National Forests Amendment Bill: deliberations; DAFF response to BRRR recommendations; with Minister

Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

22 May 2018
Chairperson: Ms M Semenya (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) and the Portfolio Committee discussed the National Forest Amendment Bill [B11-2016]. The Committee agreed to all clauses that were presented. However, it frowned at the failure of the Department to present an appropriate Budgetary Review and Recommendations Report (BRRR) in response to the recommendations of the Committee.

Members said that in recent years, the Department had failed to respond to the recommendations of the Committee, as well as to the letter written to the Minister by the Speaker. According to standard practice, the Speaker writes officially to the Minister, who was expected to respond in writing to the Speaker. The Speaker, in turn, would refer the report to the Portfolio Committee. The DAFF Director-General (DG) apologised for the gross insufficiency of the report, and this was echoed by the Minister, who had read the report only on his way to the meeting.

This was very worrisome for the Members, who accused the Department of poor coordination and management, and of frustrating Parliamentary processes. They asserted that the Department did not take the Committee seriously. The DG and the Minister assured the Committee that the DAFF would respond appropriately to the recommendations and matters raised. It promised to present an adequate report next Tuesday.

The Committee urged the DG and the  Minister to provide leadership within the Department in order to avoid a recurrence of this problem.

Meeting report

National Forests Amendment Bill: DAFF presentation

Ms Phumelele Ngema, Legal Advisor: Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF), said the Department had made the necessary amendments to the proposed bill, based on the prior instructions of the Committee.. She presented the report with specific focus on each clause -- those that had been amended and those that needed amendments before they could be adopted.

No changes were made to the long title.

For the purpose of Clause 1, the only amendment made was the replacement of ‘Board’ with an ‘Appeal Committee,’ based on the instructions and discussion with the Portfolio Committee (PC). The Committee had suggested that it would be easier for the Department to engage with an Appeal Committee instead of a Board. The Committee would be constituted based on Section 57A, subsection 3.

In Clause 3, Section 7 of the Principal Act was addressed. This dealt with the protection of vegetation growing in the natural forest. The changes in Sections 1 to 3 of Clause 3 addressed the title, the prohibition against the destruction of the natural forest. It protected vegetation and forest products.

Consequential corrections were made to Clause 6. Paragraph D under Clause 6, seemed redundant. It, therefore, needed amendment.

There were serious discussions on Clause 15. The Department required instructions from the PC regarding the preferred method. The DAFF had amended the clause in line with the direction of the PC, and had designed an appeal structure so that anyone who was aggrieved with the actions or decisions of the Department could make the necessary appeal. Section 57 A1 made provision for appeals. A committee constituted by the Minister would conduct investigations and consider the appeals. An appeal was referred to the appeal committee by the Minister. Section 57B addressed the constitution of the appeal committee. The committee would comprise at least three members. One person with the knowledge of law (the Chairperson) and two other Members would be appointed, based on their knowledge of the appeal subject. The Minister determined those on the appeal committee and the timeframe of the investigation and implementation of the task. The appeal would be an open and transparent process.

Section 57B also addressed remuneration in terms of the number of hours worked, in line with the daily rate determined by the Ministers of Finance and the DAFF. Sub-section 5 sets out the eligibility of the committee members. Sub-section 6 further addressed the eligibility of those on the appeal committee. Sub-section 7 sets out the prohibitions for those on the committee in order to maintain and protect the integrity of the appeal committee. Sub-section 8 allows any member with interest to disclose such interest. Such member could either be disqualified or allowed to serve on the committee. Sub-section 9 stated that personal interest must be resolved and dealt with appropriately.

Section 57 C deals with vacancies on the committee. It enables the Minister to handle the situation in certain circumstances, especially the demise or resignation of a member while an appeal was still under way.

In Section 57D, the Department came up with a two-pronged solution based on the recommendation of the PC. The Minister could either refer the appeal to the appeal committee or seek alternative means to handle the appeal. This helped to deal with potential loopholes. It was like a term of reference that helps guide the conduct of the appeal process. Sub-section 5 was left opened, based on the recommendation of the PC that there were no restrictions to the section. According to Sub-section 9, the Appeal Committee must make recommendations that must be approved by the Minister.

