The Committee had its first meeting for the new year to adopt the first term programme. The programme and the amendments proposed during the meeting were adopted.
Members raised concerns over issues of oversight, specifically time constraints, simultaneous oversight resulting in a Committee split, and the restriction on exercising individual oversight. The Committee agreed to fulfil its oversight duties in the first term as a joint unit, instead of splitting into two groups. It decided that issues of oversight must be raised to the highest level of Parliament.
Members agreed to find an alternative organisation for the legislation workshop, and invite research units to present, to improve the Committee's understanding of environmental issues. The Committee asked questions about conducting oversight on the executive and following-up on the Department’s responses to community appeals.
The Chairperson welcomed everyone in attendance and remarked that the last six months had been a good experience. This was the Committee’s first meeting for the new year. The year would be busy for the Committee, especially for the first six months, because of the backlogs in fisheries and forestry. He hoped the Committee would effectively catch up on this.
He emphasised the need to plan properly and address the systemic problems faced with oversight. For instance, after planning and adopting quarterly frameworks, communication became less than what was expected. If Members of Parliament engaged only with the documents they were presented with, and not the communities who benefited from government actions, the Committee could not do quality oversight.
He said the purpose of the meeting was to adopt the programme for the first term.
The Committee Secretary gave apologies for three Committee Members who could not attend -- Ms S Mbatha (ANC), Ms T Mchunu (ANC) and Mr J Lorimer (DA).
The Chairperson confirmed the agenda and proposed its adoption.
Mr N Singh (IFP) moved the adoption of the agenda.
Ms H Winkler (DA) seconded the motion.
Consideration of draft Committee programme
The Chairperson proposed a page by page agreement on the first term Committee programme and ultimately its adoption.
Mr Singh said he had a few items to raise for inclusion in the programme and asked if these should be raised now or later.
The Chairperson responded by saying they would decide as the meeting proceeded.
Ms Winkler expressed concern over a constant miscommunication of the Committee’s oversight function, and its ability to effectively exercise this mandate, given the clash between the Parliamentary programme and what the Committee was presented with. She appealed to the Committee to please reconsider the arrangement of simultaneous oversight visits planned for 27 March, so that all Members could attend to both provinces, instead of splitting the Committee into two groups. The split would be a disservice to Members interested in attending to the environmental issues of both provinces. All Members must have a handle on issues across the provinces.
Mr M Paulsen (EFF) referred to a letter from the University of Cape Town (UCT), stating their unavailability to present the environmental workshop. He requested that the Committee arrange for a non-governmental organisation (NGO) that practiced environmental law to provide the training instead.
The Chairperson responded to the issue regarding the simultaneous oversight. The Committee had agreed on no separation of groups, and would instead attend each oversight as one group. Time might be an issue, however, and would have to be dealt with, as oversight was the main function of Parliament.
He said that the UCT workshop was necessary so that the Committee could be taken through legislation, in order to do proper oversight. It could agree to urgently find alternatives that could provide the workshop.
Ms A Weber (DA) said that she had performed her oversight duties in December and January by visiting SASOL and Eskom power stations. She had faced challenges when visiting the Medupi power station in Limpopo. She had been denied access several times because she had required a letter from the Chairperson of the Committee, and one from Minister De Lille. The power station had then required her to come with the Committee, not alone. She asked how Members should perform their job of oversight when faced with such challenges.
The Chairperson responded that the responsibility of oversight was delegated to the Committee, not the individual. The official report on oversight must be from the Committee. Challenges faced by individuals doing their constituency work were not necessarily related to the Committee’s programme. The point raised by Ms Weber showed that the Committee was not doing what it was supposed to do with regard to oversight.
Ms Winkler raised three concerns:
- The Committee’s recommendations were often not followed through in departments. She asked how the Committee was keeping track of recommendations given to Departments, to do effective oversight on the executive.
- She noted a disjunction between this Committee and the Committee for Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, due to overlapping legislation. For instance, three new species were domesticated and fell under the agriculture legislation, such as the lion. However, the Committee dealt with lion hunting issues. She suggested that there should be monthly joint Committee meetings with the Committee for Agriculture to address the overlapping legislation.
- She said she had been denied access to the Engen and South African Petroleum Refineries (SAPREF) establishments in Durban because they required her to visit with the Committee. She believed that Members had a mandate to exercise individual oversight as public servants. She highlighted the Chairperson's comment earlier on time constraints. Available Members should be able to exercise individual oversight.
Mr Singh suggested that the Committee should decide on a list of areas they would like to visit, and provide a motivation for each and choose two to three Members to carry out oversight as representatives of the Committee. The sub-Committee of members could then present the oversight report to the Committee, which would then resolve further. This unified individual and Committee responsibilities, and should be planned for the next three months. The job of the Committee was to engage with people and address the issues they presented.
He emphasised the Committee's responsibility to follow up with the Department on their response to issues cited in letters from the Wildlife Animal Protection of South Africa, specifically, the memorandum to the Director General sent on 24 November 2019. The Committee should also follow up on the letter from the firm of attorneys concerning an advisory panel unknown to the Committee.
Mr Singh called attention to a question he posed to the Minister regarding the banning of line fishermen in a marine protected area. He asked the Committee to monitor the response, as he suspected the ban was not based on a scientific exercise but rather on complaints from community members. The reason for his suspicions was the conflicting signs he saw during his visit to the area. One of the signs read: "In the forests and the mountains, on the beaches, in the rivers and the sea, animals do not leave trash or litter like animals do. Please behave like animals. Have a fantastic day in Clansthal.” He said it was derogatory, racist and demeaning to anyone who came to that area.
The Chairperson acknowledged receipt of the memorandum, the letter and the images of the conflicting sign.
Ms Weber asked how many research organisations or Committees were being sponsored by the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF), and to whom they reported. She suggested the Committee should invite some of the organisations, such as the Rhodes University Centre for Biological Control (CBC), to share their research and experiences with the Committee.
The Chairperson replied that the Committee would first like to be work-shopped on the legislation concerning its work. However, they could be invited to empower the Committee and improve its understanding. The new programme attempted to include more research presentations, hence the invitation to UCT.
He commented that Mr Singh’s proposal of splitting into groups contradicted the Committee’s initial agreement to do oversight jointly, as suggested by Ms Weber. The Committee had agreed to do the oversight duties jointly in the current programme. In future, it would have to decide on how best to do oversight according to Mr Singh’s proposal.
The Chairperson acknowledged the joint Committee’s proposal, and agreed that this would be necessary.
He asked for proposals on the adoption of the programme and its amendments.
Ms N Gantsho (ANC) proposed the adoption of the programme and its amendments.
Ms Weber seconded the motion.
The programme was adopted.
The Chairperson, in closing, mentioned the agreement on adopting the programme and following-up on the amendments that had been discussed. The issue of oversight must be raised to the highest level of Parliament.
Where the executive did not carry out its duties, the Committee must receive an explanation and interrogate the answers given. There needed to be an acknowledgement and a scientific response from the Minister with regard to the letters they received. The Committee could not determine the content of the Minister’s response, but it could interrogate its quality.
The Chairperson concluded that he hoped the Committee would have a good year.
The meeting was adjourned.
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