The Committee was briefed by the Isimangaliso Wetland Park Authority (ISPA) and the South African Weather Service (SAWS) on their annual performance and strategic plans for 2019/20. The Minister was present. There was also a briefing by the SAWS board on progress related to the disciplinary process of the organisation’s chief executive officer (CEO), who had been on suspension since last September.
IPSA outlined the strategic risks it faced in maintaining a sound control environment, with out of date information communication technology (ICT), poor communication and stakeholder management, funding constraints and the misalignment between monitoring and management needs.
In the discussion, Members raised concerns regarding several of the challenges the Park was facing that involved its relationship with the surrounding communities. These included the opposition from the Anakhosi and environmentalists to the proposed dune mining in the Mapelane area, the involvement of locals in combating rhino poaching, the effect of flooding on the livelihoods of subsistence farmers, and ensuring small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) benefited from IPSA’s ventures. Other issues dealt with were the Park’s relationship with KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife, and the need for it to widen its revenue sources to become revenue-independent.
SAWS admitted that it had been handicapped by not having a full-time CEO for a year, and was hoping to put the matter to rest soon in order to stabilise the organisation. Unfortunately, the SAWS Act had been reviewed a couple of years ago and, in the review of the Act, there was a specific process that was outlined about how the CEO gets suspended, and it was a very long and arduous process.
Members asked about the functioning of SAWS’s radar facilities, why there were reports of its scientists being demoralised and wanting to resign, how the organisation was going to pay salaries at a higher level than had been budgeted for, and whether it felt it was balancing its commercial interests against the need to provide weather information to the South African public.
Opening Remarks by Minister
Ms Barbara Creecy, Minister: Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, said the visit to Isimangaliso Westland Park had been very interesting. She hoped that the chief executive officer (CEO) and chairperson of the board would share with the Committee the exciting things that were happening in this project. Like all entities, it faced challenges., and they would indicate what they were doing to overcome them.
A visit must still take place to the South African Weather Service (SAWS), and it was on the agenda. SAWS had an acting CEO at this point. The Committee would be briefed on disciplinary proceedings that were happening with regard to the CEO.
Ms Creecy asked to be excused, as she had a parallel commitment.
Isimangaliso Wetland Park Authority: APP and Strategic Plans
Mr Sibusiso Bukhosini, Chief Executive Officer: Isimangaliso Wetland Park Authority (ISPA), briefed the Committee on their annual performance plan (APP) and strategic plans for 2019/20.
He said South Africa had become a signatory to the World Heritage Convention in 1997. The iSimangaliso Wetland Park was established under the World Heritage Convention Act regulations, consolidating 16 different parcels of land under one proclamation in November 2000. The mandate of ISPA was to protect, conserve and present the Park; to empower historically disadvantaged adjacent communities; and to promote and facilitate optimal tourism and related development. Its mission was to protect, preserve and present its World Heritage values for current and future generations while benefiting communities living in and adjacent to the Park by facilitating optimal tourism and related development.
Mr Bukhosini detailed ISPA’s programme structure in terms of its strategic objectives, performance indicators, baseline (2017/18), target (2019/20), and 5 year target (2023/24). There were four programmes -- Corporate Support Services, Biodiversity Conservation, Tourism & Business Development, and Socio-Economic Development.
The strategic risks included maintaining a sound control environment, out of date information communication technology (ICT), poor communication and stakeholder management, the ability to focus research projects on management-related issues due to funding constraints, and the misalignment between monitoring and management needs
Mr Bukhosini addressed the budget estimates and flagged some of the key areas in the fourth quarter report for 2018/19. Among others, personnel costs were below budget as a result of the finalisation of the new structure and the approval of appointments and the critical posts to be filled. The matching and placing process was still being finalised. The depreciation was below budget due to the delay in the award of the final completion certificate as a result of the snags not being completed and additional work being requested. This included the gate entrance, the Sugarloaf bus turning circle, the walkway and the “meet & greet.” Professional and technical fees were below budget. Legal fees from the Umfolozi Sugar Planters (UCOSP) high court matter had not been finalised. This would even itself out with the appointment of a facilitator for the strategic planning session and the mandate review. The tourism and marketing strategy would also be going out for quotes. A service provider would be appointed for the business processes.
The Chairperson said that the Committee was empowered to ask any questions based on what had been raised. Addressing the Minister in absentia, he said that when funds were allocated, it was unacceptable that the transfers did not occur on time. It was a common trend that public representatives were rebuked by the community when there were delays in transfers. The Committee would like to see an improvement in the way transfers were done. It was essential that they were done timeously.
Mr J Lorimer (DA) commented that the presenter had explained that Isimangaliso had had to deal with unauthorised development activities. How much of a problem was this? Furthermore, regarding the number of paid visits which ISPA was aiming for, what was the capacity of the Park to handle such numbers? Did the Park have a maximum capacity? Was the population of both rhino species increasing or decreasing? How many rhinos had been lost in the last 10 years since the spike in rhino poaching began? When did the de-horning take place? Since rhino horns grow back again, when would the de-horning have to take place again, and had this been budgeted for?
