Environment, Forestry and Fisheries Budget: Committee Report

Environment, Forestry and Fisheries

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

Audio: Committee Report on Budget Vote 32 

Tabled Committee Reports

The Committee considered its Report on Budget Vote 32 and made various amendments to it.

The Committee discussed the issue of fisheries management on page 16 of the report, specifically subsistence fishers. The Department is not giving attention to the regulations where it classifies people under small scale fishers and recreation. It does not make provision for subsistence fishermen.

A distinction was suggested between fishermen who fish for sport and those who fish for livelihood.

The Department must look at the distinction in this regulation because currently under the COVID-19 lockdown, people classified as Recreational are not allowed to fish, and many of those people, in the areas around the coast, fish for a livelihood.

The Department must use the word “livelihood” in its recommendation. Although the Level 4 lockdown allows small scale fishing, the regulations do not allow these fishermen to fish because it does not allow access into the Park. There is a disjuncture between the permits issued and the locality where a person can fish. A meeting of minds must take place, so people are not denied access to fishing during Level 4 of the lockdown.

This is a political issue. It will be debated when the Committee does the declarations on this particular report. In principle, the Committee can raise it in the recommendations but it will be up to the Department to determine how to eliminate the confusion.

The Committee objected to a phrase saying the Committee was pleased with the how the Department and its entities functioned in executing its mandate. It decided it preferred to use the term, “noted”.

A major contention was that the budget is subject to change as a result of COVID-19. The Committee is adopting the report knowing there are going to be amendments. These reports were given at a specific time and on a specific date and the Committee considered it on that basis.

The DA said the budgetary process is moot as there will be significant changes in the amount of money available. The DA voted against the report because anything the Department says now is just a tick-box exercise.

The majority of Members supported the adoption of the report.  

Meeting report

The Chairperson proposed adopting the agenda.

Mr N Singh (IFP) moved for adopting the agenda.

A Committee Member seconded adopting the agenda.

Mr N Paulsen (EFF) said it limited the Committee’s mandate to be concerned only with Environmental Affairs. It was neglecting the Forestry and Fisheries part of the Committee’s mandate.

The Chairperson agreed. He said there were instances throughout the document which had to be corrected where Forestry and Fisheries was omitted. It must show the focus is not only on environmental affairs.

Ms T Tongwane (ANC) referred to paragraph 2. Here, Forestry and Fisheries is referred to under legislative mandate.

The Chairperson clarified there were places where only Environmental Affairs was referenced. There must be consistency.

Mr Singh agreed with Mr Paulsen. When the report is consolidated, it must include all the programmes.

The Committee noted logistical issues about the report, as the Chairperson referred to it.

Mr Paulsen said it should not be a problem if the presented document was out of sync as Members received a hardcopy and each Member could each follow on his own respectively.

Mr Singh said, although the presentation was out of sync, the Members could follow from the hardcopies. The Chairperson agreed.

Mr Paulsen referred to Programme 1 and said it did not consolidate Forestry and Fisheries under Administration. Later, all three are not included together. This is not reflective of the Committee’s mandate. He said it would be a tedious exercise to evaluate the document in its entirety and point out every issue where the other two areas of the Committee’s mandate were excluded.

Ms S Mbatha (ANC) recommended the Committee adhere to what the Department sets as its Programme.

Mr Paulsen said the Committee was addressing administration as a Programme. This is not separate from Environmental Affairs, Forestry or Fisheries. The point is to avoid duplication.

The Chairperson said administration provides support to the core businesses of every department.

Dr Scotney Watts, Content Advisor, clarified the position.

Mr Singh referred to page 10 of the report, which supported Mr Paulsen’s contention.

Ms Mbatha referred the Committee’s attention to the overview of the Department and its entities. It stated the Department of Environmental Affairs, Forestry and Fisheries mandate as one, and Administration comes later. The Committee cannot change how the Department phrases its issues, because the Department is a specialist in such areas whereas the Committee is not.

The Chairperson said, when the Committee was asked for corrections, the Committee was asked for anything not phrased properly. If the Committee changed anything it will be tampering with the Programmes, because of the way the Department is structured. The Chairperson asked the Committee to leave the Programmes as the Department set these, unless the Members had any specific corrections to raise.

Ms Mbatha asked why some of the numbers were highlighted in red.

Dr Watts said the red font aimed to draw attention to material degrees, meaning, to indicate a decrease.

