Environment, Forestry and Fisheries Budget: Committee Report

Environment, Forestry and Fisheries

10 July 2019
Chairperson: Mr F Xasa (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee met for the consideration and adoption of its Report on the Strategic Plan 2019/20 to 2023/24, Annual Performance Plans (APPs) 2019/20 and the Budget Vote 27 of the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA).

During deliberations, a DA Member referred to a paragraph on page two which spoke of the Department as a high performing organisation. He stated the paragraph was leaping to a conclusion which he disagreed with. Nowhere in the Draft Report was it mentioned that the Department had received adverse audit findings which is reflective of grave shortcomings in management. He had seen nothing in the Department to convince him that those shortcomings had been overcome. He believed that the paragraph should be removed. The Chairperson pointed out that the Department had been doing well until it regressed in 2016 and suggested that perhaps as part of the Committee’s oversight functions, it would be interesting to look at the Department’s turnaround plan and monitor that. He also noted that the Department was indeed a high performing organisation which serves with integrity. This was his view until proven otherwise. As the custodians and ambassadors of South Africa’s environment, this should be the general feeling.

Following deliberations and inputs by Members and Committee Staff, the report was adopted with amendments. The DA objected to the adoption of the report.

Meeting report

The Chairperson welcomed everyone and put the agenda up for adoption without amendments.

Mr P Modise (ANC) moved for the adoption of the agenda as is.

Ms S Mbatha (ANC) seconded.

The Chairperson announced that the agenda would be followed as is. He informed Members that he would not read the report word for word due to time constraints but Members would be allowed to interject at any point for comments.

Consideration of Report on Budget Vote 27

The Chairperson explained that the first section of the Draft Report covered the background and introduction. The Committee had considered the directive of the National Assembly to consider and report on the Strategic Plan, Annual Performance Plans and Budget allocations of the Department of Environmental Affairs.

Discussion

Mr J Lorimer (DA) referred to a paragraph on page two which spoke of the Department as a high performing organisation. He stated the paragraph was leaping to a conclusion which he disagreed with. Nowhere in the Draft Report was it mentioned that the Department had received adverse audit findings which is reflective of grave shortcomings in management. He had seen nothing in the Department to convince him that those shortcomings had been overcome. He believed that the paragraph should be removed.

The Chairperson replied that he believed this was not an issue for Members to be disagreeing upon. The Department acknowledges that it had been doing well until a particular point, in 2016, until it regressed and this information was captured in the report.

Ms H Winkler (DA) voiced her disagreement with a sentence that appeared on page one stating that the “Department embraces the values of being proactive in fostering innovative thinking and solutions to environmental management, premised on an anthropocentric approach”. There is evidence to suggest that the intrinsic value of the environment is far more effective than an anthropocentric approach in terms of environmental sustainability.

Dr Scotney Watts, Content Advisor, in response to Ms Winkler, suggested that instead of referring to the Department’s approach as “anthropocentric”, perhaps they could use “sustainable” as this would be a much more encompassing term because Section 24 of the South African Constitution speaks about a sustainable universe.

The Chairperson emphasised that the Department had been doing well until it regressed in 2016 and suggested that perhaps as part of the Committee’s oversight functions, it would be interesting to look at the Department’s turnaround plan and monitor that. He also noted that the Department was indeed a high performing organisation which serves with integrity. This was his view until proven otherwise. As the custodians and ambassadors of South Africa’s environment, this should be the general feeling.

Dr Watts explained that in all the different facets the Department has been doing well, the only issue that the Department was faced with was an accounting difference in the classification of its costing. The Director-General said the Department had regressed on an accounting interpretation on EPWP. There was as difference of opinion in the classification formats, but all the portfolios are really doing well.

Mr Lorimer acknowledged Dr Watts’ explanation, noting that the Committee had heard the explanation before. However, the explanation could not be acceptable as it was not good enough.

Ms S Mbatha (ANC) disagreed with Mr Lorimer’s opinion that the Department was not high performing. She requested that Mr Lorimer explains why he believed this considering all the changes that the Department had implemented and presented in the last presentation.

The Chairperson asked Members not to dwell on this one particular point.