Mr N Singh (IFP) said he was happy to see the kind of progress that had been made in the last 20 years. However, with the progress had come a number of challenges, one of which was the Park as an authority and the community. Was Isimangaliso on top of these challenges? Because of water shortages, drought and so forth, there were certain actions that had to be taken by the authority to ensure sustainability of the wetland. This was in direct contrast to what the communities wanted. Apart from benefits in kind, what financial benefits were communities getting out of the establishment of the wetland authority? If communities were not on board, then ISPA was doomed for failure, although it was making good progress.
Furthermore, this was one of the largest marine protected areas. The Park was working with Mozambique in that regard. What type of legislation existed with regard to rock and surf fishermen, and also boat fishermen, who fish for sustainable use? Was there any overseas funding that the Park was getting, given that it was a World Heritage Site? How was it reflected (or not) in the Park’s figures? Finally, there had been challenges regarding KwaZulu-Natal’s (KZN’s) wildlife over the years -- what type of arrangements were in place and was there capacity to take over some of the functions that were being performed, either well or not, by KZN’s wildlife authorities to ensure that there was sustainability of the tourism figures in the wetland area?
Ms H Winkler (DA) asked how many poaching attempts had been thwarted since the introduction of the new environmental monitors as rangers. Was there any control over the figures for elephant poaching in the Park over the last five years? What was the status of this problem in the Park? Where does IPSA stand In relation to the mining application on the southern boundary? How far was the Park with the empowerment of adjacent communities through benefit sharing and small, medium and micro enterprise (SMME) development? How were outcomes being measured to ascertain whether or not these approaches were successful or not in getting buy-in from the community, given that there had been some unrest? What were the tourism figures for Isimangaliso over the past five years? What were the trends? Had there been a gradual increase or decline? Had mining and development impacted on the area? Had there been any applications for mining in the Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), on the boundaries or buffer zones? Additionally, when the Park takes over commercial facilities to increase revenue, what exactly was being referred to? Concerning road rehabilitation involving a project of R110 million, why had there been resistance from the community? Was it because they felt that they were not being allowed certain work opportunities, as labour was being brought from outside the area? What was the dynamic between the communities and the Park as a way to map going forward how to negotiate this relationship better, and to get the communities to care about the conservation outcomes of the wetland park?
Mr P Modise (ANC) asked what kind of hostilities and conflicts were at play in the Park? What were the performance indicators in this regard? Was the situation improving or deteriorating? What were the conflict resolution mechanisms that were being put into place to try and resolve this particular situation? The Committee was tired of the Park’s so-called ‘high level structure’ -- could the Committee get specifics? What was the total number of employees in this organisation and the demographics? In the National Assembly, there had been agreement that there needed to be an increase in the budgets for the parks, but why should the Committee increase the budget when the Park was decreasing its targets? The Committee is serious about job creation. Does Isimangaliso, over and above its work of ensuring wetlands conservation, create jobs? Was there an assurance that the SMMEs were being developed by ISPA? How sure could the Committee be that they were being developed by ISPA? How was ISPA contributing to this development? The employee turnover rate in 2019/20 was 10%, and over the next five years it was still at 10%. Therefore, there was no growth. This was not acceptable.
With regard to the approved communication strategy, the presenter should be aware that the use of ‘as you recall’ assumes that the Committee had already been taken through what was being discussed, which was incorrect. What of the demographic details of the environmental monitors employed in the Park, and why was there the same target for 2019/20 and 2023/24? The key concern here was the number of jobs that had been created in the Park. While the Minister may have been at ISPA, this does not mean that the Committee had been at Isimangaliso. As the Park relates the story, it needs to paint a picture that creates an understanding among Members of the Committee. When was the Committee going to ISPA? It needed to go so that when the it speaks about the Park, it knows what it is speaking about.
Ms T Mchunu (ANC) asked how this institution had been run without a baseline for the employment equity plan? How had the Park been employing and setting targets without an employment equity plan? It was supposed to be measured in terms of the Labour Act. The absence of an employment equity plan may be one of the causes of the conflicts within the communities. It was commendable that the Park was starting a disaster risk management plan, especially as it was dealing with issues relating to the ecosystem and conservation. What had been happening prior to this? How was the Park dealing with disasters that would happen? Under corporate services, there was a baseline for the percentage of new independent researchers, but there were no targets. In this financial year and the years to follow, would the 51% target be used continuously, with no growth in that particular strategic objective?
Regarding the 320 km of coastline that had been cleaned under ‘conservation and biodiversity,’ where did this start and where does it end? Regarding the Park’s work with KZN wildlife, and the finalisation of the buffer zones, how had these engagements gone? There was an area where, because of the drought, water was moved to the upper areas. This project was not complete, because this water was just flowing into the ocean. The project had failed -- instead of water going to the appropriate area, the water was returning and flooding the area. How far does the Park go regarding the buffer zones,? In the northern part of KZN, how far does it intend on going with these areas’ protection and conservation. Concerning the commercial revenue to the park from commercial sources, what was the intention of ISPA in getting into this commercial area?