Section 57E speaks to how the Minister brings finality to the whole process. The Minister could make a decision based on the recommendation of the appeal committee. The Minister could give a substantial confirmation or reject the recommendation. In case of rejection, the Minister must provide justification. The conduct of the appeal process was guided by the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act (PAJA). According to Sub-section 2, the Minister could handle the appeal himself without referral to the appeal committee. The decision must be put in writing and made available to everyone involved in the appeal process. Sub-section 5 addressed the financial implications in case the Minister sets aside the decisions or actions of delegated officials.

Clause 18 was in alignment with what was done in Section 7, and if there were offences that arose or were committed out of the prohibitions that were set out in Section 7.

Clause by clause deliberation

At this juncture, the Department presented the Bill clause by clause.

Clause 1 of the bill was presented for adoption. The Members indicated agreement.

Clause 2 of the Bill was presented for adoption. It had been deliberated and accepted. There were no consequential changes. The Members indicated agreement.

Clause 3 of the Bill had substantial changes, which had been deliberated and effected. Clause 3 was presented, with changes, for adoption. The Members indicated agreement.

Clause 4 of the Bill was presented as is. There were no changes, even after deliberations. The Members indicated agreement.

Clause 5 of the Bill was deliberated, with no changes proposed. It was presented as is. The Members indicated agreement.

Clause 6 of the Bill had consequential changes for correction purposes only. Clause 6 was presented with the consequential changes, and was deliberated by the Committee. It was presented, with the changes, for adoption. The Members indicated agreement.

The proposed changes, in terms of Clause 7, were effected. It was presented as if there were no proposal to change it.

Clause 9 of the Bill was deliberated and explained before the Committee, with all the concerns addressed. There were no consequential changes. The Clause was presented as is. The Members indicated agreement.

A similar process to Clause 9 was adopted with Clause 10. The Clause was presented as is. The Members indicated agreement.

Clause 11 of the Bill was deliberated and discussed by the Committee. It was, however, presented as if there were no consequential changes. The Members indicated agreement.

Clause 12 of the Bill had no consequential changes. It was presented as is. The Members indicated agreement.

Clause 13 of the Bill had no consequential changes, other than those introduced by the Department. It was presented for adoption as is. The Members indicated agreement.

Clause 14 remained as it was introduced. The Committee was satisfied with the deliberations. It was presented as is, for adoption. The Members indicated agreement.

Clause 15 was discussed. The Department had been following the instructions of the Committee. From the initial presentation, the Clause appeared to have been rejected, with the proposal in the amendment as directed by the Portfolio Committee. This had led the DAFF to come up with an appeal structure. The whole appeal process had been deliberated and explained to the Committee. It was presented as an amendment before the Committee for adoption. The Members indicated agreement.

Regarding Clause 16, there were no proposals to effect changes from what was initially introduced. It was presented for adoption as is. The Members indicated agreement.

Clause 17 was deliberated and had no consequential changes. It was presented as is. The Members indicated agreement.

Clause 18 had consequential amendments in terms of offences that may arise out of the prohibition. This would be consistent and in alignment with what was done under Clause 7. Clause 18 would have amendments which the legal advisor promised to present to the PC after the deliberations.

Clause 19 remained as is, even after the deliberations and direction of the Portfolio Committee were taken into account. It was presented for adoption as it was from the introduction of the Bill. It was presented to the Committee for adoption. The Members indicated agreement.

Clause 20 was presented as it was from the introduction of the Bill. It was presented to the Committee for adoption. The Members indicated agreement.

Enactment law, which appeared on the proposed list, had been explained previously. It was presented to the Committee for adoption. The Members indicated agreement.

Clause 21 dealt with short the title and commencement. The consequential changes of 2015 would be effected automatically and presented to the Committee for adoption. When approved, the Act would take into account the number of years it had been approved, which should be since 2015. The Bill had first been introduced to Parliament in 2015. The proposal and amendment were presented before the Committee for adoption. The Members indicated agreement.

From the current deliberations, the Department assumed the Bill had been adopted.

A Member moved the adoption of the Bill. The move was seconded by Mr A Madella (ANC).