Mr Lorimer explained that he had only raised the point so that Members could note that he was not in support of it as well the reasons behind his stance.

Mr N Singh (IFP) suggested that the fact that the Department had been noted as a high performing organisation was the view of the Department rather than that of the Committee.

The Chairperson proposed that Members proceed with consideration of the report.

Budget Allocations

Ms Mbatha told the Chairperson that she felt the Committee was rushing through the report as she could not browse through the document as quickly as they went through it.

The Chairperson asked Ms Mbatha if she had a specific page she would like to go back to.

Ms Mbatha replied that they could continue from page ten.

Ms Winkler, referring to a table on page ten on the Estimates of National Expenditure, expressed her dissatisfaction with the allocation of funds. Since other programmes such as Oceans and Costs had experienced budget cuts, funds were allocated disproportionately with Administration sitting on R891.9 million. She also found it problematic that there were more concerns about administration than environmental conservation and programmes.

The Chairperson asked Members to note the concern and also explained that the issue of administration costing more than the programmes is a general problem experienced by the Department. He also explained that unfortunately administration is one of the obligations that the Department could not avoid as people had to be paid.

Ms Mbatha commented that the Department had explained why the cost of administration had been so high, saying that it had to do with learnerships and human resource management. The Department needs its human resources to be able to do certain activities.

The Chairperson explained that the aim of the meeting was to present a report to the Committee on areas the Department should work on and therefore there should not be contestation by Members.

Ms T Mchunu (ANC) agreed that concerns have to be noted. He pointed out that during a previous meeting, the Committee had highlighted that the Department had to focus on achieving better audit outcomes and administration had to be one of the main focus areas of the Department.

The Chairperson suggested that both points raised must be noted in the recommendations section so that the Department can reconsider its budget allocation.

Ms Winkler, in response to Ms Mbatha’s comments, said she did not see the spending of more money on administration as the answer to better audit outcomes. Getting more capable people in management could ensure those results. On R160 million being spent on offices in Pretoria, she was unsure how this would result in better audit outcomes when there were other priority programmes in dire need for funding.

The Chairperson explained the Department has an obligation to pay everyone working under it. He asked Members not to debate the issue further.

Ms Mbatha suggested that Members check to see what the Department was doing with the budget allocated to Oceans and Coasts as per the concern raised by Ms Winkler.

The Chairperson suggested that the matter be deferred until the Committee discusses the Findings section of the report.

Suspension of the South African Weather Services CEO

Mr Mchunu informed the Committee that he had perused the report and had noted that the suspension of the CEO of the South African Weather Services (SAWS) was not mentioned anywhere in the report. He suggested it must be put on record that this was a matter that the Committee wants to put to rest.

The Chairperson asked the Content Advisor to clarify whether this had been noted in the report.

Dr Watts suggested that the suspension of the CEO be noted under Recommendations.

Ms Mbatha said “as soon as possible” was not an appropriate timeframe, the Committee must state explicitly what timeframe it was giving the Department to follow proper procedures since there were labour relations guides to be followed.

The Chairperson asked for guidance on Ms Mbatha’s input from the Content Advisor.

Dr Watts explained that the previous Committee had proposed that the issue be reported on. On the course of disciplinary action, there was the South African Weather Services Act to be followed. He would check if the Committee could ask the acting CEO to clarify so that the Committee could make an informed decision when setting a timeframe.

The Chairperson suggested that the Committee agree on a timeframe to allow it to monitor the process.

The Committee agreed to recommend a timeframe of three months.

Climate Change and Air Quality Management

Ms Mbatha asked what the current situation of the air monitoring stations is since the report was only referencing a 2017 example and South Africa still has the problem of air pollution. She also wanted to know whether the data taken from the 2017 project had helped in dealing with the issue or not.

Dr Watts replied that the data did assist in the sense that since 2017, there have been more functioning monitoring stations put up.

The Chairperson reminded Members that the Committee’s job was to monitor and oversee decisions made by the Department. If the Committee was in disagreement with any of the departmental decisions, relevant recommendations could be made.

