SANParks & Isimangaliso Wetland Park Authority 2020/21 Annual Performance Plans; with Minister and Deputy Minister

Environment, Forestry and Fisheries

07 May 2020
Chairperson: Mr F Xasa (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

Audio: SANParks & Isimangaliso Wetland Park Authority 2020/21 Annual Performance Plans; with Minister and Deputy Minister 

Annual Performance Plan (APP) of Government Departments & Entities 20/2021

South African National Parks (SANParks) and iSimangaliso Wetland Park Authority met with the Portfolio Committee on Environment, Forestry and Fisheries to present their respective 2020/21-2023/24 Strategic Plans and 2020/21 Annual Performance Plans.

SANParks’ target was to receive an unqualified audit opinion without findings. In 2019, the entity did a quality assurance assessment with PWC which revealed several gaps. In 2020/21, the entity planned to implement 50% of corrective actions and self-assessments. One of the main goals of the entity was to invest in high quality infrastructure. A committee had since been established for this purpose.

The entity distributed food parcels to vulnerable communities and prepared preventative efforts such as screening, the procurement of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) and training of staff in collaboration with the Department of Health (DoH).

The entity’s total planned revenue stood at R3.097 billion which was a 14% increase from the previous financial year’s forecast. Of this, tourism income accounted for approximately 36%, and conservation was 28%. Jointly, these allocations represented a 16% increase from the previous financial year. Budgeted expenditure for FY2020/21 was R3.081 billion.

iSimangaliso’s total expenditure for the 2020/21 financial year was projected to be about R204.642 million, which would be spread across four programmes, namely: Corporate Support Services, Biodiversity Conservation, Tourism and Business Development and Transformation.

The entity also highlighted the various activities it would be maintain through the level four and level five lockdown restrictions. These included: wildlife management, anti-poaching, water reticulation, food relief support and COVID-19 workplace readiness.

Given the current lockdown restrictions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, Members asked about the revisions that would be made to both the annual performance plans and budgets of the entities.

Members asked what support was being provided to surrounding communities who, under normal circumstances, benefitted from the economic activities of national parks. Given the lockdown restrictions, what is being done to help these communities as national parks are not an essential service?  As lockdown measures are lifted, what measures will be put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19?

Members highlighted the crucial economic role played by tourism. How will entities’ strategies address the need to attract more tourists beyond lockdown restrictions? What is the readiness of these entities to deliver on improving diverse responsible tourism?

The Committee commended the efforts made by SANParks and iSimangaliso to provide food parcels to vulnerable communities surrounding the parks. Both entities showed commitment to ensuring that surrounding communities benefitted from their presence through various projects such as the up-skilling of youth.

The Minister acknowledged the Committee’s concerns and said the Department and both entities were awaiting direction from National Treasury on any possible revisions. Both entities indicated that they had developed business continuity plans in response to the pandemic and were in a good position to mitigate some of the challenges that had been brought by the pandemic. Some of the efforts included the PPE, hand sanitisers and masks for all employees. Once lockdown restrictions allowed, all returning employees and park visitors would undergo mandatory screening.  SANParks and iSimangaliso were both working closely with the Department of Health to provide training for employees and to refer any possible cases.

Meeting report

Opening Remarks by the Chairperson
The Chairperson welcomed the Members to the meeting. He acknowledged and thanked both the Minister and Deputy Minister for their presence. The meeting would be a presentation on the Strategic Plans and Annual Performance Plans (APP) of SANParks and iSimangaliso Wetland Park Authority – two of the Department’s entities.

The Minister acknowledged that the Committee would understandably ask what impact the COVID-19 pandemic would have on the expected revenue of the entities and how these entities planned to recover in light of lockdown restrictions. At the point, the Department was not in a position to provide such details. However, extensive work was being done by the boards of the entities, in collaboration with the Department and National Treasury (NT), to address such matters. The Department would provide more information once it becomes available. The Department was also currently in the process of putting together an advisory panel to lead discussions around the identification of international distress relief resources for conservation efforts in the country. The Department’s legal team was working to figure out how this advisory panel would be set up. A follow-up would be provided to the Committee once this had been decided. The Department was mindful of the financial challenges that would be faced, particularly in funding conservation efforts.

