Marion Island mice eradication; Environmental Programme implementing agencies status, with Deputy Minister

Environment, Forestry and Fisheries

28 August 2018
Chairperson: Mr P Mapulane (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee received a briefing from the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) on the plan to eradicate mice on the Marion Island as well as the financial and legal models and arrangements between the implementing agencies and the Department’s Environmental Programmes. The presentation on the plan to eradicate mice on Marion Island covered the Department’s work on the Island, the introduction of mice and cats to the Island, interventions and the potential impact of mice on 27 species of birds on Marion Island

Members asked about funding allocated to the programme, whether the presentation to the Committee was premature and liaison between SA and the British on the programme given that South Africa only has a weather station on the island, which was British territory.

The Department then briefed the Committee on the financial and legal models and arrangements between implementing entities and the environmental programmes of DEA. The presentation addressed environmental programmes branch of the Department, the Natural Resource Management programme, appointment of private and public entities and arrangements between DEA and the implementing agencies. The presentation also covered requirements for payment, reporting and timeframes, appointment of an independent auditor, the current process and treatment of interest and challenges experienced. The Committee then heard about standard requirements applicable to all focus areas, criteria for disqualification of a project, financial performance, challenges, solutions and opportunities.

Members questioned the ownership of assets, the need for the Committee to further relook at Memoranda of Understanding with entities, DEA funding of programmes residing in other departments and matters raised by the Auditor-General of SA (AGSA). The Department was complimented for doing a good job in most projects which alleviate poverty and create jobs. The Department was urged to look deeper into implementation models for the projects to prevent queries being raised by the AGSA.

The Chairperson of the Committee was not pleased with the attendance of Members – he would raise the matter with the Chief Whip.

Meeting report

Opening remarks by the Chairperson

The Chairperson welcomed the Deputy Minister of Environmental Affairs, Ms Barbra Thomson. He informed Members that on the previous Saturday, some of the Committee Members attended the Biodiversity conference, in the Venda region, that was also attended by the President and Ministers of Tourism, Small Business Development, Environmental Affairs and Rural Development and Land Reform.

Ms Thomson apologised for being absent at that occasion as she had been stuck in Mpumalanga.

The Chairperson conveyed the apologies of the Minister of Finance, Mr Nhanhla Nene, the Minister of Environmental Affairs, Ms Edna Molewa, who would be travelling to Nairobi, Kenya, the following day to attend a conference on the Indian Ocean Marine Environment, and the Auditor-General of SA, Mr Thembekile Makwetu. The three also requested postponement and rescheduling of the second item on the agenda, which the Chairperson found to be a reasonable request.

Briefing by the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA): A Plan to Eradicate Mice on Marion Island

Mr Guy Preston, DEA DDG: Environmental Programmes, briefed Members on the programme noting that the Working for Water (WFW) Programme has been controlling nine invasive species on Marion Island since 2012, with some level of success. There are however eight other species that have not yet been controlled.

The Marion and Prince Edward islands were annexed by the British in 1948. South Africa’s Prince Edward Islands are home to 28 species of seabirds, including;

  • 44% of all Wandering Albatrosses
  • 25% of Sooty Albatrosses
  • 10% of Grey-headed Albatrosses

Mice were accidentally introduced in Marion Island by sealers in the early 1800s. Cats were introduced to the base in 1948 and by the 1970s, the approximately 2 000 cats killed 450 000 petrels each year. The cats were eradicated in 1991 by soldiers and hunters.

After 40 years of cat predation, burrowing petrel numbers were 20 times lower on Marion Island than on Prince Edward Island. The petrel populations have not recovered since cats were eradicated in 1991 and the mice densities have increased by 145% since the early 1990s.

There is now evidence of infrequent but increasing attacks on albatross chicks on sub-Antarctic Marion Island since 2003 and in 2009, there was the first ‘scalping’ attack on Sooty Albatross chicks recorded. Mice killed about 5% of Sooty Grey-headed and Light-mantled Albatross chicks in 2015. Left alone, the mice will almost certainly extirpate petrel populations over time on Marion Island.

Three helicopters were donated by the Momont Foundation for use in the eradication of mice on Gough Island in 2019. South Africa will seek to partner with the United Kingdom (UK), the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and their partners in the initiative. In the meantime, the helicopters will be used for the following conservation work:

  • Rhino conservation
  • Monitoring work
  • Fire-fighting support
  • Movement of workforce
  • Anti-poaching work
  • Educating Principals

Should South Africa and the United Kingdom agree to rebuild South Africa’s weather station on Gough Island, this could enhance the partnership with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in the eradication of mice on the island.

The country hopes to build on the experience and expertise of similar exercises off New Zealand and Australia and recent successes on Macquarie Island (2012), South Georgia (2011-15) and the Antipodes (2016) as well as learning from Gough Island in 2019. The country’s major eradication success has been cats on Marion Island.

The implication is that the mice can, and almost certainly will, cause the extirpation of two-thirds of bird species on Marion Island.

Discussion

Mr S Makhubele (ANC) asked whether there was already funding available or allocated to the programme.

