SANBI Quarter 3 performance; KZN Municipality project; Adaptation & Green Fund

Environment, Forestry and Fisheries

13 March 2019
Chairperson: Mr M Mapulane (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The South African National Biodiversity Institute briefed the Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs on its Second and Third Quarterly Report and on the uMngeni Resilience Project and the Biodiversity Land Use project in the uMngeni District Municipality.

The National Biodiversity Institute reported an increase in the number of female staff appointed, including those appointed in top and senior management positions and had increased the number of black staff members. It also indicated an increase in revenue.

The entity admitted it was behind schedule on the number of research papers to be published. Publications planned for Quarter 1 were in review for longer than expected. The publications schedule was being reviewed to identify causes of the delay in publication and to improve processes under the control of the National Biodiversity Institute. Regional capacity had been increased through para-ecologists, tax on specific researchers, technicians and additional scientists.

It was also reported that only 27 284 visitors had visited the National Zoological Garden against a target of 432 000. The National Zoological Garden had had a good December season in comparison to 2017/18 but it had not achieved historical targets. The Zoological Garden would run several promotions in the last quarter in an attempt to reach the target.

15 indigenous plant species have been added to the collections. The entity was behind schedule on prioritised improvement and upgrading of existing buildings. The contractor had been approved in December 2018 and every effort would be made to complete the project by 31 March 2019.

The National Biodiversity Institute informed  the Committee it was providing direct funding support to the uMgungundlovu District Municipality in KwaZulu-Natal through two projects. The first one was the uMngeni Resilience Project which was aimed at reducing climate vulnerability and increasing resilience and the adaptive capacity of vulnerable communities and small-scale farmers in the uMgungundlovu District Municipality that were threatened by climate variability and change through an integrated adaptation approach. The second one was the Biodiversity Land Use Project which focused on minimising multiple threats to biodiversity by increasing the capabilities of authorities and land owners to regulate land use and manage biodiversity in threatened ecosystems on a municipal scale.

The Committee was also briefed on the the implementation of the Adaptation and Green Climate Fund. The Adaptation Fund had been established as a mechanism to finance concrete adaptation projects and programmes in developing countries. It had recently been recognised under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The Green Climate Fund had been mandated to promote low-emission and climate-resilient development in developing countries, and had a mechanism to accredit and work through nationally accredited entities.

Members wanted to know why the figures relating to the KwaZulu-Natal project were presented in dollars when the expenditure was in Rands. Members wanted to establish what steps the Institute had taken to ensure seamless integration of that National Zoological Gardens  to the Institute because integration had been delayed and the date penned in for completing the task was April 2020. Members asked why there was  underspending on the uMngeni project and what the institutional arrangements were between the Institute and the district municipality which had been designated as the implementing agent to ensure the project was completed and accounted for. What was the number of targets of research papers to be published by the Institute per individual researcher as the targets have not been met? What was meant by knowledge resources;? Members asked how sure the Institute was that it was going to reach the annual targets in Programme 4 because it was behind schedule. They also asked for clarity on the R17 million irregular expenditure.

Meeting report

Opening remarks

Mr S Makhubele (ANC) stood in for the Chairperson until his arrival. He noted that a number of Members were not present because the Committee was meeting on a Wednesday, instead of the usual Tuesday. The Minister and Deputy Minister sent apologies as they were in Cabinet. The Chairperson was returning from Gauteng and hoped to join the meeting within 30 minutes.

Mr Makhubele welcomed the representatives from the Department of Environmental Affairs: CFO Ms Esther Makau and COO Ms Limpho Makotoko, and asked Ms Makau to introduce the presentation. Ms Makau introduced all the presenters and support officials.

Mr Makhubele asked the Deputy Chairperson of the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) Board, Dr Crispian Olver, to introduce the presentation.