Ms Mchunu said the private sector also needed to get involved. What were the Park’s revenue sources, and how did it interact with the communities in this area to ensure that they participate in the economy? How does one develop big businesses in these communities, like those that were operating in St Lucia? How far should one develop SMMEs so that they could really be empowered to compete in the commercial world?
On the budget, while it was good that the Park was standing at 15% with the salaries, what was threshold given by Treasury regarding employment? What was the revenue source, besides the Department? Was the Park able to collect enough revenue? What was the revenue, and how much had it been in the previous financial year so that the Park was able to fund everything that it does and does not depend on government funding? What were its financial projections? The Park should be planning for revenue independence, so what was its projection and how far could it go as an entity? If the Park was taking over some businesses, what were its financial projections? What did the Park think about the revenue sources that they had? Was it going to be able to maintain the standard, or would it upgrade? If the Park over the businesses, where was it going to place the Park financially? Would it be better off or would it face some challenges?
Ms N Gantsho (ANC) asked for details of the programmes for community upliftment. How many females were there in executive positions? Did ISPA have working relations with the local municipalities that surrounded the Park?
Ms S Mbatha (ANC) stressed that it was not fair that the funds had been transferred so late. The Park should have indicted how it generated its revenue. While it was important for the Department to provide funding, the Park must also have revenue generating activities. Where were the SMMEs located? The Park needed to empower the community where it was based before it moved further afield so that it did not experience any problems. She questioned the Park’s targets, and said the presentation needed to incorporate safety, health, and environment quality and management matters, because the Park was working with the environment. Where in the organogram was the person in human resources (HR) who dealt with occupational health and safety (OHS) issues? The Labour Department required this. Who could assist not only with OHS, but also the environmental audits? Had the Park looked into using youngsters that needed to do community service, like doctors, to deal with backlogs? The Health Professionals Council could then give them the status of being independent environmental health practitioners?
With regard to the protection of wildlife, how did the Park protect species which lived in the sea and in the Park environment against plastic? The Park was in a rural area. How did it educate people in the area that this waste could be a danger to animals and human beings? Given that it was dealing with traditional people, how did it apply a bottom-up approach (Health Education and Promotion Strategies) so that they embraced what the Park was doing and that there was no havoc? The World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) strategies were helpful in this regard. The rural area was quite different from the urban and township areas. Some things needed to be done differently.
Mr Bukhosini said the questions had given insight into where there were gaps and where the Park would need to improve.
He said the ‘100% unauthorised development’ referred to anything that was not in accordance with the provisions of the World Heritage Convention Act or the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act (NEMBA). Any illegal development that took place in the Park interfered with the three values. Those three values were compromised to the extent that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) would say that the development was illegal. The target then was to report and deal with any illegal development that happened inside the Park. All illegal developments had to be dealt with. The presentation reflected the 100% unauthorised developments because as soon as any illegal development was initiated, the Park must be able to deal with it.
Regarding the paying visitors and the capacity of the Park, ISPA had a number of establishments, starting in the south such as Mapelane, St Lucia and Sodwana Bay. There were also coastal forests. These were the areas where the Park had visitors for a variety of experiences, be it bird watching, whale watching, diving, or the ‘Big Five.’
South Africa had had a very serious problem with the rhino poaching. This poaching had had its own level of stress which it had imposed on the species. There had been a negative impact on the fertility and growth of these animals in producing new calves as they were in a very shocked state. Since the Park had dealt with the issue of the environmental monitors, which were being recruited from the local communities, and had started working with the SMMEs and the de-horning exercise, the Park had seen the rhinos calving better, to the extent that the rhino population was increasing. The Park had caught the perpetrators. This had been possible because of the relationship with the communities, who passed on information about strangers who were inside the Park. It was for this reason that the Park was measuring a remarkable decrease.
For the past six months, the Park had had no rhino poaching in St Lucia. It was a significant achievement. ISPA was sure that this was the right strategy -- it only needed to be enhanced. The Park had partners -- the communities -- who were also helping to protect the animals. This proved that communities were not against conservation. They were in favour of conservation. It was how the conservation was carried out which helped to develop this attitude.
Regarding the budget for de-horning rhinos, after de-horning the horn takes about three years to grow back again. The strategy was to de-horn, educate people and build these relationships. However, the Park would ultimately like to see the rhinos with their horns again. It would like to get to the point where the community understands that rhinos were their assets. There were plans to incorporate equity in the game ownership itself, which would ensure that there was a sense of ownership. The Park did not have a budget at this stage.
Mr Bukhosini said the relationship ISPA had with KZN Wildlife existed because they were the conservation management entity helping the Park. The issue here was not that KZN Wildlife did not want to assist, but that they were just under serious pressure, and were experiencing certain limitations on their side.
With regard to challenges with the communities, these included concerns that the Park did not engage with them, that it did not keep the community informed about what it was doing, and that it operates like an island. The approach now was to ask how best the Park could ensure community participation. This concern had been brought before the board yesterday.
