The meeting discussed the donation of high value species to private individuals by the North West Provincial Department of Rural, Environmental and Agricultural Development, Committee members. In the meeting, the Chairperson restated the recommendations of the Committee. At the crux of what the Committee is recommending to be adopted by the House is, firstly, that the whole transaction has to be reversed because the donation was not done in line with the requirements of the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA), and, therefore, the Committee wants Parliament to direct the department and the relevant authorities there to reverse this donation with immediate effect. Secondly, since there is prima facie evidence of the anomalies which took place and the possible violations of the PFMA, the Auditor-General of South Africa (AGSA) and the National Treasury (NT) have been requested to investigate this donation for possible financial irregularities. Thirdly, the DEA has also been requested to finalise the Game Donation. Fourthly, since there is evidence that the Committee was misled regarding the donation, especially in relation to the existence of the Game Donation Policy, the legal services must also give the Committee an opinion on the steps that must be taken against these individuals in terms of referring the matter to the relevant law enforcement authorities.
Based on the discussion, the members of the Committee of Environmental Affairs, with the consent of the Select Committee on Land and Mineral Resources in absentia, came to the agreement to include in the report the recommendation that the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) play a role is as far as the monitoring of the implementation of the resolution is concerned. The Committee also agreed that there must be some in loco oversight to satisfy the Committee that reversal of the donation takes place.
Opening Remarks by Chairperson
The Chairperson welcomed everyone to the meeting.
He noted that apologies have been received from Ms Edna Molewa, the Minister, who is sick. Ms Barbara Thomason, the Deputy-Minister, DEA, will attend the meeting later if she finds time. Ms J Steenkamp (DA) is feeling sick and will also not make it today. Mr T Hadebe (ANC) will join the meeting a bit later.
The Chairperson welcomed Ms H Kekana (ANC) back to Parliament.
There are two issues, the Chairperson continued, that the Committee will consider today. Firstly, the Committee will consider the report of the Portfolio Committee on the donation of high value species to certain individuals in the North-West Province. This report was finalised last year. The report was submitted to the House and it was ATC’d (parliamentary publication called: Announcements, Tablings and Committee Reports). The report lapsed last year. This year it was revived. In the process of being revived it was returned back to the Committee. It will be explained why it was returned back to the Committee.
Secondly, the Chairperson commented, the NEMLA bill which the Committee is supposed to be processing will be dealt with. The Committee has confirmation that there are three stakeholders which will be making inputs on the bill today. There are more stakeholders who have confirmed and who will be making inputs the following day. The Committee will decide how it will treat those who have made written submissions but are not able to come to the public hearings. The Committee has not received as many inputs as it has anticipated. Nevertheless, the Committee will have to process those that have been received so that Parliament can finalise the Bill as soon as possible. Today and tomorrow public hearings will be held.
North West donation of high value species to private individuals
The Chairperson proceeded to address the issue of the donation of high value species by the North West Provincial Department of Rural, Environmental and Agricultural Development and the report that has been ATC’d, approved by the Committee and distributed to members.
The Chairperson explained that after the Committee adopted the report, commenced, it was sent for approval to the House, since some of the recommendations that were made require approval by the House. However; the report lapsed and it was revived this year. In the process of revision, the Committee got advice from the leadership of Parliament that it would be more appropriate if the Committee included the involvement of the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) in the implementation of the recommendations, particularly those recommendations that require that the Committee must follow-up and monitor their implementation as Parliament. Since the NCOP deals directly with the Provinces, the advice was that the Committee needed to include a recommendation in the report that makes sure that it includes the NCOP in the process of monitoring the implementation of the resolution.
Furthermore, the Chairperson highlighted that he spoke to both he Chairperson of the NCOP, Ms T Modise (ANC) and the Select Committee on Land and Mineral Resources, Mr O Sefako (ANC), and it was agreed that a joint sitting would take place between the Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs and the Select Committee on Land and Mineral Resources. The joint sitting was meant to take place today. This morning, however, the Committee received feedback that it could go ahead, finalise the and include the Select Committee’s recommendation in the report. The Select Committee has no objections to it. Later, the Committee can communicate to the Chairperson of the NCOP what the Select Committee’s recommendations are and what would be the involvement of the NCOP. Therefore, the main content and body of the report remains intact. What needed to be done was to ensure NCOP involvement. There has been some reporting on the radio that generally confuses the report with the current developments around some donation that was made that was reported over the weekend.
The report that is before the Committee today, the Chairperson stressed, is based on a process which the Committee started in October 2016, when the Committee picked up that there was a donation of high value species (e.g. buffalos, nyalas etc.) by the North West Provincial Department of Rural, Environmental and Agricultural Development to some private individuals. The Committee then initiated the process of trying to find out exactly what the issue was. The Committee had two sessions with the MEC. Initially, there was some reluctance, but ultimately she came. A presentation was made and all the issues were worked through. Subsequent to that a discussion was had with scientists, who gave a presentation. The Committee interacted with it and invited the presenters to make a written submission, confirming in writing what they had told the Committee, after which, the Committee dealt with its report. Due to the nature of the report, it took time to finalise. The Committee finalised this process and has its observations.
