the Department had received an unqualified audit report. Today's report was before submission for auditing, and the annual report would be tabled in July or August. She indicated the level of achievements for the Department’s seven programmes, which were:

  • Administration - 82%
  • Legal Authorisations, Compliance and Enforcement - 69%
  • Ocean and Coasts - 95%
  • Climate Change and Quality Management - 86%
  • Biodiversity and Conservation - 75%
  • Environmental Programmes - 77%
  • Chemicals and Waste Management - 55%

The overall DEA performance for 2014/15 showed that 79% of its targets had been achieved, and in 2015/16, 81% had been achieved.

Mr Mark Gordon, Deputy Director-General, DEA, reported that a two step process of consultation had been established with regard to chemicals and waste management. It was the provinces which licensed municipal land fill sites. All 57 unlicensed land fill sites would be completely licensed by the end of this month.
Mr Z Makhubele (ANC) asked for clarity about the CITES view on the position that Cabinet had adopted -- that it was not looking at the immediate trading of rhino horn. The question was about what was emerging globally, and whether there would be particular pressures on this issue. He asked if the Southern African Development Community (SADC), as well as the African continent was involved in this. Was the country mobilising and canvassing its position to the extent that it could arrive at the convention having solicited common ground with its neighbours in Africa?

The Minister replied that South Africa had the highest population of rhinos in the world, with approximately 22 000 Rhino. The Department had considered investigating the possibility of trading in rhino horns internationally, as part of the measures to fight rhino poaching. In 2009, the Department had said the committee of inquiry should look at community involvement, and who could be traded with, so that an understanding could be developed of the work that was being done in the meantime. The reasons for adopting this position was that one could not approach CITES as a conference, and one could not trade in rhino horn when one did know what its stockpiles were. The Department still did not have a security plan that had been fully implemented. The Department also had to liaise with Swaziland, because it did not know what their stockpile situation was.

Mr T Hadebe (DA) asked for clarity about the current judgment which had ruled in favour of the domestic sale of rhino horn in the country.

The Minister replied that this was about the moratorium on the sale of rhino horn internally in South Africa. These horns were probably for ornaments. The Department still could not move beyond the purpose of this. She did not see a connection between the court judgment and anywhere where the Department was negating the court judgement. She felt that the two were 'de-linked'.

The Chairperson interjected and said that the court had said that trading with rhino horn could happen within the country, but not internationally.

The Minister affirmed this, and said that this was because one had to get permission from CITES to trade internationally. The reason why this order had come from CITES was because rhinos had become extinct in many countries. Thid has brought forth the reason for having CITES. CITES was a Convention that regulated how trade was done on fauna and flora only, so any trade on threatened animals had to be controlled trade.

Mr Makhubele raised concern about the equality of monitoring stations. It had been said that this was an issue for local government in the main, and municipalities needed the capacity to engage with this. This was a major problem for government. This also spoke to the issue of licensing of land fill sites. One should look at a situation where districts and provinces were taking charge of licensing.

Ms Elizabeth Masekoameng, Director, Atmospheric Policy Regulations and Planning: DEA replied the Department had 100 equality monitoring stations, and 20 of them were meeting data requirements. On capacity and support, she said that the Department would be sending letters to the relevant municipalities to say that their stations were not meeting the recovery requirements. Even though this could be put under the umbrella of capacity challenges, the situation on the ground was of concern. For example, some municipalities had money, but experienced procurement issues. The Department was also working on a monitoring strategy that would look into the 100 monitoring stations to see which were very strategic, and into which resources could be pumped. The DG had just approved an electronic asset management system, which would allow the Department to see the problems at each station.

The DG said that the Minister had said the Department would provide a list of all the equality monitoring stations and landfill sites.

Mr Makhubele said with regard to the Oceans and Coasts programme, he was concerned about the verification of evidence, as quite a number of the variances had no conclusions, including those on shale gas and many other targets. He was happy that most of targets had been achieved.

The DG said that the Estuary Management Plan as indicated was correct, and it was just the evidence which needed attention. The Department had met the target.

Ms E Prins (ANC, Western Cape) said that on the equality side, she would like a list of the working land fill sites because some of the Members from outside of the Western Cape wanted to go and do oversight at some of those stations, and needed to have an overall sense of which stations were working and which were not. She agreed with Mr Makhubele that if one was going to wait for local government on the issue of land fill sites, it was going to be a long wait. There were also problems currently because most of the land fill sites were in poor areas. She asked the Minister to give attention to this problem.