As the Park engaged with the community, it experienced other dynamics among the community members or stakeholders concerned. For example, the rest of the Park was subject to land and restitution claims. The claimants, who were staying with the communities outside the Park, were saying they were the land owners. The Park could not recognise only claimants, but communities and claimants. There would be a problem if claimants were given rights to stay in the Park. The approach was to have a collaborative approach to ensure that although one recognised forced removal from the protected area, there were members of the community who lived with these claimants and were subsequently owners because of the restitution of the Land Rights Act. The issue was therefore that of the Park not really engaging intensively with the communities and having tangible benefits accruing to them, so they did not feel the protected area was ‘theirs’ to protect. The Park was working on this. The regulations were out and had recently been passed by Parliament.
ISPA had now been given the responsibility of being a management authority of the marine protected areas (MPAs) as opposed to when it was only an implementing agent. In terms of regulation 11, the Park was the management authority and had specific responsibilities. These regulations were maturing in terms of their implementation. As these marine protected areas had been expanded, there were huge responsibilities to ensure that the Park conformed or complied with the legislative requirements. The reality was, however, that it did not have the budget. In this financial year, for the entire country, there was only R8 million for the MPAs. For the management of an MPA, ISPA alone required not less than R7 million because there had to be a marine cluster manager, a marine officer, and staff that were dedicated and had the correct and requisite skills to manage the MPA. It was a function that had been given to the institution, but there was a question as to what the Park should do to generate its own revenue, and how the it could partner with other non-governmental organisations to assist.
Concerning overseas funding, the Park had engaged with GF Funding and World Bank funding, and had received in excess of US$8 million to assist it. ISPA was working together with SA National Parks (SANParks). This money would ensure that the Park dealt with all the conservation issues as a top up to certain issues that it would otherwise not be able to do through the fiscal allocation. ISPA was working with an organisation called Wild Lens, located in Pietermaritzberg, which was doing fund-raising. The Park was determining how Wild Lens could assist it in the fundraising exercise to bridge the gap that ISPA may have.
With regard to the relationship with KZN Wildlife, an agreement had been entered into many years ago. Ideally, this agreement should have come to an end. However, Isimangoliso had not planned properly, in the medium to long term, to deal with the transition of phasing out KZN Wildlife. It was an issue which the Park had to deal with, and had addressed in the previous Portfolio Committee. The board had looked into it. A study would be undertaken to determine what needed to be done if the Park takes over. The Parks approach was very simple. From a conservation perspective, it did not want to dive into this because it would mean that there needed to be a conservation budget, and that would require a lot of engagement. Where there was ‘low hanging fruit,’ was the commercial operation. ISPA felt that with the facilities that were there, the only problem was that they were not being maintained. Some were derelict.
ISPA was approaching a commercialisation strategy. It would commercialise the facilities by getting a private operator, and without even asking money from the government, provide the facilities with the opportunities. ISPA could enter into an agreement where the private operator, while paying ISPA, would run the facility and show ISPA what the equity would be. This was being presented to the board, and a study was investigating this matter further. ISPA believed this approach would increase the revenue that it would generate. The figures stood at about R25 million. However, it was limited by the concessions agreements. If ISPA spread its wings wide enough, it believed it could succeed if it approached it in this fashion.
The southern boundary issue involved the opposition by the Amakhosi and conservationists to dune mining in the Mapelane area. An application had been put forward, not to ISPA but to the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR), because they were the legitimate entity to deal with this. The role of ISPA was to comment on such issues. The only thing which ISPA had raised was that while some scientists said if a dune was mined, it could be rehabilitated to its original state, others said it would not go back to what it used to be. ISPA’s position was that if there was going to be mining, the various applicable Acts and conventions needed to be taken note of. Approval for the mining would be given only after the DMR had considered all the issues presented to them.
As far as SMME development was concerned, this was precisely the issue which was bringing ISPA into quarrels with the community. In the past, ISPA would come before the Committee and present a very glossy picture of the SMMEs that it was developing. When one probed more deeply, however, one would be shocked to learn that the minute a contract became lucrative, the picture changed completely. ISPA’s condition, therefore, was that if there was a contract of R30 million, the service providers had to ensure that 30% of that went to SMMEs. This was the approach that ISPA had taken for all the contracts. This was the approach that would be taken with infrastructure projects in future. This would also contribute to softening and dealing with the hostility which ISPA faced. The hostility that was being referred to was hostility coming from communities saying that they felt like ‘spectators.’ ISPA was addressing this matter.
Mr Buyani Zwane, Chairperson of the ISPA Board referred to the R110 million that had to be returned, and explained that this had arisen from the fact that the executive had put together what needed to be put in place in the area from Mbazwana to Sodwana. The community felt they had not been sufficiently consulted to a point of them getting the benefit out of the construction work and the refurbishment, which would have been worth about R70 million. As a result, they had said they would rather have the money all refunded until they were satisfied that ISPA had taken account of what their core requirements were.