Presentation by South African National Parks (SANParks)
Ms Joane Yawitch, Chairperson, SANParks Board, reported that the board had been working very closely with the management of SANParks to develop a plan on how best to improve conservation management, and on how to support and provide added benefit to surrounding communities and stakeholders. It had also considered how to maximise revenue potential of the parks in order to ensure they ran well and supported the economy – both at the local and national level.

Mr Fundisile Mketeni, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), SANParks, gave a presentation on the entity’s 2020/21-2023/24 Strategic Plan as well as the 2020/21 APP.  

Mr Mketeni discussed the outcome goals of the strategic plan and highlighted the various expected indicators and targets under each goal. Below are some of the key points:

SANParks aimed to increase the hectares (ha) of land under conservation in national parks, with a targeted 4 000 ha by 2020/21 and a cumulative target of 165 000 ha by 2023/24. The entity plans to maintain the effectiveness of its parks; this would be ensured through continuous assessments against a METT target of 67%. Parks that did not fulfil this condition would have corrective actions implemented and would be reassessed. In five years’ time, SANParks expected that 20 parks would be assessed. The entity also aimed to accelerate work towards climate change mitigation, promote climate resilience and perform vulnerability assessments across national parks in the next five years.

A new indicator was developed towards improving management of aquatic systems. SANParks looked to create a framework to guide the management of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and estuaries as these were inextricably linked.  An additional framework was to be developed towards the management of cultural heritage resources.

SANParks made a commitment to stop the decline of the rhino population at the Kruger National Park. The entity has set annual targets to increase rhino population by 1% at Kruger and 4% across other national parks. Additional efforts such as anti-poaching projects would be made towards sustaining healthy populations of wildlife across species.

SANParks also aimed to increase the contracting of SMMEs to at least 2 680 cumulatively over the five year period. Similarly, outsourcing to BBBEEs would be increased to 80%.

SANParks’ target was to receive an unqualified audit opinion without findings. In 2019, SANParks did a quality assurance assessment with PWC which revealed several gaps. SANParks’ 2020/21 target was to implement 50% of corrective actions and self-assessments.

One of the main goals of the entity was to invest in high quality infrastructure. A committee had since been established for this purpose.

Following the country’s transition from level five to level four lockdown restrictions, SANParks reintroduced several activities including: anti-poaching and law enforcement; wildlife management and vet services; conservation work; financial management and human resources for the purpose of payroll. The entity distributed food parcels to vulnerable communities and prepared preventative efforts such as screening, the procurement of personal protection equipment (PPE) and training of staff in collaboration with the Department of Health (DoH).

Mr Dumisani Dlamini, Chief Financial Officer (CFO), SANParks, presented a summary of the entity’s 2020/21 budget. The total planned revenue stood at R3.097 billion which was a 14% increase from the previous financial year’s forecast. This was due to the inclusion of the EPWP budget.  Of this, tourism income accounted for approximately 36%, and conservation was 28%. Jointly, these allocations represented a 16% increase from the previous financial year. Budgeted expenditure for FY2020/21 was R3.081 billion. Human capital costs made up approximately 49% of the budget followed by 26% in operational costs.  The maintenance budget was 41% higher than the previous financial year. This was primarily because of SANParks’ focus towards investment infrastructure. SANParks had also received an additional R114.7 million from the Department towards infrastructural development.

Discussion
Mr N Paulsen (EFF) thanked the Minister and representatives of SANParks for the presentation. He asked what support was being provided to surrounding communities who, under normal circumstances, benefitted from the economic activities of national parks. Given the lockdown restrictions, what is being done to help these communities as national parks are not an essential service?  As lockdown measures are lifted, what measures will be put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19? Will the public be screened prior to entering parks?