The Chairperson suggested the briefing seemed premature since it was still at the planning stages.

Ms Thomson replied that there was a need for the briefing although the programme was only in the planning stages. She also asked Mr Preston whether the men shown in an image in the presentation were armed with the rifles just to kill mice.

Mr Preston answered that they were armed to kill the cats.

Mr R Purdon (DA) asked for clarity on liaison between the British on the programme given that South Africa only has a weather station on the island, which was British territory.    

Ms Thomson enquired why local pest control firms could not be contracted to do the task instead of the army.

Mr Preston responded that there was a budget plan available until 2021. The funding provision was in partnership with a number of foundations on the British side and the South African government. The kind of pest control experience currently available in the country was insufficient for such a massive project that required not even one mouse to survive otherwise they would reproduce and it was back to square one. He however conceded that a much-detailed plan was necessary and that the purpose of coming to the Committee was to seek support for that much-detailed plan.

Briefing by DEA: Financial and Legal Models and Arrangements between implementing entities and Environmental Programmes of DEAd

Dr Preston outlined the Environmental Programmes (EP) Branch comprises of a variety of programmes through which the Department contributes to government's Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP). The Branch consists of three Chief Directorates of which the Natural Resource Management (NRM) programme is one. The focus of EPWP is to provide temporary employment and transfer of skills in implementation of these projects. The projects' implemented focus is on improving the environment whilst adhering to the goals and objectives of the EPWP. In order to achieve these goals, the selected projects focus on implementation projects as well as operational support, planning, capacity building and training projects.

The NRM programmes receive an allocation classified under EPWP from National Treasury for the funding of planning and implementation of environment-related projects identified through a rigorous prioritisation process in line with its mandate. NRM uses norms and standards to determine the reasonableness of the costs proposed on the project concepts upon receipt of applications for funding.

The Department appoints private and public entities to do detailed planning and implementation of projects within the approved funding cycle. The implementing entities are appointed in line with identified natural resource management and poverty priorities to implement related projects within the programme for:

  • Implementation of operational restoration and maintenance programmes
  • Enhancing the impact of operational programmes through value-added industries
  • Development of ecological infrastructure and ecosystem services sector through capacity building at all levels, including research, monitoring and planning

Arrangements between DEA and implementing entities involved:

  • Memoranda of Agreement (MOA) - this covers governance of arrangements with implementing entities
  • Project Framework- this is a brief summary of budget and employment targets
  • Project Scope- this is the geographical and functional scope of the work to be done by the implementing entity over the full duration of the contract
  • Annual Plan of Operations - this is the quantification of targets and approved budget for proposed work in line with project scope
  • The conditions set out by the Department in terms of the Public Finance Management Act, 1999 (Act 1 of 1999) (PFMA) provide written assurance that effective, efficient and transparent financial management and internal control systems are implemented before any payments are made

Requirements for payments included:

  • Open dedicated bank account for the project
  • Valid Tax Clearance Certificate indicating the legal name of the IE imprinted onto it
  • PFMA Compliant Certificate
  • Completed Departmental Entity Maintenance Form provided with the Agreement - accompanied by an original bank statement of the indicated project account name or letter from the bank confirming opening of the bank account to the Department where appropriate
  • A written request for initial payment, which shall indicate a detailed breakdown of planned expenditure in relation to this initial payment. Second request and onwards - bank statement must be attached
  • Certified copy of the IE's entity resolution or letter in respect of the person authorised as a signatory on behalf of the IE
  • Letter of declaration that no official or employee of DEA has a financial interest or is being employed on a full or part-time basis by the IE

Reporting and Timeframes:

  • The IE shall keep accurate and proper financial records of the project
  • Interim financial statement must be submitted quarterly (within 14 days of the end of each quarter)
  • Copies of the Project Bank Statement I Project Vote
  • Bank statements - per quarter
  • Submit ALL above records within 15 days after the last working day of March
  • Non-compliance could result in legal action

The Department will appoint an independent auditor to execute the audit on expenditure of the project. The audit report shall comprise of both regularity and performance audit and shall be submitted, within two months, of the end of the financial year.

The current process and treatment of interest is in line with legislation, and the Memorandum of Agreement, specifies the way in which this should be dealt with: interest earned by the implementing entity on funds transferred to it must be credited to the project and shall be regarded as part of the funds provided for the project by the Department.

The Department shall reduce the amount transferred to the project by an amount equal to the interest earned. The Department may furthermore, on application by the implementing entity in writing, in its sole discretion, approve in writing, that funds accrued due to interest received, be utilised for an extension to the deliverables of the project. Such accrued interest must be paid back to the Department on completion of the project if permission was not granted to utilise such funds for the project.