ISPA was also looking into deforestation activities that had been taking place because traditional ways of farming were being applied for the growing of amadumbe (the “potato of the tropics”) and other produce. These activities had not been receiving the right attention from the executive. It had become necessary for the Park to establish rural-social engagements with the community. This had happened in May 2017. It was critical to resolve this matter. Without it, ISPA had found that the infrastructure was getting worse, and refurbishment was needed to ensure that the tourists and visitors who were going to bring revenue were actually able to access the place. When it turned out that the road was getting worse because the people were not being consulted, it became imperative to have a re-consultation process which had since started under the leadership of the CEO. ISPA was now finding that it was possible for its proposals to be accepted.
Ms Winkler said she was still unclear about what the nature of the dispute between the community and the construction of the road was. Was it because they felt they had not been afforded the opportunity to build the road? She also asked for clarification about the elephant poaching in the Park.
Mr Bukhosini responded that the dispute was not necessarily about the road or the swimming pools -- it was a variety of issues. Firstly, it had arisen because the community had felt they were not being recognised, with the Park’s roads and policies being passed and communities not being afforded an opportunity to comment. The communication between those communities and the entity had been very ineffective. Secondly, the employment opportunities seemed to be dictated to communities, as opposed to engaging communities when employment opportunities were being made available. The southern part of the Park was the most developed, with tar roads, for example. However, it was not possible to get to the coastal forest reserve if one did not have a 4x4 vehicle. In fact, one did not feel safe at the beach.
A question that had been raised was why some people were treated differently, when ISPA was one park. When ISPA came up with projects, communities were saying that they were not comfortable because they were not sure whether ISPA would dictate the way it would be implemented. They felt that they would not get any opportunities, and therefore there was no trust in ISPA.
Concerning the number of employees, ISPA had 40 employees in total. ISPA had signed an agreement with KZN Wildlife. This meant that the conservation employee-related costs and the tourism-related costs would then be its responsibility. This included the number of employees. ISPA had basically a micro organisation overseeing whether KZN Wildlife was doing what it was supposed to. This shifted the risk greatly to KZN Wildlife, as opposed to ISPA taking that risk. This had been an awkward and unusual situation which had resulted in ISPA having a small number of employees.
Mr Zwane added that the number of employees was not changing because ISPA was not expecting anyone to leave. It wanted to retain them. Essentially, it wanted to retain its staff because it was investing in a workplace skills plan, which was intended to ensure that it up-skilled its staff, because they had been neglected for a long time. There had been quite an extended period of time when performance management was not implemented. ISPA was going to improve the policies around this and carry it through to the Department of Labour. The employment equity plan had not been submitted to this Committee, ISPA was well represented in respect of all of the racial and gender groupings. There was a larger representation of women than men in this organisation. ISPA had been deliberate in ensuring that there was fair representation in all job categories and levels.
Regarding environmental monitors, ISPA’s focus was on women, youth and those living with disabilities. The 120 were maintained, and they would be there for three years. Some would be absorbed, but ISPA would still carry on with the 120 every year for the next five years, as per the budget that had been allocated by the Department.
Referring to the disaster risk management (DRM) plan and the business continuity plan (BCP), it was not the type of disaster that was related to the Disaster Management Act, but refers to a disaster in the context of information communication technology (ICT). If, for instance, someone hacked into ISPA’s system, could it still operate and run? Did it have processes in place to deal with this? It was not currently there, which constituted a serious business risk from a governance point of view. It was necessary to have an off-site point where ISPA kept all its information.
Regarding the buffer zone and how far it goes, the Sokhulu Farmers Commercial and Subsistence operation was a GF5 project which had started some time ago. The commercial farmers there were farming on a flat plain, where there were also subsistence farmers. What had happened previously was that agreements had been entered into between the farmers and the then government to say they could, in today’s context, canalise the Umfolozi River. The farmers had canalised the river, but the canalization had inundated the farms, especially the subsistence farms. The hope of the subsistence farmers had been that if they canalised, they could drain their farms of water, which proved not to be true. The Natal Park’s Board had then decided to bridge the mouth, which they were doing periodically. The GF5 project had come in to restore the situation. Today, water from the Umfolozi River and Msunduzi River flowed right up to Charters Creek which, at some point, had been so dry that one could walk in it.
The reality still remained -- which was also a government issue – that one was dealing with communities who were doing subsistence farming there, and that was their source of living, so their issues should be addressed without affecting the ecological processes. The previous management’s approach was affecting other issues upstream from an ecological perspective.
South African Weather Services (SAWS): APP and Strategic Plan
Mr Mnikeli Ndabambi, Acting CEO: SAWS, said the entity’s mission was to provide weather, climate and related environmental solutions in support of improved safety and quality of life of people in South Africa while its values were integrity, collaborate and solution-oriented science, and a passion for service excellence. The SAWS strategy and update of its APP was aimed at maintaining, improving and extending the quality of meteorological services for the benefit of all South Africans, as prescribed by the SAWS Act. It was tasked with providing weather and climate services to the 57 million South African citizens, and its mandate had recently been augmented to include the monitoring of ambient air quality. To further create value, a feasibility study had been conducted on the establishment of an air quality modelling and forecasting capacity.