Briefing by the South African National Biodiversity Institute

Dr Olver stated that the CEO of SANBI, Dr Moshibudi Rampedi, would brief the Committee on the Second and Third Quarterly Reports. The board was concerned about areas where SANBI was falling behind in meeting targets. Corrective measures were in place to attempt to meet those targets. The Adaptation projects, the Green Climate Fund, the two projects in KwaZulu, were being monitored by the board. That presentation would be led by Dr Mandy Barnett, Climate Fund Lead: SANBI. Underspending was a challenge, largely due to difficulties in getting the municipality to finalise procurements.

The Chairperson joined the meeting and took over the Chair.

Dr Moshibudi Rampedi focused her presentation on six programmes of the entity. Programmes 1, 3, and 5 had achieved their targets for both Quarter 2 and 3. Programme 2 had not fully achieved its targets.

The entity had increased the number of female staff appointed, including those appointed in top and senior management and had increased the number of black staff. A disability audit had been conducted in Quarter 3. The entity had increased its own income. 90% of ICT services were available. 100% of risk action plans/ mitigation plans had been implemented and were being monitored. A second knowledge resource on biodiversity and employment would be finalised by the end of Quarter 4 in order to incorporate new information on employment figures. It was envisaged that the annual target would be achieved.

15 indigenous plant species had been added to the collections. The entity was behind schedule on prioritised improvement and upgrading of existing buildings. The contractor had been approved by the Bid Adjudication Committee for appointment in December 2018. Supply Chain Management would be requested to prioritise the appointment of an approved service provider and efforts would be made to complete the project by 31 March 2019. Two SANBI capital infrastructure projects had been completed. The remaining maintenance projects would be prioritised and completed by 31 March 2019. A 12% annual increase in verifiable visitor numbers had been recorded: 993 307 compared with 888 874 in 2017/18.

SANBI was behind schedule in the number of research papers to be published. Publications planned for Quarter 1 had been under review for longer than expected. The publications schedule was being reviewed to identify causes of the delays in publication and to improve processes under SANBI’s control. The annual target for project plans would be achieved as project plans had been updated after the ‘invasive’ flowering season. Regional capacity has been increased through para-ecologists, tax on specific researchers, technicians and additional scientists. Quarterly targets had been updated to align to the job descriptions in the regions. Workshops to develop draft assessments had been postponed to Quarter 4.

Only one of the 15 universities targeted for participating in the University Biodiversity Careers Programme aimed at attracting young people into the biodiversity sector had not participated in the Programme. There was, however, no assurance that targets would be met in the number of beneficiaries to participate in the “Kids in Gardens” Programme.

Only 27 284 visitors had visited the National Zoological Garden (NZG) of SA against a target of 432 000. The NZG had had a good December season in comparison to 2017/18 but had not achieved historical targets. Comparable attractions had also had a poor season. The NZG would run several promotions in the last quarter to achieve the target, including Hyperli deals, Valentines specials and a family day. The NZG would also be receiving sharks and the commensurate excitement ought to drive visitor numbers.

Mr Craig Allenby, SANBI Acting Managing Director of the NZG, took the Committee through the NZG achievements. He reported that NZG had secured R18 m from the Department of Tourism for tourism upgrades and  R2m funding from the National Research Foundation for animal collection. Infrastructure upgrades had been undertaken in collaboration with the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA).

Briefing on the funding of two project in uMgungundlovu District Municipality

Dr Mandy Barnett, Climate Fund Lead: SANBI, informed the Committee that SANBI was providing direct funding support to the uMgungundlovu District Municipality (uMDM) in KZN through two projects. The first project was the uMngeni Resilience Project, funded by the Adaptation Fund through SANBI, with the uMgungundlovu District Municipality as project executing entity. The second was the  Biodiversity Land Use project, which was funded by the Global Environment Facility through the United Nationals Development Programme, with SANBI as the project executing entity.

The uMngeni Resilience Project was intended to provide Early Warning Systems to reduce vulnerabilities and strengthen adaptive responses. Ecological and built infrastructure enhanced resilience and reduced vulnerability to risks associated with climate variability and change. Small-scale farmers had to be supported to integrate climate change responses into agricultural practices and climate change adaptation practices had to be integrated in relevant climate variability and change policies at the municipal level.

