South African Weather Service & SANBI 2020/21 Annual Performance Plans; with Ministry; COVID-19 Update

Environment, Forestry and Fisheries

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

Audio: South African Weather Service & SANBI 2020/21 Annual Performance Plans

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

The South African Weather Service (SAWS) and the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) met with the Committee to present their respective 2020/21-2023/24 Strategic Plans and 2020/21 Annual Performance Plans.

SAWS said it had two strategic outcomes it would prioritise over the next five years -- the safeguarding of lives and property against meteorological-related risks, and organisational sustainability. It aimed to improve the percentage of available weather-related services and the number of engagements to reach vulnerable communities, to empower them to make informed decisions when extreme weather occurred. The entity highlighted some of the measures it would introduce, such as awareness programmes targeted at 44 district municipalities and 20 vulnerable communities over the 2020/21-2025 period. A crucial area for the entity was to improve its organisational sustainability by increasing its total non-regulated income growth, from R32.4 million to R53.1 million, over the next five years.

SAWS highlighted the various actions it would implement to ensure the safety of essential workers through the level four lockdown restrictions. These included the provision of personal protective equipment (PPE), the disinfecting of offices in compliance with Department of Health (DoH) guidelines, and the screening of all returning employees.

Members asked how SAWS planned to maintain its commercial revenue, given that it may not be able to provide some of its services during the current situation. A key concern was the allegations of irregular appointments of some officials, and SAWS was asked to formally submit a written report detailing the circumstances under which these officials had been appointed and how these irregularities had been handled.

SANBI said it planned to increase its percentage of paid visitors, participation in science engagement programmes and total post-graduate bursary awards. To improve its administration, its aim was to achieve a 10% (R16 million) year-on-year increase in generating its own income. It also wanted to ensure it received an unqualified audit opinion.

Members asked SANBI to provide a written response detailing the reasons behind the approximately R50 million increase in overall employee costs. Had the entity received any claims from employees and made use of the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) due to COVID-19?  Would revisions be made to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) Act on the export of live wildlife, given the current challenges posed by the pandemic?

The Committee commended both SAWS and SANBI for the initiative and foresight they had demonstrated by developing comprehensive economic recovery plans.

Meeting report

The Chairperson welcomed Ms Barbara Creecy, Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, and Ms Maggie Sotyu, Deputy Minister, to the Department’s presentation of the strategic plans and annual performance plans of two of its entities -- the South African Weather Service (SAWS) and the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI).

South African Weather Services (SAWS)
Ms Nana Magomola, Chairperson: Board of SAWS, said presenting the entity’s plans was not the easiest of tasks to complete, given the uncertainty arising from the current situation. The decision by rating agencies to downgrade the country’s credit rating, compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, had left the country and entities in a difficult position. However, SAWS remained committed to its mandate of providing reliable weather services to support public good and commercial ventures, to provide aeronautical and marine meteorological services and to provide ambient quality services. The board and management had jointly put in an effort to make sure that the strategic plans of the entity were aligned with government goals and the National Development Plan (NDP).

Mr Mnikeli Ndabambi, Acting Chief Executive Officer (CEO), SAWS, gave a presentation of the entity’s strategic focus and how it intended to measure the impact of produced outcomes and planned performance over the five year period to follow.

SAWS played the key role of being the authority to voice weather-related warnings for the public good. It also provided aeronautical and marine services; covering the second largest ocean space in the world, second to the United States.

In alignment with government’s priorities and the NDP, SAWS had programmes and polices directed towards education, social cohesion and safe communities, and economic transformation and job creation. Some of these programmes included the maintenance of air quality monitoring networks which ensure data availability for research purposes; targeted meteorological training for university students; the continuous enhancement of early warning systems for the public, with a focus on adaptive mechanisms for vulnerable communities; and lastly, a contribution towards economic development through various sectors.

SAWS had developed a strategic framework upon which the intended impact and outcomes would be realised and measured. It had two measured outcomes -- an improvement in safeguarding against meteorological-related risks, and organisational sustainability.