Mr Mketeni responded that there had been widespread relief provided to communities within close proximity of national parks. This included the provision of water tanks. SANParks would continue to work with its partners to raise funds towards this cause.

SANParks has a Standard Operating Procedure and guidelines in place to address screening of employees and the general public once lockdown restrictions on national parks are lifted. Staff members were trained by the DoH to ensure they were able to perform screening of visitors at the entrances. The entity had already established a programme with the DoH to refer any suspected cases of COVID-19 for further testing and isolation.

Ms H Winkler (DA) referred to the current annual growth targets for rhino population: 4% for SANParks and 1% for Kruger National Park. She did not believe that this was enough to offset the level of poaching as per the Black Rhino Biodiversity Management Plan. Had this management plan been revised? Had the budget for anti-poaching been decreased in the previous year? If so, why? Would this area be prioritised following the budget adjustments which would be tabled?  She asked for a list of the national parks which would be handling the oversight of the MPAs.

Mr Mketeni responded that the white rhino population was being targeted at a higher rate than black rhinos. Black rhinos were currently being moved to smaller national parks as a mitigation strategy. The smaller the area they were located in, the easier it was to perform surveillance. The movement of animals away from poaching hotspots was a strategy SANParks had been implementing for the previous four years.

He indicated that two MPAs had since been assigned to SANParks by the Minister, with potential for more. 

Mr Dlamini confirmed that the budget for anti-poaching had been increased. The current budget was R270 million which included conservation, rangers and protection services. There had been an increase in the costs associated with anti-poaching programmes, especially in the Kruger National Park.  In addition, SANParks received additional funds from NGO contributions.

Mr J Lorimer (DA) said the SARS Commissioner had projected a 11-12% decrease in government revenue which would likely lead to budget cuts. Given this, the figures presented by SANParks were unlikely to be realised. Which areas has SANParks identified for budget cuts?  Will the plan to outsource procurement to BBBEEs and SMMEs increase costs and by how much?

Mr Dlamini responded that SANParks had already identified areas for potential cost cutting. The organisation will focus on its top 20 spending areas including; overtime, travel, training, benefits and consulting.

Mr Mketeni responded that procurement by BBBEEs and SMMEs would not increase any costs. The CFO would elaborate if time allowed.

Mr Dlamini elaborated that the increase in outsourcing by BBEEs and SMMEs would not lead to increased overall costs. This was because only the component of bid specification and evaluation would be outsourced and not the transactional procurement. This would only lead to minimal changes.

Ms T Mchunu (ANC) thanked SANParks for its presentation and the Department for the work it had been doing. She asked if the EPWP was already active or if it would be used, following level four restrictions.  She recommended that the Committee accept the report as tabled, given the current situation faced by the entire country.

Mr N Singh (IFP) disagreed with Ms Mchunu’s recommendation to table the report as it was. It was important to take into account the current realities. He asked what the new priorities would be and how spending would be amended to reflect this. How will SANParks manage, given that income revenue will be lower than expected?

Mr Mketeni said that new priorities would be established in time with the unfolding of events.

Ms N Gantsho (ANC) commended SANParks for its involvement in the distribution of food parcels to vulnerable communities. She asked if there were any possible job losses that would result from the pandemic.

Mr Mketeni responded that it was difficult to respond on the issue of job losses. However, he was hopeful that many jobs would be saved.

Mr P Modise (ANC) highlighted the crucial economic role played by tourism. How will SANParks’ strategy address the need to attract more tourists beyond lockdown restrictions? What is the readiness of SANParks to deliver on improving diverse responsible tourism (outcome goal two)?

Mr Mketeni responded that indeed, as indicated, tourism was a revenue engine. SANParks planned on doing extensive promotion and packages to encourage tourists once lockdown restrictions are lifted.