As a result of project interventions, there were Early Warning Systems for floods, fire, lightning, and drought. Ecological infrastructure had been restored, including 200 ha of grassland, 12 km of riparian zones, 100 ha of alien vegetation removed, 100 km of firebreaks created. Community built infrastructure had been strengthened with 300 houses, 10 km of stormwater drainage channels and five pedestrian bridges. At least 950 small-scale farmers, including at least 700 women, were benefiting from climate-resilient farming practices. All of the 60 uMDM-based KZN Department of Agriculture and Rural Development Extension Officers had been trained to integrate climate change into farmer support programmes.

The Biodiversity Land Use Project was funded by the Global Environment Facility through the United Nations Development Programme It was aimed at minimising the multiple threats to biodiversity by increasing the capabilities of authorities and land owners to regulate land use and manage biodiversity in threatened ecosystems on a municipal scale.

The project would plan and regulate processes for land and natural resource use management to incorporate biodiversity criteria in three district municipalities. It would improve security for biodiversity priority areas through new biodiversity stewardship agreements, and reduce pressure on biodiversity through better land and natural resource management practices in three production sectors. The project provided technical expertise on how biodiversity could be better integrated into Spatial Development Frameworks and Land Use Schemes. It had provided financial support for the development of the Mkhambathini Spatial Development Framework and iMpendle and Mpofana Land Use Schemes.

The Ecological Infrastructure Challenge Fund aimed to increase resources allocated to biodiversity management and job creation through ecosystem restoration at municipal level. Two Ecological Infrastructure Challenge Fund projects had been identified for implementation:

- Msunduzi Baynespruit River Rehabilitation Project.

- UMngeni Mthinzima Wetland Rehabilitation Project 

The Biodiversity Land Use Project provided better protection of biodiversity through municipal land use planning and decision-making processes secured in two Spatial Development Frameworks and three Land Use Schemes. A total of 266 ha of riparian habitat in six quaternary catchments in the Msunduzi-Baynespruit River would be restored with a further 3,645 hectares undergoing follow-up clearing activities. It was expected that 78 jobs would be created utilising the environmental programmes Expanded Public Works approach. A total of 98 ha of the uMngeni Mthinzima Wetland would be rehabilitated and restored which would provide improved ecosystem services in terms of treating sewage from the Waste Water Treatment Works before the water reached Midmar Dam. It was expected that 25 jobs would be created utilising the environmental programmes Expanded Public Works approach.

Dr Barnett informed the Committee that the Adaptation Fund had been established by the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) as a mechanism to finance concrete adaptation projects and programmes in developing countries party to the Protocol.

The Adaptation Fund only accredited one entity per country, and set a country investment cap of USD10 million. SANBI was accredited as South Africa’s National Implementing Entity of the Adaptation Fund in 2011. It was overseeing the implementation of two projects that had been approved by the Adaptation Fund: the uMngeni Resilience Project (USD7.5 million); and the Community Adaptation Small Grants Facility Project (USD2.5 million).

Small Grant Facility Project

A stakeholder meeting had been held with regard to direct access and adaptation responses in terms of climate change. Twelve small grant projects were progressing well. Most projects were well on their way to achieving their individual adaptation targets. To date, 528 women and 354 men were benefitting from those projects. The Small Grant Facility Project was well on its way to exceeding the targeted number of beneficiaries. 300 women and 300 vulnerable community members had a reduced risk to climate-driven impacts as a result of small grant project interventions. 12 small grant recipients had increased capacity in climate change adaptation projects. Many valuable lessons have been learnt. Those lessons were of global relevance and continued to inform an emerging GCF project that sought to scale up the work.

Green Climate Fund (GCF)

The mandate of the Green Climate Fund (GCF) was to promote low-emission and climate-resilient development in developing countries. GCF accredited and worked through nationally accredited entities. SANBI was accredited as a Direct Access Entity of the GCF. It was one of many institutions that had been accredited by the GCF to work in South Africa. SANBI had an accreditation profile that limited it to grants-based projects that focussed on climate change adaptation.