Outcome 1: Safeguarding of lives and property against meteorological-related risks

Performance in this outcome would be based on three indicators:

  • Percentage accuracy of aviation information (2018/19 baseline: 90%, five year target ³ 90%);
  • Percentage availability of weather-related services (2018/19 baseline: 96%, five year target ³ 96%);
  • Number of engagements to reach vulnerable communities (2018/19 baseline two, five year target 20).

Outcome 2: Organisational sustainability

Performance in this outcome would be measured by the following indicators:

  • Total non-regulated income growth (2018/19 baseline R32.4 million, five year target R53.1 million);
  • Number of accreditations (2018/19 baseline 10, five year target 10).

The board had indicated that more effort needed to be directed towards increasing the total non-regulated income growth over the coming years. SAWS aimed to maintain the number of accreditations it received, as these positioned the entity both regionally and globally.

These outcomes were supported by the following outputs: an enhanced meteorological-related body of knowledge; meteorological-related solutions provided to meet user needs; optimal core technological capability; and internal excellence achieved within the organisation.

Planned performance over the five-year period

SAWS aimed to increase its reach in an effort to make sure weather alerts reached those who were most vulnerable to extreme weather events, natural disasters and climate-change. Another priority was to continuously improve aviation meteorological services, as prescribed by the Global Aviation Safety Plan. This called for strict compliance to the plan and the development of key competencies.

Two awareness campaigns would target 44 district municipalities and 20 vulnerable communities over the 2020/21-2025 period. The campaigns would educate communities on how to understand and adapt to weather and climate warnings, and engage with communities that were particularly vulnerable to severe weather to enable them to make informed decisions concerning their livelihood and property. These programmes had been allocated R15 million and R50 million respectively.

To ensure organisational sustainability, SAWS planned that 65% of its local procurement budget would be affirmative procurement, and its broad-based black economic empowerment (BBBEE) level would move from level 7 to level 6. The organisation had already identified that it was lacking in expertise which had impacted this factor. Lastly, it aimed to increase its commercial revenue to R39.18 million in the 2020/21 period.

Annual Performance Plan 2020/21
SAWS’s annual performance was categorised into the following programmes:

Programme 1: Weather and Climate Services
It aimed to enhance its meteorological-related body of knowledge as it pertained to aerodrome forecast and warnings accuracy and marine safety, such as the safety of life at sea (SOLAS) programme.

Programme 2: Research and Innovation
It planned to increase the number of research outputs it produces from an estimated 45 in 2019/20, to 50 in 2022/23.

Programme 3: Infrastructure and Information Systems
SAWS would improve optimal core technological capability under this programme. It would increase its performance in Global Atmospheric Watch (GAW) infrastructure availability, and the remote sensing observation infrastructure which was used to inform evacuation as a result of extreme weather.

Programme 4: Administration (including corporate and regulatory services)
The objective was to achieve internal excellence within the organisation. This would be measured through indicators such as growth in commercial revenue, receipt of unqualified audit opinion ratings, and meeting workplace skills plan (WSP) targets.

Operations under COVID-19 lockdown restrictions
Under Level 5 lockdown measures, all essential staff workers were provided with personal protective equipment (PPE). Five colleagues had gone through mandated isolation and one was tested, but none was found positive.

Under level 4, SAWS would take a phased in approach, where employees from prioritised areas would return on a rotational basis. In compliance with Department of Health guidelines, SAWS had disinfected all offices and purchased disinfectant sprays and cloth masks for all employees for daily use. It was in the process of procuring thermometers to screen returning employees. Although restrictions were being lifted, SAWS would still require all those who could work from home to continue doing so, as the ultimate aim was to reduce risk and potential exposure to the virus.