The organisation was ideally positioned and mandated to respond and contribute towards solutions related to extreme weather risks, natural disasters and climate change. The growing demands for weather, climate and related environmental solutions were creating real opportunities for growth and enhanced relevance for the organisation. More global and local players, including the private sector, were moving into this space and therefore SAWS needed to maintain and establish a competitive edge throughout the value chain -- from the data obtained from the observational network, to the delivery of products and services to society.
Mr Ndabambi gave a breakdown of the 2019/20 budget and medium term expenditure framework (MTEF) estimates, and addressed the four programme areas in terms of their performance indicators. The four programmes were Weather and Climate Services, Research and Innovation, Infrastructure and Information Systems, and Administration and Corporate Services.
Elaborating on the links to the long-term infrastructure and other capital plans, he said SAWS was working on a funding model to address increasing needs which required approximately R500 million over the five-year period, and an additional R50 million per annum over the MTEF period. He also described the strategic plans and objectives for the four programmes, as well as the risk management and its links to capital plans, conditional grants, public entities and the financial plan.
Ms Busisiwe Shongwe, Chief Financial Officer: SAWS, flagged some of the key areas in the Quarter 4 performance, which consisted of a summary of the annual performance, and a breakdown of the strategic goals encompassing the provision of products and services, capability and capacity development, engagement with stakeholders, research and knowledge/intelligence creation, and growth and sustainability. The financial performance for the fourth quarter of 2018/19 was also unpacked.
SAWS Board: Progress on disciplinary process of CEO
Ms Nana Magomola, Chairperson of the Board: SAWS, said that the matter had been sitting with the board for almost a year. The CEO who was under suspension was someone with whom the board had a very good working relationship. He was one of the best in the area of meteorology. In August 2018, a whistle-blower had brought allegations of misconduct against the CEO. When the board received that report, it had looked at the matter with the assistance of legal advice, and had concluded that the allegations were quite serious and needed attention. The board had requested the Minister to consider placing the CEO on suspension while the matter was investigated.
This had been done on 14 September. On 20 September, the Minister had authorised the board to appoint an independent investigator to conduct a preliminary investigation on the allegations that had been levelled against the CEO. The CEO had been informed about the outcome of the preliminary investigation in December 2018. The Minister had then appointed a service provider to conduct an investigation, after conducting the preliminary investigation, which pointed to the need to conduct a deeper investigation. The investigators had been appointed in February. The final report had been presented to the board in April 2019.
There had been a recommendation that the CEO needed to be subject to a disciplinary hearing. The inquiry was initiated in May, but commenced in full in July. Two days into the hearing, there had been a request from the CEO’s lawyers to postpone the hearing because the CEO’s counsel had been injured and was not able to represent him at the hearings. Two days that have had been set aside on 23 to 25 September, and 16 to 18 October.
The board was hoping that this matter would be concluded because it was were very handicapped by not having a full CEO on board, and needed to put it to rest to stabilise the organisation as soon as possible. As soon as the board had the outcome of the hearing, it would update the Committee on the progress. Because the matter was sub judice, the board could not comment on the details of the case, as it did not want to prejudice the CEO’s case or the organisation.
Ms Winkler asked whether any of the 14 radar installations were non-operational. What was the track record, operationally speaking? Had they been down on many occasions? Had this impacted on their ability to send out early severe weather warnings? How often were the radars maintained? Who was responsible for obtaining the data from the radars? Was this data being used effectively in research and for projections? She said the weather service website was not very well run, as it was out of service most of the time. Whoever was maintaining it was not doing a very good job, and it reflected poorly on SAWS. Why did one have to pay a subscription fee for the mobile app in order to access severe weather warnings, as this information was obviously very important, especially if one’s life belongings were reliant upon receiving it? With regard to the early weather warning system, there had been discussion about trying to have that implemented two to three days in advance of severe weather, accompanied by an impact-based forecast. Had this taken place -- was SAWS issuing severe weather warnings two to three days in advance?
Ms Mchunu referred to the national development plan (NDP), and said that the Committee needed to deal with the issue of the oceans economy. It did not seem to be addressed in the APP. This was very critical for South Africa’s economy -- for job creation and developing the SMMEs. She asked about SAWS employees who were demoralised and leaving. Why were the scientists demoralised and intending to leave? Regarding the budget, in some cases SAWS underspends and in other cases it overspends. How did it monitor its budget expenditure? Was there a monitoring system in place so that it did not overspend or underspend? Why was there overspending on the salaries, and what was the threshold at SAWS regarding the salaries for the employees? Was it financially prudent to pay these salaries against what had been budgeted for? How had SAWS arrived at the decision to pay these salaries knowing very well that it did not have the budget to do so? Why had it underspent when it knew very well, based on the report, that its assets were deprecating in value and had to be taken care of? Bearing in mind that SAWS had to provide information and save lives, how would it ensure that its under-expenditure, especially insofar as its assets were concerned, would be addressed? This was a great concern. Regarding adhering to the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA), it showed that its financial systems were not working adequately and needed to be corrected. Lastly, how many employees did SAWS have and what were the demographics? Was SAWS achieving its targets in terms of its employment equity plan?