Ms Yawitch acknowledged the questions raised by the Committee and that they mainly rooted in seeking clarity during uncertain times. She echoed the Minister in saying that SANParks was still awaiting guidance from NT in relation to any possible amendments to the APP or the budget. Until then, the board and management could not proceed to identify any possible changes. This was why the Minister had suggested the need to return and report to the Committee once directives had been received from Treasury. The same applied to job losses. SANParks currently does not expect any job losses but this could only be guaranteed once guidance had been received.

The Chairperson said that there were additional questions raised by the Committee over WhatsApp and that these should be addressed later in writing.

The Minister acknowledged the frustration of Members. Had she chosen, she would not have presented the budget and APP given the current challenges. However, she was guided by the directives of the National Assembly which called for such processes to be upheld. She asked the Committee to allow the Department to do the necessary work and to account for adjustments as always.

Presentation by iSimangaliso Wetland Park Authority
Professor Thandi Nzama, Chairperson of iSimangaliso, thanked the Minister and Committee for the opportunity to present the entity’s Strategic Plan and 2020/21 APP.

ISimangaliso had several strategic outcomes which were developed and implemented in alignment with government’s imperative. Its APP had four programmatic areas, namely: Corporate Support Services, Biodiversity Conservation, Tourism and Business Development and Transformation (Social and Economic Development). The entity had 61 output indicators across the named programme areas.

The entity developed a business continuity plan in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and was in constant engagement with the Department to ensure the implementation of guidelines and regulations as stipulated by government. The entity also has developed a plan on how to best handle the return of employees during the level 4 restrictions; those who could work from home were still encouraged to do so. 

Mr Sibusiso Bukhosini, CEO, iSimangaliso, said that the objectives of the park are to protect, preserve and present World Heritage Values, empower the historically disadvantaged, benefit communities living within and close to the park and to optimise tourism and related economic development in the park.

The Strategic plan overview aimed to:

-Review existing contractual agreements between iSimangaliso and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife
-Review current business model which had proven to be a challenge
-Outline key areas aimed at diversifying tourism offerings
-Deliver socioeconomic benefits to communities within the park
-Engage and improve relations with traditional authorities and other stakeholders

Mr Bukhosini echoed Professor Nzama and said that iSimangaliso had developed its APP with government goals in mind. These goals were: social cohesion and safe communities; a capable, ethical and developmental state; economic transformation and job creation, and a better Africa and world.  The four programme areas therefore spoke to these goals.

Mr Nginindza, CFO, iSimangaliso, presented the 2020/21 budget estimates. He indicated that the park relied heavily on grant funding which accounted for approximately 75% of its revenue; this was due to the current business model being employed. However, as stated by the CEO, this was being revised. He acknowledged the financial implications of the COVID-19 pandemic and stated that the entity had prepared a proposed plan; it was awaiting feedback from the Department. Below are the highlights of the entity’s APP:

Programme 1: Corporate Support Services
The presented 2020/21 budget estimate for this programme was R67 556 150.  The proposed outcomes were as follows:

-Focused efforts towards clean administration as recommended by the Minister
-Targeted budget spend of 95% for the 2020/21-2023/24 period
-Targeted employee turnover rate of ³ 10% for the 2020/21 to 2023/24 period
-50% new independent research proposal approvals
-Increased stakeholder engagement to improve public perceptions of the park

Programme 2: Biodiversity Conservation
The presented 2020/21 budget estimate for this programme was R67 701 902. The overall outcome was to mitigate biodiversity threats and maintain World Heritage Sites. This would be achieved through:

-Scheduled quarterly meetings with Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife
-Twelve environmental audits per annum
-Controlling of unauthorised developments within the park

Programme 3: Tourism and Business Development
The presented 2020/21 budget estimate for this programme was R46 800 465. Some of the expected outcomes included:

-A five-year communication and marketing plan
-Completion of visitor satisfaction surveys (one per annum)
-Increased social media marketing
-Increased paid visitor entries and revenue

Mr Bukhosini noted that targets for paid visitors and revenue were likely to be impacted by lockdown restrictions.