The Minister said there was a dilemma because the Constitution listed the functions that belonged to the various spheres of government, and they had to be performed at that level. Section 158 of the Constitution said that other spheres would support the local spheres, and the spheres supported each other in that manner. It also stated how one could take over powers when there was no performance. There was an undertaking that the Member of the Executive Committee (MEC) would go to the municipalities and explain how the Department proposed to look at cross-cutting functions, and what support it could provide.

Mr Gordon referred to the licensing of the land fill sites, and said some of the licences issued had actually been closure licences. These called for the closure of sites, with conditions of monitoring, improvement and rehabilitation. There had been a backlog of 341 sites, which had been reduced to 57 in about two and half years, and would be totally eliminated by the end of this month.

Ms Prins said that there were challenges around the funding for the Global Environmental Fund, but she did not understand what the challenges were. It was very important that climate change litigation still had to be dealt with.

The DG said that the Global Environmental Facility Funding (GEFF) had its own rules. For example, every four years South Africa received an allocation as a country. SA was also a part donor country, and then it got an allocation for issues like biodiversity, the climate and chemicals. However, it needed an accredited agency to access the funds because they could not be accessed directly by the Department, although it was the focal point. When the Department spoke about delays, it was basically those processes it was entering into with the GEFF secretariat.  

Mr E Mlambo (ANC, Gauteng) expressed concern over the Minister’s letter, because the invitation had referred only to the Portfolio Committee, not to the Select Committee. He asked if this could be corrected so that other Members would not miss this important engagement. He had not come across the employment of people with disabilities being spoken of in the Administration Programme.

The DG said that it had been reported at a meeting in Quarter 4 that the DEA employed 2.7% of people with disabilities. Therefore the Department had exceeded the public service target, which was 2%. 21 of the officials were at the lower level, 22 were in middle management, and four were at senior management level.

Mr Mlambo referred to the Oceans and Coasts programme, and said there had been a report in the media regarding illegal fishing. He asked if the illegal fishing that had taken place was to do with endangered species in our waters and what the role of the Department was in this regard.

Dr Monde Mayekiso, Deputy Director General: DEA replied that it was unprecedented to have nine foreign vessels getting into South African waters and their being found without permits to fish. The Department had been told the previous evening that they had been found to have had squid on board. Squid was the most important fish in the Eastern Cape, and both the DEA and the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) were concerned. In that part of the world, a lot of the line fish had been over-exploited, and therefore it was possible there were endangered animals in the catch, but he did not know for sure if this was the case. Members would recall that the Operation Phakisa’s Oceans Economy Lab 4 had dealt with Marine Protection Services and Ocean Governance, and the DEA coordinated government stakeholders that were involved in law enforcement. So the Department did play a role.

Ms H Nyambi (ANC) asked what the Department hoped to achieve out of the CITES COP17 conference.
What strategic priorities would be presented at the conference? She welcomed the DEA’s report, as it showed that most of the targets had been achieved. She asked what was going to be done in those areas where targets had not been achieved.

Mr Hadebe said that information in the fourth quarter report still needed to be consolidated, as had been said by the presenter, so that the DEA could give the final performance of the Department. He appealed to the Department to provide full information so that the Committee would be able to play its oversight role fully.

The DG proceeded to provide the context for fourth quarter report. It was for the end of the financial year, but validation and verification would be in process until the Department submitted it to the Auditor General (AG) at the end of May, with all the evidence and the financial statements for auditing. The AG took two months to audit, so the Department would table the same report when everything had been verified at the end of July in order for the Members could interact with the report.

Ms H Kekana (ANC) asked for more clarity about bulk prospecting permits.

Mr Munzhedzi replied that from 2009 to 2015, 36 bulk prospecting permits had been approved. An elaborate process had been involved to get to the number to 36. This had resulted in R33.9 million in monetary benefits directly to source communities.

Ms C Labuschagne (DA, Western Cape) referred to the Legal Authorisation, Compliance and Enforcement Programme, and said it showed that 208 actions out of 277 had been taken. She asked what kind of enforcement actions had been included in this number -- were they notices of compliance, or what was the real action? Were these 208 a follow-through of the process, or was it every step of the process -- in short what were the 208 actions?