SANBI’s Board had approved a Funding Framework to guide its GCF programme of work. SANBI had made a call for GCF Expressions of Interest which had closed in 2018 and was supporting that with national capacity building opportunities. SANBI was applying its Funding Framework towards identifying priority interventions that best aligned with South Africa’s Climate Change Adaptation priorities, the GCF eligibility criteria and SANBI’s GCF accreditation profile. A comprehensive six-step review, screening and endorsement process had been completed and SANBI would develop first stage proposals for submission to the GCF in late 2019.

Dr Barnett pointed out that GCF-funded Climate Change Adaptation projects had the potential to make a substantial contribution to the National Development Programme’s objective of a ‘Just transition to a low carbon and resilient society’ by delivering tangible localised adaptation benefits.

In her conclusion, Dr Barnett indicated SANBI would continue to develop its pipeline of proposals for the Green Climate Fund, and would work closely with DEA to build sub-national capacity to respond to the GCF opportunity and to provide direct support for proposal development for priority interventions. SANBI was planning to submit at least two Concept Notes to the GCF in 2019, and would try to submit at least two fully developed proposals to the GCF in 2020.

(Graphs and tables were shown to illustrate budget expenditure)

Discussion

The Chairperson asked why the figures for the projects were presented in dollars when  the expenditure was in Rands. Secondly, he wanted to establish what steps SANBI had taken to ensure the seamless integration of NZG to SANBI because the integration has been delayed and the date penned in for completing the task was April 2020. Thirdly, he asked for the details of the project to be implemented by DEA in terms of infrastructure investment and how far SANBI had progressed on engagement with the Department. He said there had to be a concerted effort to safeguard the NZG as the premier facility in the country. Why had there been underspending on the uMngeni project and what were the institutional arrangements between SANBI and the district municipality? Hr noted that the municipality had been designated as the implementing agent to ensure the project was completed and accounted for.

Dr Barnett explained the difficulties of dealing with a fluctuating Rand over the years. Working in dollars was making it easier to check or keep track of spending because the rand was always fluctuating. A report on expenditure in Rands would be forwarded to the Committee.

Ms Limpho Makotoko, SANBI Board Member and COO at DEA, explained there has never been an intention to delay integration of NZG to SANBI. The main point was the harmonisation processing of staff that was taking a lot of time because many bargaining engagements had to take place. She stated that SANBI had requested R63 million from National Treasury for the zoological infrastructure, but Treasury had indicated that could be considered in March 2019. SANBI was still consulting with Dr Preston from the DEA to ensure the money from Treasury did come through for infrastructure investment.

Dr Rampedi stated when the transfer of NZG was effected, it had been agreed to use the first 24-month period to secure funding, and set conditions of employment for staff from the Department of Science and Technology (DST) in terms of harmonisation of the service. She indicated that SANBI has spoken with other departments, such as Tourism on how to address shortfalls and harmonisation of staff that would be part of SANBI.

Ms Carmel Mbizvo, SANBI Head of Biodiversity Science and Policy Advice Branch, said Umgeni Municipality was responsible for procurement. Terms of references had been signed off by SANBI. She said the entity had spoken to the project manager and finance person from the municipality and the two had indicated that nothing was happening. SANBI had to ensure that money needed for personnel went to where it was needed.

Mr R Purdon (DA) asked what the number of research papers was per individual researcher to be published by SANBI seeing that targets have not been met. Secondly, he asked for clarity on knowledge resources. He also asked if the dates and information were correct on the financial indicators. Lastly, he wanted to establish when the Adaptation Fund was going to be reviewed and what the timelines were.

Ms Barnett admitted the target on research papers had not been met. SANBI had since introduced a research career ladder. Depending where the individual researcher was on the ladder, a stipulated number of papers had to be published by the individual researcher in order to go to the next level of the ladder. There were incentives now for the researchers to publish. The challenge was mainly in the taxonomy division. She indicated that knowledge resources referred to tools that had been developed in the form of guidelines or maps to guide municipalities on land use plans and government departments on using authorisations.