Programme 4: Transformation (Social and Economic Development)
The presented 2020/21 budget estimate for this programme was R22 584 209. Some of the expected outcomes were as follows:  

-Provide cumulative number of 2 750 full-time jobs to communities over five years
-Have 215 individuals complete skills development programmes in 2020/21
-Recruit 100 participants in rural enterprise programmes

The entity also highlighted the various activities it would be maintain through the level four and level five lockdown restrictions. These included: wildlife management, anti-poaching, water reticulation, food relief support and COVID-19 workplace readiness.

Discussion
Ms Winkler followed up on the incidence of rhino poaching and asked if there had been any cases within the last six months. She said that there were concerns around iSimangaliso’s transition from implementation to management of MPAs due to a need for increased revenue to fund this purpose. What was the status on this as well as the phasing out of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife regarding conservation aspects? She also asked if there were any new dune mine applications.

Mr Bukhosini responded that they had seen a sharp decline in the incidence of rhino poaching over the last six months. Figures from previous years were notably higher than they currently are. He acknowledged that there was a fiscal challenge posed by the transition from implementation to management of MPAs. However, iSimangaliso collaborated with an NGO called Wild Oceans to execute some of the activities related to MPAs. Additional funding of R1.5 million was received from the Department to complement the previous budget of R2.2 million.

He indicated that iSimangaliso was currently working on the phasing out of Ezemvelo; a report on how the transition would be finalised was still being drafted. Although, it was too early to indicate how things would eventually turn out, the boards of both entities had met to discuss a way forward. On the issue of dune mining, he responded that there were currently no new applications since the last engagement with the Committee.

Mr Singh agreed with the Minister that it would have been better to present at a later stage, given the current situation and the impact of COVID-19 on these entities.  He asked what the current relationship was between iSimangaliso, traditional authorities and surrounding communities as this was highlighted as an area of work. What is the current relationship with Ezemvelo KZN given previous tensions between the two authorities? Has this relationship improved and what does iSimangaliso envisage the relationship will look like in order to improve the functioning of the park? He also asked how much money had been set aside for the food parcel distribution project and how iSimangaliso had determined who would benefit.

Mr Bukhosini said that he could not speak at length about the relationship between iSimangaliso and traditional authorities and communities prior to having completed the stakeholder survey. However, there had been significant improvement; community members and other stakeholders had become more proactive in communicating with the park.

He said the relationship between Ezemvelo and iSimangaliso has undoubtedly improved. The two entities had been engaging in joint meetings and were addressing pertinent issues without any problems.  On the issue of food parcel distribution, he responded that the focus had mainly been on destitute families located within the park. The entity enlisted the help of traditional authorities and ward councillors to identify families that were at most need. No money had been set aside from the budget for this purpose as funds had been donated to iSimangaliso. The distribution was well executed and received by the community.

Mr Paulsen noted that there was a comprehensive plan for business development; he asked if this plan had been revised following COVID-19. How are resources that had been allocated for this purpose being managed during the lockdown period?

Ms Mbatha asked what iSimangaliso was doing towards occupational health and safety during the pandemic. What has been done to address issues surrounding compliance to regulations, issuing of personal protective equipment (PPE) and awareness on COVID-19?

Mr Bukhosini indicated that iSimangaliso had developed a comprehensive plan which detailed the identification of vulnerable employees, screening before returning to work and deep cleaning of all facilities. Thermometers, hand sanitisers and masks were procured. Returning employees would undergo mandatory screening and would be required to fill in declaration forms detailing their symptoms if they had any and if they had travelled outside of the province. The entity was working closely with the DoH to refer any cases that raised suspicion.

Concluding remarks
Prof. Nzama thanked the Committee, the Minister and Deputy Minister for their presence and contributions. She said that notable strides had been made towards ensuring the entity was ready and fully capable to tackle any issues following the return of employees.

The Minister took a moment to apologise for not formally introducing Prof. Nzama as the new Chair of the iSimangaliso board as this was her first engagement with the Committee.

The meeting was adjourned.
 

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