Mr Riaan Aucamp, Chief Director: Administration and Strategic Support, DEA, replied that the two items had to be read together. The second one was specifically the actions that had been taken, which were either a notice, a directive or a pre-notice that could be given. One company might have two actions that had been included in the number. It should be remembered that when the DEA issued notices for compliance or directives, there might be four or five areas that had to be looked at. It could be seen that out of all the Department's instruction notices issued, it had achieved 75% compliance.

Ms Labuschagne asked how marine spatial planning was going to work.

Dr Mayekiso replied that the Minister had gazetted a Marine Spatial Plan Bill which would be debated, and the DEA would definitely interact with the Committee about it in the months to come. It would be great if the Department was operating with a clean slate, where there were no marine protected areas that existed and no prospecting licences that had already been issued. However, this was not the reality because the Department had to work with other Departments and stakeholders and enter into negotiations so that the country got a good dispensation. There was a Marine Spatial Planning working group that met regularly and had been hosting workshops, including some with international experts.

Ms Labuschagne asked for more information about waste management plans.

The Chairperson said that industry had requested a relaxation of the requirements to comply because of the current economic conditions. He asked the Department to elaborate further on that and what impact this would have, because the high court decision had been almost like an affirmation. He asked further about the extension of time around waste management plans.

Mr Gordon replied that part of the process was the gazetting of the Section 20 notice of intention to call for the plans which the Minister had gazetted last year. Afterwards, industries and associations had submitted draft plans and various comments. The nature of the comments related to global companies, multi-national companies involved in exports and imports with exchange rates, and with all of these issues there had been implications for these plans which had involved the setting of recycling targets and time frames. This had involved the possibility of levies and charges being implemented. All of these had therefore to be very carefully considered. A number of workshops and consultations had been held involving industry associations, the South African Revenue Service (SARS), the National Treasury, and other regulators and stakeholders. With this came the publishing of a pricing strategy, which called for the appropriate pricing of waste streams and so forth. With the plans that needed to be submitted, the Department was carefully considering the impact as well, so that the right objectives could be achieved at the end of the day.

Ms Labuschagne said that the Department had said that by the end of this month, land fill stations would be licensed. She asked whose role it was to do this, and who carried the cost of monitoring the ongoing compliance to the licence in the municipalities and the provinces. Who was responsible for sustainable compliance and how was it going to work, and what was the budget?

Mr Gordon said that compliance monitoring was a function of the licensing authority, which was the provinces. The National Department worked with them on joint operations, monitoring some of the sites, and they were also supported. The Minister had covered the issue of the constitutional mandate and role of the different state organs involved.

Mr J Julius (DA, Gauteng) asked the Department to elaborate on the challenges regarding the time frames for grievance cases. What were the challenges and what plans were in place to reduce the challenges?

The Minister replied that outcome 10 of the government dealt with taking care of the natural resource base. In this outcome, the DEA chaired a whole host of other members who were participants, for example, in how the Department was faring with regard to water. The Department of Water Affairs (DWA) monitored this daily. It had the Blue Scorpions. Departments supported each other. The DWA was the relevant department here. All work in the Cluster 10 included the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR). It had been agreed by the government to allow the DMR to issue permits where necessary, even on functions like EIAs (Environment Impact Assessments) like roads. The Environment Management Act with its regulations was used in these areas. These compliance notices were due to be given to Ms Prins.

Mr Julius said that the interaction between the DEA and other departments was still a problem for him, including interactions with other spheres, as issues seemed to go in different directions. With acid mine drainage (AMD) on the West Rand basin, there was a danger to fauna and flora in the area. It was actually eating away at a wire fence in the Krugersdorp Nature Reserve, where the lion enclosure was. He asked where and how the Department was involved in this.

The DG referred to the court judgment on the Isimangaliso wetland park. This wetland had been degraded -- there were forests with lots of pine and gum trees, and lots of dredging of the wetland by farmers and other industries. The Department had therefore undertaken scientific studies on the impact of the use of the 4X4s on those dunes and what the impact was of dredging the wetlands. Suddenly, because of the drought, farmers wanted to dredge the wetlands again after they had been rehabilitated 'and the mouth closed', and the matter had been taken by the farmers to court. They had lost the case, and the judgment was that for the purposes of functionality and conservation activities at the wetland, it had to be maintained as such. Activities that degraded the wetlands were no longer allowed.

Mr Julius asked about government and other departments' involvement in innovative environmentally friendly production in this country. He said that hemp grew best in unused mining areas. The DEA could get involved in carrying out projects around environmentally friendly production, working with the private sector and other government departments to process hemp.