Ms Mchunu highlighted that in the previous meeting those issues had been noted but the Committee had also requested a comprehensive presentation on air quality and monitoring stations in order to make informed decisions.

Mr Singh said the point raised by Ms Mchunu was highlighted in the recommendations but a specific instruction on the efficacy of the monitoring system could be added to the recommendation.

Committee Observations

Mr Lorimer referred to page 20 of the report, which spoke to the audit opinion. The point was overly optimistic and he expressed his disagreement with it. On the target of employing people living with disabilities, he did not believe that the point was correct.

The Chairperson explained that he had raised this with the Department and the Department stated they were not aware that there was a need to move up from the two percent that had been set. He explained that he had been sitting in forums with people with disabilities where they requested that that was the way it must be communicated with them and so far, it had not been communicated. He suggested an amendment to the point.  

Dr Watts suggested that the section speaking about the Committee feeling the need to increase the target of employing people living with disabilities be removed.

The Chairperson agreed. It should also be noted that the Committee has not had any negative findings for the Department on this.

Recommendations

Ms Winkler commented on the first bullet point in the recommendations, stating she was unsure about how the figure on the allocation of budgets for Environmental Affairs in South Africa was reached.

The Chairperson explained that the figure was taken from a suggestion made in a comparative study noted at the beginning of the document which compared the allocation of budgets for Environmental Affairs South Africa with those of other OECD countries. The finding of the study was that South Africa’s budget was 0.02 percent and the suggestion by the Committee was that the Department move to at least 1 percent.

Mr Lorimer commented that the figure was a bit arbitrary and suggested that the Committee do away with a recommended figure. Rather than putting down a figure, Mr Lorimer suggested that it would be better to specify where money is needed and make a budget proposal based on those estimates rather than doing it the other way around.

Dr Watts explained that there is a global trend in which countries are budgeting far above what South Africa does for environmental affairs. South Africa should have been identified in the international arena as a country that does well on environmental conservation. Countries such as Costa Rica and Mexico have far more funding than South Africa but they do not have the same needs as South Africa. The one percent was set to say that there is a need for funding to be pushed to at least above one percent.

Mr Lorimer responded saying that this was still an arbitrary figure since it could be that Environmental Affairs could be requiring more than the suggested one percent.

The Chairperson said he would not want Members to argue as this figure was based on scientific research and also because this was the Committee lobbying for the one percent increase without any guarantee that it would be granted.

Ms Mbatha suggested that it be added into the recommendations that for the entities, budgets and their Annual Performance Plans (APP) must be presented to the Committee.

Mr Lorimer referred to the last paragraph of page 22 of the report which stated that “the Department is encouraged to look at the scope of Environmental Health Practitioners in order to reduce the backlog of Community Health service...” The DA could not support the recommendation as such a decision could not be made without a mandate from caucus.

The Chairperson highlighted that the point Mr Lorimer was referring to does not fall under the Department of Environmental Affairs but rather the Department of Health.

Ms Mbatha explained that the health practitioners could be utilised at the Environmental Management Inspectorate (EMI) and that was why the Department of Health had agreed that the former should give them a quotation.

Dr Watts suggested that the Committee communicate with the Portfolio Committee on Health and agree to push the same agenda through Parliament so that the Committee does not recommend on matters not within its mandate.

Mr Singh said nothing stops the Committee from recommending consultative processes among departments. Recommending that the departments should consult each other does not mean the Committee would be interfering with the Department of Health’s mandate.

The Chairperson said the Committee would push the agenda in Parliament in consultation with the Portfolio Committee on Health.

Ms Mbatha further noted that health practitioners do also have a role in waste management. Their scope was quite broad.

Mr Modise added that collaborative efforts between departments should be emphasised.

Mr Singh suggested that the Committee hold the Department to a particular timeframe.

The Chairperson explained that usually the Department reports on a quarterly basis. He put the report up for adoption.

Adoption of Budget Vote 27 Report

Ms Mchunu moved to adopt the report with amendments.

Ms Mbatha seconded.

Mr Lorimer objected to the adoption of the report.

The Report on Budget Vote 27 was adopted with amendments.

The meeting was adjourned.

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