Ms Mbatha said the Committee should add a note explaining why the font is red.

Mr Paulsen said it is a normal accounting practice to show a decrease in red.

Dr Watts said, for all the red figures there is an explanation provided.

Ms Mbatha said, when the document is prepared, it is prepared with the end user in mind.

The Chairperson asked who the end user for this document was.

Ms Mbatha said the document is going to Parliament.

Mr P Modise (ANC) said, in the past amendments, the Committee stressed sentiments and semantics. In this case it is self-explanatory, namely, if the font is in green, it indicates an increase, if the font is in red, it indicates a decrease.

Mr Singh asked for clarification on ‘clarificatory’. It is a word under the Administration Programme section.

Mr Paulsen agreed the word was acceptable.

Dr Watts, said it can be amended, although it has been confirmed as correct.

Mr Singh drew the Committee’s attention to page 15, Programme 8, with Forestry Management. He referred to the last few sentences, and asked if, later in the document, it referred to employees’ compensation in that Programme. Previously, the Committee did not get an answer to this question. It was quite high.

The Chairperson said the Minister promised to answer all questions by the end of the business day on Monday. The Minister confirmed with him that she responded to all the questions. He agreed that if the Committee is not happy with the answers, the Committee must say as much.

Mr Singh referred the Committee to the issue of Fisheries Management on page 16, specifically subsistence fishers. He said perhaps the Department is not giving attention to the regulations where it classifies people as small scale fishers and recreation, but did not make provision for subsistence fishermen.

He suggested separating the licenses of fishermen who fish for sport and those who fish for livelihood.
The Department must look at the distinction in this regulation because currently under the COVID-19 lockdown, people classified as recreational are not allowed to fish, and many of those people, in the areas around the coast, fish for a livelihood. He suggested the Committee devise some wording to draw a distinction between recreational fishing and livelihood fishing.

Dr Watts confirmed Mr Singh’s proposal was included in the recommendations as the Department shifts through levels of the lockdown.

Mr Singh said the Department must use the word “livelihood” in the recommendation. Although the Level 4 lockdown allows small scale fishing, the regulations do not allow these fishermen to fish because it does not allow access into the Park. There is a disjuncture between the permits issued and the locality where a person can fish. A meeting of minds must take place, so people are not denied access to fishing during Level 4 of the lockdown.

Mr Paulsen agreed with Mr Singh but said, although the issue is raised in the current meeting, it is a political issue. It will be debated when the Committee does the declarations on this particular report.
The Chairperson said, in principle, the Committee can raise it in the recommendations but it will be up to the Department to determine how to eliminate the confusion.

Ms H Winkler (DA) reiterated what Mr Singh and Mr Paulsen said, but said there are further factors. There must be more transparency on how small scale fishing rights are allocated. Many subsistence fishers, that should be receiving those rights, are instead using a recreational fishing permit. This does not allow the person to sell the catch for livelihood. The Committee must review the criteria, so it does not become an ongoing issue years from now when the fishing permit application process is reopened.

Ms Tongwane asked the Committee to correct the sentence if it is referring to subsistence fishers.

The Chairperson said administration drafts the document. It reflects what is said in the discussion, and there must be transparency. The Committee’s mandate is to recommend to the Department, and for the Department to decide how to act on the recommendations.

Mr Singh suggested the Committee recommend to the Department to review the categorisation and determining system. This is to ensure individual rights are protected. He suggested the Committee give the Department a timeframe of 60 days to come back to the Committee with answers.

Mr N Capa (ANC) said the Minister answered a question Mr Paulsen asked in a previous meeting, saying, in the Act there is no concept such as subsistence fishers. This is a problem which must be resolved.

Ms Winkler said, in her engagement with many subsistence fishers, there are many impoverished communities who do not have access to the tools and information allowing them to participate in the fishing rights application process. One of the Committee’s recommendations must be for the Department to embark on some kind of educational program on how subsistence fishing rights are allocated. It must make it more accessible to people who do not have access.

The Chairperson asked the administration to capture what is stated.

Ms Winkler drew the Committee’s attention to page 25. The Committee received emails from two separate individuals. There was litigation pending against them, but she did not think it was just two individuals. The Minister said the Department will review all the names in emails submitted by the sector, and not just the two mentioned by name on page 25.

The Chairperson asked the drafters if it was correct and the drafters confirmed it was.