At the crux of what the Committee is recommending to be adopted by the House is, firstly, that the whole transaction has to be reversed because the donation was not done in line with the requirements of the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA), and, therefore, the Committee wants Parliament to direct the department and the relevant authorities there to reverse this donation with immediate effect. Secondly, since there is prima facie evidence of the anomalies which took place and the possible violations of the PFMA, the Auditor-General of South Africa (AGSA) and the National Treasury (NT) have been requested to investigate this donation for possible financial irregularities. The investigation may result in the finding that the cost of the reversal must be recovered from the persons involved, namely, the MEC or the accounting officer, or both, and the relevant entity that might have been involved. The AGSA and NT have also been requested to report back to the Committee within the next three months. Thirdly, the DEA has also been requested to finalise the Game Donation Policy that the Committee was briefed on by Mr Shonisani Munzhedzi, Deputy Director-General: Biodiversity and Conservation (DEA). The policy must be finalised in the next three months. Fourthly, since there is evidence that the Committee was misled regarding the donation, especially in relation to the existence of the Game Donation Policy, the legal services must also give the Committee an opinion on the steps that must be taken against these individuals in terms of referring the matter to the relevant law enforcement authorities. The Committee was told that the donation was done in relation to a valid Game Donation Policy. It later transpired that there was no such policy.
The Chairperson emphasised that these are the recommendations of the Committee and what is sought today from this Committee is to include the possible involvement of the NCOP as one of the Houses of Parliament that is also tasked with dealing with the issues that relate to the Provinces.
Mr R Purdon (DA), emphasizing that this matter has dragged on a while and that finality to this matter is needed, asked for clarity concerning the role that the NCOP will play in this process and the timing of this role?
The Chairperson stated that the present discussion concerns the inclusion of the NCOP in the monitoring of the implementation of the resolution set out in the report. This involves the Committee as well as the NCOP following up on the extent to which it is being implemented. The Committee will still be involved because, as per some of the recommendations, the AG and National Treasury will be reporting back to the Committee after 30 days. In as far as the actual reversal of the transaction is concerned, the NCOP will have to be involved in ensuring that there are follow-ups and monitoring the relevant authorities that implement the resolution. It is a measure to ensure that nothing is left to chance. The NCOP would not have changed the report or recommendations because it did not process the issue. The matter was processed by the Committee and it belongs to the Committee.
Dr Z Luyenge (ANC) argued that there has been a ‘dilly-dallying’ approach to implementing the resolution by the department. By the look of things, it is not that they are in the dark that someone did actually go wayward in terms of the policy. Based on the justifications presented by the department, it is clear that something went wrong. Over and above the involvement of the NCOP, the Portfolio Committee should go out of its way and make in loco inspection. The Committee must see for itself where the animals are and the condition that they are in, considering the fact that it has long been agreed by the Committee that certain actions must be undertaken by the department for the reversal. Seemingly, there is no over-reaching around this matter. Moreover, it is important to look at other options with the authorities governing the management of animals in that area. There might be criminal elements involved in this whole matter.
Mr Z Makhubele (ANC), agreeing with Dr Luyenge’s proposal and raised the possibility that the Committee may be addressing something that is not there. The Committee needs to know that what it intends to address does exist. Furthermore, the advice to include the involvement of the NCOP in the implementation of the recommendations is in order. All that is required is for the resolution to be passed and to cause that the NCOP play its role in the implementation of the Committee’s recommendations.
The Chairperson confirmed that there is seemingly agreement among the Committee members to include in the report the recommendation that the NCOP play a role is as far as the monitoring of the implementation of the resolution and also to include Dr Luyenge’s proposal, namely, that there must be some in loco oversight to satisfy the Committee that reversal takes place. The intention is to debate the report this week or, latest, next week. However, due to the programme this week, the report might have to be debated next week in the House. Agreeing with Mr Purdon, the approval of the report is long overdue. Once it is approved, follow-ups need to be made. The donation entailed a range of species of animals’ worth over R100m. The Committee will target next week Tuesday. As the report has been approved, the Committee must ATC it and it must be referred to the House.
Mr Makhubele reminded the Chairperson that next week Tuesday is a holiday.
The Chairperson said that the report must nevertheless be finalised next week. The Committee members are ready to discuss it even if the Chairperson is absent. The report is very urgent as a lot of irregularities have happened and there has been a serious flouting of the law and legislation, as if someone was running their own personal fiefdom with the resources of the people of South Africa. The Committee is not going to allow it.
Following this discussion, the Committee moved on to the second item on the agenda.
This section of the meeting was concluded.