Budget allocations
Mr Lulama Gumenge, Acting Chief Financial Officer (CFO), SAWS, said total revenue for the 2020/21 period was approximately R554 million, whereas the total expenditure before depreciation was R474 million. The budget was composed of grants received from government and commercial revenue. R356 million was expected to come from grants, of which R140.6 million would go towards the upgrade and upkeep of infrastructure and new technology. Out of the R356 million, R215 million would be used for operational expenditure. R183 million came from non-regulated revenue and aviation income.

Total expenses would amount to R474 million, of which R297 million would be for employee costs, R177 would cover operational expenditure -- mainly the maintenance and repair of infrastructure, information technology (IT) software licences, and all infrastructure mentioned in the annual performance plan (APP), such as weather and rainfall stations.

Discussion
Mr N Singh (IFP) commented that there had been a budget deficit in the 2018/19 financial period, and that in the 2020/21 financial period and following years, an early warning grant had been introduced. He asked if this grant was new. How did SAWS plan to maintain its commercial revenue, given that it may not be able to provide some of its services during the current situation? He expressed interest in the R65 million grant targeting the education of communities -- what was the exact plan for managing these funds? What maintenance plans did SAWS have moving forward? Lastly, he asked about a lengthy document from an individual named Louis Botha, and suggested that it be tabled for the entity to respond to.

Mr Gumenge confirmed that there had been an early warning grant of R40 million in the previous financial year, while this year the grant stood at R100 million.

SAWS was currently engaging with the Department and National Treasury to address the inevitable impact COVID-19 would have on the organisation’s financials. It had internally developed an economic recovery plan and cost cutting measures.

Mr Ndabambi said SAWS did have maintenance plans and schedules in place, and they reported to the board on the availability of infrastructure on a quarterly basis.

Mr N Paulsen (EFF) referred to the relationship between weather patterns and the incidence and viability of viruses. He asked if SAWS had been approached to play a more active role in planning where the focus areas should be as winter approached.

Mr Ndabambi confirmed that SAWS was working closely with government with a focus on seasonal viruses. In addition, scientists had introduced a new programme, where they were working with medical and economic experts and Statistics SA.

Ms A Weber (DA) commented on SAWS’s awareness programmes. Based on the projected timeline presented, it would take 12 years for the 44 district targets to be met, which was a very long time given the current weather variances. What criteria would be used to select which districts were chosen? Regarding air population, she said there was a missing link between the generation of data on emissions and consequences. What exactly was SAWS doing with collected data if no repercussions had followed? Lastly, she suggested that the Committee should receive reports on a monthly basis, and a weekly basis for districts, so that air pollution could be addressed.

Mr Ndabambi said the approach to reaching the 44 district target would be twofold. SAWS would be working at a national department level, as well as collaboratively with disaster management authorities at the provincial and district level, to deploy additional awareness activities which would be done more frequently. Currently, the role of SAWS was to monitor air pollution and to report its findings. They were working on enforcement policies which would be implemented by the Department.

Ms H Winkler (DA) said that when visiting the website, she had noticed many of the stations had an offline status, some of which were located in air pollution hotspots. She asked why this was so. What collaboration was taking place between SAWS and municipalities and air quality monitoring officials? Were they collaborating as far as data collection and integration went? How often did this collaboration take place, and who oversaw this relationship? She said SAWS had been marred with many allegations and suspensions of members of its board. She referred to the appointment of Dr Jonas Mphepya as an executive at SAWS, despite his dismissal and the organisational policy stating that dismissed individuals were not eligible for re-appointment. She asked if the chairperson was aware of this. She also referred to the appointment of Ms Miriam Machoele at SAWS, despite allegations of corruption at her former position with SA Express.

Mr Ndabambi responded that he was aware that some of the stations were offline in certain areas. Some of the reasons for this were maintenance and power losses. However, he was unable to elaborate more on the station located in the south of Durban at the moment, and would respond in writing.

He said that there was collaboration between SAWS, municipalities and air quality monitoring officials. This relationship was being monitored by the Department. However, there was a need for improvement in this area.