The DG replied that the DEA was open to innovation. It had a grain economic strategy which was also about sustainable production, and this could be shared with the Committee. The Department would consider any initiative that could enhance its ability to give effect to outcomes and targets around sustainable production as a country. The Department normally had engagements with municipalities and provinces around what new areas should be looked at when making investigations together. There was also ample opportunity through the Green Fund.

The Minister said that in Maponya Mall there was a store that sold hemp products. This had come about as a result of thorough research done a while ago on the plant as part of the biodiversity economy by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). Over the past five weeks, the DEA had been planning utilisation of the country’s natural resources in plant species. There were already people applying to use crocodile fat, and this was also being investigated.

Mr C Smit (DA, Limpopo) said his question was related to a presentation given a while ago on the trade in game, and the constraints around legislation and regulations that were making it difficult for that industry to grow. This industry had great potential for job creation and growing the economy. He asked what the Department's progress was in terms of addressing permits. What had been done to deal with the constraints?

Mr Munzhedzi said on the permit side, the matter had to be looked at as a package, with common standards that involved certification mechanisms, and measures to regulate the number of days.

The DG said when the Minister mentioned that a planning process had been undertaken, she had been referring to a process called Operation Phakisa, which followed the methodology around the workings of the wildlife industry and was used by government and the various provinces and some of the non-governmental institutions. This process had attempted to map the processes that were involved, like what the problem was in terms of regulatory efficiency and what could be done to improve that situation both in amending legislation, but also in simplifying execution and permitting processes. The Department could then talk to that when it briefed the Committee on how it was going to ease the manner of doing business in that area without compromising the controls that were also required in terms of managing the species and the movement of species from one place to another.

Mr Smit related an incident at Volspruit mine, where the DEA had given the go-ahead for prospecting rights within an ecologically sensitive area -- the Nylsvley river that was a unique system in SA. He also asked how one could ensure that there was a model for creating a fund for civil society.

Minister answered Mr Smit on the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) that had been given. The DEA would look at the river system as far as it concerned the Department, but this was part of the licensing of mining which was work done by the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR). The Department would definitely look at how it impacted on systems and report to the Committee.

Mr Smit asked if the Department had compliance in terms of fewer working systems at the municipalities who were polluting waters so badly.

The DG replied that sewer treatment or water treatment works were authorised by the DEA through the EIA process, so when an environmental impact assessment was done, there was a record of the decision. There were conditions that went with the permit and therefore the management of a water treatment works had to adhere to the terms of those conditions. The Department of Waters Affairs, with its Blue Scorpions, had a Blue Drop programme and a Green Drop programme. The Green Drop Programme was about the state of the sewer water that was treated before it went into the river systems. Any municipal operation that did not adhere to the conditions had to suffer the consequences. The Department's enforcement function was intended to it to work together with local authorities to determine solutions when there were people complaining about pollution of the rivers.

Mr Makhubele asked if the Committee was assured that preparations for CITES were proceeding well for a successful COP17. He asked that the Committee be given a final update in August as to what was happening.

The Minister said that the Department would accept the proposal to come back and talk again on the proposals, as it was important that Members understood the depth of the issues that were going to be negotiated. There was not enough time at this meeting to look at some of the controversial issues that were arising. There had not been enough engagement at the CITES level, but at the climate change level there were solid entities at the Parliamentary level that were co-ordinating. There was also the Africa Pavilion which would host other countries that might be coming. The outstanding information will be sent by the Department.  

The Chairperson thanked everyone for the information that had been shared. In addition, he wished to re-emphasise the point that the Committee was happy with the 81% achievement of the targets and also the 16% which had been partially achieved. This showed a good performance, but there was also room for improvement.

With regard to concurrent functions in the role of provinces and municipalities, he had been looking at Part A of Schedule 4 of the Constitution which identified the environment as one of the concurrent functions which were performed at both the national and provincial government levels; and also Part B of Schedule 5 of the Constitution, where the local government role was identified. The national government had to ensure compliance. With regard to CITES, there had to be concentrated awareness around the upcoming activity. There also had to be awareness raised at the conference around rhino poaching. There should be more interaction around waste plans. An opportunity should be created about this when everyone came back in August. More meetings like this should be hosted.

The minutes of 17 May 2016 were adopted.

The meeting was adjourned.

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