Mr Singh referred to the suspension of the CEO, and commented on the proposed hearing dates. He asked why SAWS would propose the 23-25 September, when 24 September was a holiday. While it had been stated that the suspended CEO was one of the best in the country, if somebody had done something wrong and transgressed in terms of the PFMA, then he or she must pay the price. To what extent did SAWS provide air quality information for communities which was relevant to them, so that they would know that certain cities or industries were polluting their environment? could SAWS provide a ratio between the provision of its services with regard to the public good, and to the commercial sector? This was in order to see if the information that was being provided to the commercial sector was facilitating a return on SAWS’s investment, or if there was a loss. Were the other providers of information, apart from SAWS, also regulated by the SAWS Act? Sometimes the information that was put out by various organisations was poles apart. Lastly, what were the number of members on the board, who were they, and did they get any remuneration or allowances for the meetings that they attend?
Mr Modise, on the sub judice matter, said that there were details in the two pages that, it could be argued, were sub judice. Where did the sub judice limits lie in this post-Constitutional era? As there was no organogram, who were the members of the board? It was very difficult for the Committee to know who it was dealing with. How many employees were in the organisation? Regarding the alleged misconduct of the CEO , this whole matter had started in 14 September 2018 -- were both the acting CEO and the suspended CEO being paid? If so, why did this matter have to be dragged out in this manner? The CEO speaks about increases, when a simple misconduct matter cannot be resolved. Given that there is the PFMA, why cannot SAWS deal with it as a board? Where was this board? Where were they? The Committee would like to see them. The issue of the organogram must not be left unattended at this meeting.
Regarding the salary increases for the scientists, who were these people and how many of them were they? South Africa used to be a member of the World Meteorological Executive Council -- was it still a member? If not, why was that the case? If South Africa had lost this seat, why, when and how did it happen? Who would be accountable for such a loss?
Ms Magomola responded on why the given dates were chosen for the hearings, and explained that it had taken a long time for this process to go through. When the process was about to be started, the counsel for the CEO had indicated he would be unable to participate because of the injury. It had been stressed that that the process could not be prolonged any further. The days had been accepted knowing very well that one of the dates was a holiday. When five legal parties were being dealt with, there were many diaries that had to be managed. This was why the dates had to be accepted as is. The preliminary remarks that the suspended CEO was a good performer was in the context of his abilities. When somebody had committed an offence, however, this could not be ignored.
As to why all the board members were not present, there had been a request for them all to be present, but because SAWS were already here for the report, the delegates had thought it prudent to share the process with the Committee. It was also a way of controlling costs. Between herself, the Deputy Chairperson and the DDG, the delegates present should be able to deal with the matter. The board was very worried that this process had dragged on the way it had. In terms of the Labour Relations Act, this process could probably have long been over. It did not take that long. Unfortunately, the SAWS Act had been reviewed a couple of years ago and, in the review of the Act, there was a specific process that was outlined about how the CEO gets suspended. It was a very long and arduous process. The board had to follow those steps, and could not suspend him as a board. In terms of the Labour Relations Act, the board could have suspended him itself. The Minister’s permission to suspend had to be sought, as well as to investigate. The board was in a position, however, where it could conclude this matter, hopefully, by the end of October.
Regarding the payment, the reason why the board had an existing member of staff in an acting position was to reduce the cost. The board was not paying two salaries, but was paying the current acting CEO’s salary and 20% of the suspended CEO’s salary.
Dr Phillip Dexter, Chairperson: SAWS Audit and Risk Committee, said that the board had raised the issue of the Act and the CEO process, with a request that it be reviewed. The board’s hands were tied by the legislation.
Ms Magomola explained that the legislation was now in the process of review. Hopefully, when it was complete, this matter could be taken back to the Labour Relations Act, which was quite adequate in terms of dealing with this matter.
Mr Ndabambi said that some of the radars were not operational. The George radar was being relocated to Port Elizabeth. In Port Elizabeth, there was currently no radar because it had been relocated to Skukuza. George had a Aspen radar, which could see a greater distance. It was not optimally used, however, because of the mountains. George was also along the south coast. The weather could also be measured with a satellite. In Port Elizabeth, there was a Seabed radar which was vulnerable to frequency interferences. It was not useful,l and the data was very poor. In Skukuza, SAWS was getting value out of it. The radar was being used for research internally.
The SAWS website would be attended to. Regarding the mobile app subscription fee for warnings, SAWS provided warnings to all the media, radios and the disaster management authorities. Where it had invested to have another way to send warnings, it needed to recover that cost. This was the only reason that there was a subscription fee, bearing in mind that SAWS also had a commercial mandate.
Regarding early warning systems, SAWS was introducing impact-based forecasting, but could not. have this for two years. Impact-based forecasting meant that SAWS was not only describing what the weather would be, but what the impact of the weather would be. It had started to operationalise it now.