Ms Mbizvo said there were no mechanisms in place to get new funding for the Adaptation Fund. The Adaptation Fund had been used as a step to get funding for the Green Fund.

Ms Lerato Sithole, CFO, SANBI, said everything that was reflected on financial indicators was correct, including the red marks. She also pointed out that the financial position on solvency was an indication of total assets that were exceeding total liabilities. She said that did not warrant any concerns. Total assets were at R747 m against R119 m in liabilities.

Ms J Steenkamp (DA) asked how sure SANBI was that it was going to reach the annual targets on Programme 4 because it was behind schedule.

Ms Mbizvo admitted they were behind by four targets, but she assured the Committee the targets would be achieved. The target on the number of risk analyses conducted for invasive species was hard to reach because it was a new target. Though it was unlikely to be achieved, at least half the targets would be met.

The Chairperson asked what the issue was with participants not attending the workshops to develop draft assessments. Secondly, he asked if any remedial action had been taken to address issues raised by the Auditor-General. He asked if the Department of Science and Technology (DST) had given SANBI funding for the transference of the NZG. Was there a framework at a global level that was followed regarding the Green Fund? Lastly, he enquired whether there was any interaction between SANBI and DBSA regarding the projects.

Ms Sithole confirmed that remedial actions had been taken to address the Auditor-General’s findings and had been discussed with the office of the AG.

Dr Barnett stated that the postponement of workshops was around a particular species. She said if a species did not exist, there was no point in pursuing it. She indicated that the Institute worked with the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA) on an ad hoc basis. The entity received guidance from the DEA. She said the Institute worked mostly with the private sector. She explained that the funding framework was for transformative climate change work to promote resilience. The funding was under that framework. The global framework would evaluate SA priorities first and then release funds after the evaluation had taken place.

Mr Craig Allenby said the DST had promised to commit funding over a three-year period, but no funds had been received for the harmonisation of staff. He further stated the NZG infrastructure was in dire need of an upgrade. Significant work has been undertaken to address the challenges with regard to NZG’s infrastructure. SANBI was engaging with Dr Preston’s team from the DEA.

Dr Crispian Olver, SANBI Board Deputy Chairperson stated that when the transfer of NZG had taken place, there had not been a budget. The biggest challenge was to invest in infrastructure to make the facility a prestigious one in the country and the world. He also stated they were working with NZG to sort out the financial matters of the Zoo to ensure that, at the end of the financial year, everything was ready for submission to the AG. He further pointed out that the board was concerned that the NZG and SANBI were raising revenue separately. The only way to grow the budget was to build their own revenue sources. He said the board had been making sure that SANBI outsourced things like restaurants, while increasing its revenue from the gate-takings, but that meant the infrastructure had to be improved to attract more visitors. The board had been pushing for SANBI to gear up its fundraising capabilities.

The Chairperson asked for clarity on the R17 million irregular expenditure.

Ms Sithole explained that their internal delegation authority policy stated that any procurement above R15 m had to be approved by the board. The board had followed all the SCM prescripts. The only problem was that they had not complied with the internal delegations authority policy, but the board had condoned the expenditure after an investigation was done by internal auditors.

Dr Thulani Luthuli, SANBI Board Member, added that the board had been working hard to ensure that finances were aligned to what was needed in order to improve the core business of the organisation. He said financial controls had been tightened. New suggestions had been forwarded on how to improve the organisation, especially intellectual capital, and to grow the other projects that were important to SANBI, instead of relying on traditional methods of obtaining income.

Closing remarks

The Chairperson stated that the Committee was satisfied with the responses to their questions. It was the last meeting with the Fifth Parliament for the SANBI. He informed the Institute that there would be some changes in respect of Committees in the Sixth Parliament. He encouraged SANBI to complete the integration with  NZG as soon as possible and wished everyone well.

The meeting was adjourned.

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