Mr Paulsen drew the Committee’s attention to the section of Committee observations where it claimed the Committee was pleased with the how the Department and its entities functioned in executing its mandate. He does not recall saying the Committee was pleased with how the Department executed its function. He said he was not pleased with the Department. The Chairperson said the Committee needs to correct what is written on the report.

Mr Singh suggested the Committee say “Committee noted,” instead of “Committee is pleased”.

The Chairperson asked if the word “responsivities” is correct.

Mr Singh confirmed it is.

Mr Singh said he hoped the drafters are taking into account the fisheries and the compensation of employees. He understood there are only six people employed by the Fisheries Department to manage the entire fisheries mandate. This is a matter of concern. The Department has a top heavy structure and no one on the ground. This is why it is not meeting its mandate.

Mr Modise drew attention to the Committee saying it is not entirely pleased with the Department’s work, yet in the bullet points that follow, it says the Committee is pleased. He asked for consistency in the rest of the bullet points.

The Chairperson asked for clarification on what Mr Modise was asking -  if the Committee must review what it said by noting where it is pleased?

 Mr Modise said each point must be read and dealt with on its own merits. The Committee cannot be entirely pleased and it cannot entirely note.

Mr Capa said, before changing if it is pleased or noted, the Committee must look at if the drafter was not taking note of what the Committee was saying.

The Chairperson said those are notes from its discussion. If it suddenly changes this to say it is not pleased with everything the Department does, then the Committee is changing the substance of what was discussed. This could be wrong if the Committee amends the discussion in this meeting.

Mr J Lorimer (DA) wanted it on record he was not pleased with the Department, contrary to what is reflected in the report. He said he preferred using the word “noted”.

Mr Singh said the Committee must draw a distinction between being pleased with the Department’s function, and administration. In this context the Committee was pleased.

Mr Paulsen corrected Mr Singh and said the aim is to make sure things are done a certain way. The Committee does not know what metrics the Department is going to use to determine if it was done properly or not. Therefore, he is not going to be pleased.

The Chairperson said there was a process followed. It does not mean the Committee is going to raise issues about the entire process as it unfolds.

Mr Paulsen said there was not unanimous acceptance of the process itself. Even Mr Lorimer says he was not pleased, so it is incorrect to say the Committee is all pleased.

The Chairperson said the Committee is not persuading Mr Paulsen to agree with the process, but agreed he reserves his right to say he does not agree. It cannot be said there was no process, only there was a process with which the Committee has issues.

Mr Lorimer said the report says the Committee was pleased - he is not pleased therefore the report is incorrect.

The Chairperson asked the Committee to agree with Mr Lorimer saying he was not pleased.

Mr Paulsen said the Committee does not know who will read the document. The inconsistencies are a poor reflection on the Committee.

Mr Modise said the Committee cannot be generic with the report. Each bullet must be read and the context must be understood. The Committee cannot say the entire report was not pleasing or noted.
The Committee must deal with each bullet separately.

The Chairperson asked the drafters to take note of the objections as the Committee progresses through the report.

Mr Lorimer asked for his objections to be noted throughout the report. The Chairperson acknowledged this request.

Ms Mbatha drew the Committee’s attention to page 27, under Committee Observations, specifically the bullet 4 on “E-waste”. She said it was at its initial stage. There is still a long way to progress. The report said the Committee is pleased thus far with the progress the Department made with establishing a sustainable, environmentally sound, e-waste management system for the country. E-waste is still a serious problem in South Africa and the Programme is still at its initial stage. The bullet must be corrected somehow.

Mr Singh suggested the report reflect “the Committee noted the progress”. The Committee spoke a lot about COVID-19 and its impact. The Minister said she is waiting for Treasury and the Minister of Finance to table the adjustments, but the adjustments go beyond money allocated to certain departments. He believes the Department must be in a position to present a draft skeleton of how it intends to operate post-COVID as there are programmes which it may have budgeted for, which it may not need anymore. He noted the example of training teachers, and educators.
The Department must give the Committee some idea of how it is going to move funds and prioritise how the Department operates post-COVID, irrespective of if the Minister of Finance is going to take away or add money. The Department must not use the Parliamentary budget as a reason not to be able to table to the Committee what it will do to make amendments to the existing Programme, within a very short timeframe. The Chairperson asked the drafters to capture Mr Singh’s sentiments in the report.

