The Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs received a briefing from the Department of Environmental Affairs, on the final version of the proposed amendments to the NEMLA (National Environmental Management Laws Amendment) Bill. The purpose of the briefing was to ensure all the amendments had been captured accurately and to have the Committee formally adopt the document before it is forwarded to the full House. The Committee adopted the bill as well as the report on the bill.
The Committee briefly discussed the situation concerning the non-appearance South African Weather Service (SAWS) Board. The Committee’s first encounter with the Board was when it unprocedurally terminated the services of the CEO and ended up having to pay her up to R 2 million in settlements. The Committee had therefore called the Board to explain its reasons for terminating the CEO without even having presented a report to justify the termination. The Committee wanted the Board to give reasons why it should not be held personally and individually liable to pay the R 2 million settlement. The Committee ended up resolving that it should be held personally liable for the settlement and the matter was now in front of the House. Thereafter, the Committee had received an anonymous tip-off about the Board and was, therefore, calling it to appear and answer to the various allegations. From the tip-off, the Committee discovered a myriad of problems at the Board. For six months, the Committee had tried getting the Board to appear before the Members, but they were unable to do so and at times cancelling at the last minute, despite having sufficient notice. The Committee was aware of an anonymous tip-off detailing recruitment, administrative, and governance issues at SAWS. In total, there were 13 allegations. The Minister had written a letter stating that the Committee had no right to summon the Board; rather it was the Minister who was accountable to the Members.
Members expressed concern about the continued absence of the South African Weather Service Board from the Committee as well as the Minister’s stance on the matter. The Committee asserted that it will use all the legal instruments at its disposal to get the Board to appear before it.
Opening remarks by the Chairperson
The Chairperson informed Members that it was their last sitting before going on recess and therefore, all matters would need to be finalised. He thanked the Members for making time to attend the session despite it being during the recess period.
The Chairperson complained of an instruction that all the Members of Parliament had to make use of low-cost airlines. He wondered whether the person who issued the directive did the same. He continued to apologise to the Members for the poor travel arrangements and said that he himself had declined the flight downgrades on all his scheduled travels and would instead travel on his own arrangements. He further voiced concern that the administration of Parliament had a problem because its job was to facilitate the work of the Members and of Parliament, but was instead frustrating their work.
The Chairperson noted the apologies of the Deputy Minister for Environmental Affairs, Ms Barbara Thomson, who was attending the Cabinet Committee on Social Protection, Community, and Human Development. He gave the apologies of Dr Z Luyenge (ANC) who had been affected by the “administrative incompetence” in Parliament. Dr Luyenge had to go back home from the airport because the administration had wrongly booked his flight. He also gave the apologies of Ms J Edwards (DA) who had undergone a medical operation and was recuperating at home as well as Ms H Kekana (ANC) who was unwell.
The Chairperson communicated that he had received a letter from the Minister for Environmental Affairs, Ms Edna Molewa that the South African Weather Service Board would not be appearing before the Committee as had been anticipated.
Briefing by Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) on the final version of the National Environmental Management Laws Amendment Bill (NEMLA)
Mr Mongameli Kweto, State Law Advisor, Office of the State Law Advisor: Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, presented to the Committee the final version of the NEMLA Bill, which incorporated all the amendments agreed upon. He confirmed the document B14-B was the final version of the Bill that the Committee would be endorsing. He further confirmed that all the proposed amendments from the previous A-list version of the Bill had been properly reflected in the B-version of the Bill [B14-B]. He, however, noted that some of the clause numbers would differ slightly from the previous versions of the Bill because some of the clauses had been omitted while others had been added.
Mr S Makhubele (ANC) moved that the Committee adopts the report.
Mr T Hadebe (DA) seconded the proposal.
There were no objections and therefore the Committee passed the bill and adopted the report.
Mr Makhubele asked for clarity on the next steps for the Bill.
The Chairperson clarified that the Bill would now be debated by the full House after the recess period, for possible adoption
South African Weather Service Matter
The Chairperson said the South African Weather Service (SAWS) Board had not shown up to the session despite being given sufficient notice, and a letter to that effect had been received by the him on Saturday morning. The Committee’s interaction with the Board has not been ideal. The Committee’s first encounter with the Board was when the Board unprocedurally terminated the services of the CEO and ended up having to pay her up to R 2 million in settlements. The Committee had therefore called the Board to explain their reasons for terminating the CEO without even having presented a report to justify the termination. The Committee wanted the Board to give reasons why it should not be held personally and individually liable to pay the R 2 million settlement. The Committee ended up resolving that they should be held personally liable for the settlement and the matter was now in front of the House.
The Chairperson said the Committee had received an anonymous tip-off about the Board detailing recruitment, administrative, and governance issues at SAWS. In total, there were 13 allegations.
The Committee wanted the Board to appear and answer to the various allegations. From the tip-off, the Committee discovered a myriad of problems at the Board. For six months, the Committee had tried getting the Board to appear, but it was unable to do so with the Board at times cancelling at the last minute.
The Chairperson said he had received the Minister’s letter on Saturday morning stating that the Committee had no right to summon the Board; and that it was the Minister who was accountable to the Members instead.
Mr Z Xalisa (EFF) said the Board was actually accountable to the Committee. He added that there should be an explanation for their continued absence. He commented that if the Committee could not ask the Board questions, then it follows that the Board should not even appear before the Committee to report on its progress, successes or its annual performance or claim budget allocations, and instead, have the Minister report on its behalf.
Mr R Purdon (DA) said he was disappointed and found it unacceptable what the Board was doing. He was not clear on the legalities in terms of the role of the Board, but believed that Parliament was the custodian of public funds. In his view, the Minister was out of line and her letter was a slap in the face of the Committee. The Committee must, therefore, pursue the matter to the full extent of their powers.
Mr Makhubele commented that the Minister’s letter showed they were not interpreting the law the same way.
The Chairperson said it was the role of Parliament to do oversight and therefore it could summon anybody especially those holding public positions. The institutions come before the Committee without the Minister and therefore the Members must reject the Minister’s letter with the contempt it deserves. Another date should be set in August and if the Minister wishes to be part of the Board’s delegation, she was welcome. If there were challenges in getting them to appear, the Committee would engage the Speaker of the National Assembly to intervene using the available legal instruments. He added that the Minister should be told not to be obstructive and that the Committee would use all the legal instruments at its disposal to get the Board to appear before it.
Mr Purdon proposed instead that the Chairperson should respond to the Minister’s letter saying that the Committee has reservations about the letter and if the Board still did not appear before the members, then further measures would be taken.
Announcements by the Chairperson
The Chairperson summarised the deliberations and announced that the next meeting would be after the parliamentary recess, in August. He proposed setting the meeting date for 16 August 2018 because the recess ended on 14 August 2018. He announced there would be a colloquium on 14-15 August 2018, the theme of which would be “Captive lion breeding for hunting in South Africa- Destroying or protecting the image of the country?”
The Chairperson informed Members that a handbook on COP 24 to be held in December in the Republic of Poland, would be handed out in preparation for the conference.
The meeting was adjourned.