Challenges included:

  • Unlocking of third-party resources by implementing entities (private and other partners) and integrating the needs of third-party investors with that of the Department poses a challenge when working with standard supply change management processes (it has the potential to unlock significant resources)
  • Capacity to enforce environmental legislation (e.g. invasive species regulations, wetlands, fire, soil erosion, bush encroachment, etc.)
  • Capacity to mentor new entrants to the sector - there is a need to grow the capacity of clearing contractors and community-based NGOs to become implementing entities
  • Challenges experienced with new audit requirements after the introduction of Modified Cash Standards
  • Length of the supply chain process is challenging and can lead to a late start with approval and vetting of contracts
  • Large numbers of legal agreements placing stain on legal capacity, which causes slow vetting processes
  • Manual capturing of data for reporting is causing duplication of data capturing efforts. Duplication of capturing of data also increases the probability of human error. This can be significantly improved should communication technology be utilised more effectively, allowing for real-time capturing.

Standard requirements applicable to all focus areas included:

  • Projects must originate from public bodies, including DEA branches, municipalities, public entities, NGOs, Community-Based Organisations (CBOs), co-operatives, other government departments, traditional authorities and Communal Property Associations (CPAs)
  • Projects must be supported, endorsed and be part of municipal Integrated Development Plans (IDPs)
  • Projects must be aligned to objectives of the Provincial Growth and Development Strategy (PGDS) and/or the provincial plan. A letter of support should be obtained from the provincial department signed by the delegated authority
  • Confirmation of land ownership in a form of a title deed and /or endorsement from the landowner(s) should be obtained
  • Project concept must advance the mandate of DEA and contribute to the development plan of the county
  • A project will be disqualified at the level of pre-screening if it does not meet one or more of the criteria stipulated below:
  • An application which does not meet the Department's priorities
  • A project that has not been endorsed by the owning entity (letter of support)
  • An application for a project that falls outside the mandate of the Department
  • An application submitted by an individual for his/her sole benefit with no community empowerment
  • An application whose main objective is to purchase land
  • Unavailability of land dedicated for project implementation-A project for which no online application has been submitted

On the financial performance, the reasons for the 6% under-expenditure include delays in commencement of projects in the NRM and EP Chief Directorates, owing to uncertainty from the Auditor-General's interpretation of the application of Modified Cash Standards, and the awaiting of clarity from the Office of the Accountant General in National Treasury.

In the case of NRM, the move to the use of Land-User Incentives came with a considerable workload which further delayed implementation of projects as the necessary authorisations were secured (and compliance with MCS was ascertained). There were delays in appointing the service provider for the Environmental Programme Management System (EPMS), which was only finalised early, and the payment of SITA services, which could only be done this financial year. The amounts were estimated to R7 million.

Looking at challenges, solutions and opportunities, the Working on Fire programme presents a particular challenge to DEA when it was handed back to the Department in 2021. It is almost inconceivable that such a function can be handled within a national department and an entity to house the programme appears to be essential. Working on Fire has a staff of about 360 people. This is part of what is being looked into by the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS).

Biosecurity is intrinsically linked to Working for Water and Value-Added Industries. It is already proposed the compliance function (competent authority) be transferred to Legal, Authorisations, Compliance and Enforcement. It does not necessarily cover advocacy, research (South African National Biodiversity Institute) and policy. Even with concentrated co-ordination, there have been challenges in aligning Biosecurity, Working for Water and SANBI.

The inability to fill all identified posts might pose QHS and project management risks to the branch and Department.

Discussion

Mr Makhubele asked in whose name the assets were under and whether the Department was able to track ownership of assets.

Dr Preston replied that the Department was unable to secure enough vehicles and thereby had to tender services out. This tendering was not a public private partnership because that would have been an expensive route to take. Use was made of a standard operating entity’s MOA.

The Chairperson did not believe the MOA was the same as of other entities and that another day would have to be set out to investigate the MOAs. The AGSA would also have to get involved.

He asked why DEA was funding the programme yet the functions were under a different department, namely the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF). The Chairperson had raised the matter with the Director-General but the response received was unsatisfactory.

Ms Thomson said DEA differed with the AGSA on the matter of the assets being owned by either DEA or the relevant beneficiaries. Dr Preston should inform Members on where and how far the EPWP and MRN processes were.

Mr Makhubele asked whether the assets changed registrations when they are handed over to the beneficiaries or DEA.

Mr Preston emphasised that DEA did not actually own the assets but rather enter into an MOA with the owners and issue certificates - therefore the administrative parts are done.  The Department tried to get all beneficiaries into three-year contracts and agreements who are paid every quarter, based on their performance.

Additionally, DEA took charge of the programme, instead of other departments, to prevent duplication of duties and responsibilities.  

The Chairperson emphasised the project was allocated 63% of the Department’s budget, which necessitated further scrutiny. Additionally, in the course of auditing the Department, the AGSA disqualified the Department because of the accounting system used. The AGSA said there was no assurance the money appropriated by Parliament was only used for the purposes intended.

The Chairperson complimented the Department for doing a good job in most projects which alleviate poverty and create jobs. He urged the Department to look deeper into implementation models for the projects to prevent queries being raised by the AGSA.

Ms Thomson added that the Department understood the AGSA’s point of view and assured the Members that the Department would sit and implement recommendations proposed by the AGSA.

Closing remarks

The Chairperson complained that the Committee had become the least attended by Members because, by the close of this meeting, only three of the Members were still present. The Chairperson would speak with the Chief Whip to try to get more Members to attend the meetings. 

The meeting was adjourned.  

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