Mr J Lorimer (DA) echoed Ms Winkler’s question regarding the appointment of Ms Machoele as senior manager of compliance at SAWS. He asked if this was the same individual who had previously worked for SA Express and left under very controversial circumstances. If this was the same person, why had she been appointed by SAWS?

Ms Magomola responded and said that she and the board were unaware of the allegations surrounding Dr Jonas Mphepya, and that they would look into the matter. She confirmed that recently appointed senior manager of compliance at SAWS was the same Ms Miriam Machoele who had left SA Express following allegations of corruption. An investigation had been completed under the current Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of SAWS, and the matter had been closed following this inquiry.

Mr Ndabambi confirmed that there had been an investigation into the appointment of Ms Machoele. It had been found that Ms Machoele had not disclosed the conditions under which she had left SA Express. A disciplinary process was completed, and a warning was issued. For the benefit of the Committee, SAWS would respond formally in writing to detail the circumstances surrounding the appointment.

Ms Magomola assured the Committee that SAWS would do a further investigation on both issues and return with a report on the findings.

The Chairperson said it was best that SAWS respond in writing concerning the allegations surrounding the appointment of officials, as well as the document mentioned by Mr Singh.

Closing remarks
Ms Magomola requested that the SAWS board be given a copy of the document referred to by Mr Singh so that they could respond accordingly.

She thanked the Committee for the oversight role it continued to play to ensure that entities fulfilled their mandate and used their budgets accordingly. The board was dealing with many challenges and looked forward to having an improved organisation by the end of the financial year. She thanked the Department for its continuous support and said they had been collaborating to find solutions to the challenges brought about by the pandemic. She applauded the work done by the scientists, who often were not recognised for the crucial role they played.

Minister Creecy said the outstanding issue would be the communication from the unknown individual alleging malpractice by employees within SAWS. She would engage with the board and ask for a full report on the matter.

South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI)
Ms Beryl Ferguson, Chairperson: South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), said the COVID-19 pandemic had had a negative impact on SANBI. However, the entity had already developed, and was in the process of implementing, a business continuity plan to ensure that it met its targets. SANBI was on track to present its financials to the Auditor-General and National Treasury by 30 June. She thanked the Committee Members who had visited the botanical gardens during the lockdown period. Under level 4 lockdown restrictions, SANBI expects to be able to perform the majority of its maintenance plans.

Ms Carmel Mbizvo, Acting CEO, SANBI highlighted the various outcomes and indicators that the entity aimed to achieve during the 2020/21 period, and over the next five years. These targets had been categorised under the entity’s four programme areas. Some highlights of the performance plan were:

Programme 1: National botanical gardens and national zoological gardens

SANBI aimed to manage and maintain its network of botanical and zoological gardens for conservation, research, recreation, education and awareness. Efforts to achieve this outcome included a cumulative target of 225 maintenance projects by 2023/24, and a 25% increase in visitors based on the 2018/19 figure. SANBI’s biggest challenge would be achieving an annual increase of visitors this year, given the current circumstances. SANBI planned to increase the number of school children participating in its science engagement programmes.

Programme 2: Biodiversity science and policy advice

SANBI would ensure the state of biodiversity was assessed and relevant knowledge and evidence was presented to inform implementation and policy support. This would be achieved through the development of several decision support tools, coordination of learning mechanisms, and a cumulative three Green Climate Fund projects valued at US $30 million approved for implementation by 2023/24.

Programme 3: Human capital development transformation

SANBI aimed to have a transformed and suitably skilled workforce and active citizenry to strengthen the biodiversity sector. This would be achieved through increased enrolment of black biodiversity professionals supported through SANBI’s human capital development interventions. There were a cumulative 374 interns in the Groen Sebenza programme, and an annual target of 22 postgraduate bursaries being awarded and 18 post-graduate degrees completed. SANBI had introduced a new indicator aimed at engaging teachers to develop a curriculum focusing on climate education.