Ms Winkler said the Minister’s decision to appoint a high-level panel to overrule the House resolutions that came from the colloquium is highly irregular and needs to be looked at seriously so precedent is not set by the Committee in that their recommendations are ignored and overruled.

The Chairperson asked that the drafters capture that there is a high-level panel underway currently and that the Minister allowed for submissions, in the report. He advised that they still needed to take the matter to the House regardless of the colloquium. They must still make a submission to the high-level panel as the Committee. The officials that are supporting the Committee, guided by the colloquium resolution are going to draft a submission with the high-level panel.

Ms Winkler objected to the Chairperson’s proposal. She said she does not think the Committee reached any consensus about accepting the Minister overruling the House resolutions. The Minister decided to appoint a high-level panel despite the highest decision making body coming to a conclusion the industry needs to end, and certain processes must be put in place with the aim of ending it.

The Minister is ignoring House resolutions adopted by opening the discussion up again and appointing a high-level panel. She said she does not accept the appointment of the high-level panel as valid because it ignores the House resolutions. If House resolutions are adopted in the Minister’s term or the previous term, it still holds.

As a Committee this must still be discussed. By submitting the report and ignoring the high-level panel, the Committee is also ignoring the fact of a resolution taken by Parliament with a view to ending the industry.

The Chairperson noted Ms Winkler’s objections but said he is uncertain if the Committee has the authority to object to the appointment of a high-level panel.

Ms T Mchunu (ANC) said the Minister said the Committee may provide input in this. She recalled the Committee did not object to the appointment of the high-level panel then, but agreed it will make some inputs as the Portfolio Committee. She said she supports the appointment of the high-level panel and asked the Committee to follow what it agreed to in the previous meeting on providing input. The Chairperson asked the drafters to remove the recommendation regarding the high-level panel in the report and qualified this, saying the Committee will engage on the outcome of the high-level panel. It cannot say all members agreed with the process.

Ms Winkler said she would like her objection noted and committed to following up on the claim as to if the Minister may overrule a recommendation. The Chairperson noted the objection.

Mr Singh said to recommend to the House to adopt the report that it be amended to: having due regard to proposed amendments to programmes which may arise taking into account the impact of the Department post-COVID-19.

The Committee adopts the Budget Vote for the 2020/21 financial year.

Mr Singh said the Committee is adopting the report knowing there is going to be amendments but it was tabled on this date. These reports were given at a specific time and on a specific date and the Committee considered it on that basis.

The Chairperson asked the drafters to capture Mr Singh’s sentiments.

Mr Singh also proposed the Committee prescribe a timeframe for the Department with all the recommendations it made to report back to the House.

A Committee Member suggested the Committee prescribe a timeframe of three months.

Mr Paulsen said the Committee does not know when it will resume full functionality. It is undesirable to put the Department in a position to perform its duties under the current conditions. Nobody knows how long these conditions will last. It must also be borne in mind, these are decisions which cannot just be made, but rather there is a process which needs to be followed. The Committee must be mindful of what is reasonable in terms of a timeframe. The Chairperson said it is looking for progress not just finalisation.

The Committee agreed to the 90 day timeframe.

Mr Lorimer said the entire budgetary process is moot as there will be significant changes in the amount of money available. He said his party will vote against the report because it is not possible to get an accurate response on where the Department will cut around 20% of its budget. Anything the Department says now is just a tick-box exercise. He said his party is not prepared to approve anything like that so are voting against the report.

The Chairperson noted Mr Lorimer’s sentiments and said he will have an opportunity to explain why the DA is voting against the report in Parliament. He said it is dealing with documents tabled in Parliament before the end of March. Money was spent from 1 April, so it is necessary for the current process to be facilitated.

Ms Mbatha moved for the adoption of the report with the amendment.

Ms Mchunu seconded.

Mr Singh said all the Committees realise what the Committees considered will change soon, but there is a process to be followed in terms of the Money Bills Act. The Committees must consider the budget as tabled and only then can the Minister of Finance bring in amendments which will impact on each Department bringing in amendments. This is why he provided the caveat at the end of the report which covers the Committee, on considering the report on a particular date.

Ms Winkler objected to the adoption of the report.

Mr Paulsen objected to the adoption of the report.

Ms A Weber (DA) objected to the adoption of the report.

All objections were in the Members’ representative capacity for the respective parties. The majority of Members seconded adoption of the report.

The meeting was adjourned.

 

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