SAWS was alive to the requirements of the NDP and the oceans economy, although it did not appear in the APP. It did have a marine strategy which was currently unfunded. At the operational level, there were activities. SAWS was also working with Operation Phakisa. Once it had funding, it could bring a target or activity to the Committee.
Insofar as the demoralised scientists were concerned, when SAWS had engaged the unions, they had been alluding to the fact that there were many acting positions. At that point, SAWS also did not have an executive for Weather and Climate Services. An executive had been appointed from 1 April. There was one acting person in the executive. Regarding the number of employees, SAWS was busy reviewing the structure of the organogram. When the board returned, it would come with those details. In total, there were 486 employees, including the head office and the regions. The board would bring the details in so far as demographics were concerned.
Warning communities on air quality was a new mandate for SAWS. It was monitoring and starting to get information on where the air quality threshold was being exceeded. The Department was responsible for enforcement, and was developing policies for this. Once this process was complete, it would use this information to enforce.
SAWS could differentiate between public and commercial good by using activity-based costing. In some areas, as SAWS was starting a commercial mandate, there had been instances where it was running at a loss, more especially when costing had not included the follow-on services. This had been corrected.
Regarding whether other providers of weather services were regulated in terms of the Act, these organisations were not regulated. SAWS had had workshops with the other organisations and shared with them SAWS’s importance. They were the means of disseminating warnings and accurate information. Their databases were increasing.
SAWS had lost its seat on the World Meteorological Executive Council. The CEO was a permanent representative with the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO). South Africa needed to contest for a seat on the executive council. It was already agreed within the sub-region that South Africa would be the executive council. However, because of the disciplinary process, he could not be on the executive council as an acting CEO. It required a CEO who was a permanent representative of the country. South Africa had a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Mozambique. It deliberated with the board and then the sub-region, and it had been decided to give that position to Mozambique. It was strategic. In future, when they voted for an executive council seat, Mozambique would support South Africa. Secondly, because of the relationship, it would be easy to channel inputs through Mozambique and have a voice on the executive council. At the WMO Congress, South Africa participates and submits information. This information was taken into account.
Ms Shongwe referred to the monitoring of the budget, and said that because most of SAWS processes were manual, it did not have a system where it could just take out the figures. This was how SAWS had ended up overspending on those items. When these things were looked into, this was when the overspending and deficit had been identified. They had, however, procured a new Address Resolution Protocol (ARP) system which was operational from this month. Everything would be done on this system. When people were procuring what they have not budgeted for, the system would not allow them to do the requisitions. This would not be repeated. It was just an error due to the fact that the old processes were manual.
The reason for the depreciation was the fact the SAWS could not buy the infrastructure and other property, plant and equipment (PPE) during that financial year, so there had been under-spending of R27 million. With assets not being there, SAWS had nothing to depreciate, meaning that the depreciation would come below what had actually been budgeted for.
Regarding the employee costs, ideally SAWS should not spend what it had not budgeted for. With the salary parity exercise, which had happened towards the end of 2017/18, the budgeting process had been completed at that point. SAWS, having paid the additional amount in March 2018, had not taken this into account when the budget for 2018/19 was done. It was a cost where one could not give an increase one month and then stop the next. It was something which SAWS was looking into now when it was doing the second and third phase to ensure that when it was implemented, it was incorporated into the budget as well, so that the overspending in the current financial year was not reflected again going forward.
Dr Dexter explained that the board and the audit committee had been seized with the issue of the financial system. It had discovered these gaps now with the early warning in the financial system, which gives an indication of where the spending is going. At the board strategy session next week, it would be a priority. The second priority would be to cut expenditure to ensure that the current budget was balanced and that the same problem did not re-emerge.
There was one thing that had to be addressed, and that was the question of investment in infrastructure which, as the CEO had mentioned, was very sensitive to the currency exchange rate because it was imported. Part of this was how SAWS could develop the capacity locally to produce the kind of things that SAWS needed -- not just radar, but things like the computers which were a unique system that had to be maintained. It went back to the public good versus the commercial side of the business. If SAWS wanted a good service that provided quality information, then it needed an investment in both the infrastructure and in the key kinds of skills. I
Regarding employment equity and the issue of more women becoming scientists, SAWS had a programme at the university level to focus on this. It was not within SAWS’s budget to address the issue. When there was time, it would be good to engage on these matters again with the Committee, to identify what the environmental factors that affected SAWS were.
Dr Tsakani Ngomane, Deputy Director General: Climate Change, Air Quality and Sustainable Development, DEA, referred to the confidential documents regarding the investigation on the CEO, and said SAWS had made available all the hard copies to the Chairperson of the Committee so that the board would not be found wanting during the investigation.
She said the board members were appointed in terms of the South African Weather Services Act. The provisions of the Act stipulate that the board must consist of a chief executive officer, a senior official of the Department of Environment, with approval from the Minister, and have no fewer than eight members and no more than ten. Currently, the board had nine members. They had started on 1 January 2019 for a period of three years. They were expected to serve until 31 December 2021. In terms of the gender breakdown, there were four females, excluding the shareholder representative, and five males.
The meeting was adjourned.
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