Programme 4: Administration

SANBI’s goal was to improve its financial sustainability and to provide effective corporate services to achieve its mandate. It had targeted to increase IT uptime from 90% to 95% by 2023/24, and to implement 100% of its mitigation plans from the 2020/21 financial year through to 2023/24. Additionally, it aimed to achieve a 10% (R16 million) year-on-year increase in generating its own income. The entity wanted to ensure it received an unqualified audit opinion and an increased percentage of BBBEE procurement, with a target of 90% by 2023/24.

Operations under lockdown restrictions
Ms Ferguson said SANBI was implementing its business continuity plan to ensure that the spread of the virus and its impact on business operations and organisational performance was minimised. It had already identified risks and was working towards mitigation. It had spent time developing standard operating procedures and ensuring that its s were aligned with the guidelines and directives stipulated by the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA), the Department of Health (DoH) and the Department of Labour (DoL). SANBI had maintained the provision of food and veterinary services to ensure the health of the animals.

The entity had continued to maintain open communication with staff, stakeholders and service providers through its COVID-19 communication plan. Under level 4 restrictions, one of the priorities would be critical infrastructure maintenance. As lockdown restrictions continued to be lifted, SANBI would adopt a phased plan approach for staff to return safely to work, in compliance with Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) guidelines. These include the provision of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), screening and testing of staff members, and contact tracing in the event any staff tested positive. SANBI had also come up with an economic recovery plan under which it would reprioritise spending, implement cost cutting measures and find alternative sources of funding, such as grants. SANBI would implement a garden marketing reopening plan when business operations returned to normal.

Budget Estimates
Ms Lorato Sithole, Chief Financial Officer (CFO): SANBI, presented the projected budget overview. SANBI’s total budget for 2020/21 was currently R774. 4 million, with expenditure projected at the same rate, which would leave no surplus or deficit. 58% of SANBI’s revenue would be generated through government-provided grants. Internal activities were expected to generate 25% of revenue. It expected to receive a 10% infrastructural grant from the government, and had already secured 7% of its revenue in projects. The budget for the 2020/21 financial year was approximately R30 million less than for the previous 2019/20 period. This was as a result of a change in the accounting framework -- where SANBI had been acting as an agent in implementing projects, it was no longer allowed to reflect this as revenue in the budget while projects were still being implemented.

Total expenditure would be R774.4 million, of which 61% would go towards employee remuneration, 22% to operational expenditure, 10% to infrastructure and 7% to projects. Budget estimates for employee costs were categorised as follows: 15% would be spent at the National Zoological Gardens (NZG), 26% at the botanical gardens, 32% on research, policy and knowledge management, 17% for administration and 10% towards overall human capital development, insurance expenditure, internal and external audits and overall legal costs.

The NZG budget appeared as if it had been reduced, but in 2019/20 its functions had been ring-fenced and had since been integrated into SANBI operational costs from 2020/21.

Discussion
Ms Winkler asked if the Department was aware of the amendment to the Meat Safety Act gazetted by the Minister of Agriculture, which allowed for the inclusion of threatened species under schedule one, meaning they could be slaughtered in abattoir houses for export. How would the tension between the two departments be addressed as the Department of Agriculture tended to act unilaterally when it came to the amendment of regulations and acts which had an indelible impact on the conservation of animal species under the Department of Environmental Affairs? Was the Department aware of this amendment, and how would it address this issue moving forward? Given the current challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, would there be any revisions made to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) Act and the export of live wildlife, considering that South Africa was the number one exporter to Asia and the ensuing risks associated with this trade? Should the country not act progressively and ban this kind of trade, given the anticipated long-term effects? If not, what other solutions did the Department suggest?

Minister Creecy responded that Ms Winkler’s questions regarding the Department of Agriculture and CITES Act were indeed important, but they did not fall under the purview of SANBI. There were broader issues related to the amendment of the Meat Safety Act which she had raised with Ms Thoko Didiza, the Minister of Agriculture. She had taken personal independent legal advice, and had been assured that the environmental legislation that protected these species took precedence over the regulations relating to the trade of these threatened species. Prior to the lockdown, the two departments had been scheduled to meet to discuss the matter, but other issues had come to the forefront. However, this matter remained very important and had to be resolved.