The Chairperson said the Bill would be treated further. It should be formally adopted at the next meeting.

 

Budgetary Review and Recommendations Report (BRRR): DAFF response

The Chairperson moved to the second agenda of the meeting, which addressed the response of DAFF to BRRR recommendations.

Mr Mike Mlengana, Director-General (DG): DAFF, admitted that the BRRR did not sufficiently address the questions and recommendations of the Committee. He asked the Committee to give him additional time in order to get the details of the report. He expressed his dissatisfaction that the report had not met the deadline. Nevertheless, he offered to continue with the discussion.

 

Discussion

Mr P Maloyi (ANC) interrupted the presentation and expressed concerns about the conduct of the DG respect of officials who were absent, as well as the inadequacy of the report. Being a committee of the Parliament, the PC was meant to receive a report from the executive. He suggested that the PC should consider the report at a later date.

Mr W Maphanga (ANC) agreed with Mr Maloyi, saying it was apparent that there was no co-operation and co-ordination between the DG and his team, especially those who had drafted the report. He advised the DG to provide leadership within the Department, and to work on the document before attending the next meeting.

Ms A Steyn (DA) requested the timeframe to make corrections and a presentation to the PC. She suggested that the Committee should try to reduce the current inadequacies so as to provide the future Committee with viable solutions. A lot of money went to the provinces and the PC had no oversight of the funds. This had to change. The DAFF must inform the Committee about its report timeously.

Mr N Capa (ANC) said that while there may not be enough time to understand the cause of the current situation, the DG must work hard to fix the issues that had led to gross inefficiency.

The Chairperson expressed concern about the inability of the Department to respond to the letter from the Speaker. She said the DAFF had not responded to the Speaker in the past five years.

Mr Maloyi insisted that the Minister should be present at the meeting.

The Committee then instructed Mr Maloyi to get the Minister to the meeting.

The DG suggested that the Minister might consider the report sufficient.

He expressed concern at the current status of North-West’s “AgriDelight” initiative. He also said that the efficiency of grant management in the provinces was not yet finalised.

The Chairperson told the DG that the report should have been available long before the Committee meeting. She maintained that the Minister had to be present before the meeting could continue.

She again complained about the failure of the DAFF to respond to the Speaker’s letter addressing the Committee’s recommendations. She said the Department continued to undermine the Committee.

Ms Steyn made reference to the challenge the PC had with the Agricultural Research Council (ARC). The concern the Committee had with DAFF was similar to that of the ARC, and such an outcome must be prevented. The Committee should dig deep into details to ensure that the report presented by the Department was accurate.

The Chairperson said the Committee had directed ARC to report to the Committee on a quarterly basis.

Mr Maloyi maintained that the DAFF should present at a later date, since the DG admitted that the report was inadequate and insufficient. The office of the Minister must respond in writing to the Office of the Speaker, who would then refer the report to the PC. This had not been happening for many years. Why were there problems in the process? He expressed frustration at the conduct of the executive. He advised the Minister to report on the issues to the Committee.

Mr Senzeni Zokwana, Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, admitted to the gross insufficiency of the report, and promised to make the report more accurate. He also promised to respond to the letter of the Speaker.

Mr Maphanga asked the Minister to provide the due date of submission.

Ms Steyn was concerned about the management style of the Minister. The report should have been submitted to the Speaker, who would then forward it to the Portfolio Committee.

The DG accepted the blame for the inadequate report. He promised to work on the report over the weekend and then make the presentation to the Committee next Tuesday.

The Chairperson explained the importance of the letter written by the Speaker. The case may be referred to be President's office if the Department continued to fail to respond to the Speaker’s letter. The Minister had to ensure that there was a viable registry in the Department that handled incoming and outgoing letters, and also provided follow up on matters.

Mr Maloyi agreed with the Chairperson. He said the Department continued to frustrate Members. The Minister of Finance had written to the Speaker on March 8 2018 on some finance-related matters within the Department. The Minister, as the political head and the DG as the administrative head, must strive to protect the image of the DAFF. The Committee had to devise means to prevent a recurrence of the situation.

The meeting was adjourned.

 

 

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