She said the Department could indeed make recommendations to the CITES and in due course, the CITES would be convening to facilitate consultation. There had been statements by the United Nations concerning the transfer of the virus from animal species to humans.

Mr Paulsen said that Kruger National Park was providing online access to the park, which allowed customers a virtual tour of the property to view animals in their habitats during the lockdown restrictions. Would SANBI consider doing something similar, as this could feed into the recovery plan and a new marketing strategy? Was there a way that funds could be redirected towards this purpose?

Ms Ferguson responded that SANBI was encouraging virtual tours of the gardens through online footage. It was revisiting its marketing plans, given the current lockdown restrictions.

Mr Singh said he was encouraged by the forward thinking demonstrated by SANBI in their economic recovery plan and initiative in finding alternative funding through donors. He asked how many of the regular staff were not at work during the initial lockdown restrictions. Had any claims been made to the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF), given that SANBI was a state entity? He raised concern that overall employee costs had risen by approximately R50 million, and while he understood that the NZG costs were ring-fenced, this was still a significant increase. He suggested that SANBI respond to the Committee in writing to detail this increase.

Ms Sithole replied that SANBI did contribute towards the UIF, but this benefit had not yet been utilised under COVID-19. If the need arose, SANBI would make use of this provision.

Mr Modise asked SANBI to elaborate on the impact that COVID-19 had had on the entity. Had it been involved in any activities related to social responsibility, such as the distribution of food parcels to vulnerable communities, as other entities had reported having done so? He echoed Mr Singh in acknowledging the initiative and foresight demonstrated by SANBI through the development of a comprehensive economic recovery plan. He asked SANBI to elaborate if the recovery plan promoted greater inclusivity of women and youth to ensure a degree of economic participation.

Ms Mbizvo responded that SANBI had not been involved in the distribution of food parcels, but it had contributed towards the Solidarity Fund, where senior managers had given up a portion of their salaries.

Apart from the economic recovery plan, SANBI was looking broadly at its corporate strategic plan to ensure that the inclusion of women and youth was prioritised. This would be done through efforts directed at education, human capital development, and in training programmes where SANBI had the opportunity to reach out to a wider range of stakeholders. It had not seen a notable involvement of youth in citizens’ science programmes, which was an area the entity aimed to strengthen, as demonstrated in its performance plan. Human development interventions were another area in which SANBI intended to promote greater inclusivity.

Mr Singh asked if any directives had been given by the Department after level four restrictions were introduced, particularly concerning fishing, as there was notable confusion in this area.

The Minister responded that the Department had issued directives which had retained the ban on the export of live animals during level four, and was producing directives on waste, permits and fisheries. She understood that Mr Singh’s concern was about recreational fishing, and she would address this offline. The delay in the publishing of these directives was because the Department had had to consult with provincial departments, as these functions were shared. The Department had signed off on the final draft of directives. These had been transferred to the legal work stream of the National Command Council to make sure they were consistent with the regulatory environment. The directives were expected to be available in the following week.

Closing remarks
Minister Creecy said that the Department and its entities were faced with the task of revising annual budgets, but these would have validity only once guidance had been received from the National Treasury. From then, the Department would receive guidance from the National Assembly, when revisions would be tabled for the Committee’s review.

The Chairperson indicated that any questions that had not been answered during the meeting should be addressed in writing. He said the meeting had been a good opportunity to convene after meetings had been suspended. The turnout was a good indication that the Committee and all participating individuals were ready to work. Time management was crucial under these circumstances. Timeframes for the adoption of reports were tight. The Committee hoped to meet on 13 May to further discuss matters related to the finalisation of reports which would be adopted on 20 June.

The meeting was adjourned.

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