Committee 2018/19 recommendations: DEFF progress report; with Minister

Environment, Forestry and Fisheries

01 September 2020
Chairperson: Mr P Modise (ANC) (Acting)
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Meeting Summary

Budgetary Review and Recommendation Report (BRRR) of Portfolio Committee on Environment, Forestry & Fisheries on Annual Reports & Financial Statements of Department of Environmental Affairs & its four entities, dated 23 October 2019

The Minister and the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries presented a progress report on the implementation of the Committee's 2018/19 Budgetary Review and Recommendations Report (BRRR). These included regulatory compliance and sector monitoring, environmental programs, chemicals, and waste management, forestry and natural resource management, SANParks, South African Weather Service, litigation and financial management, amongst others.

Meeting report

As the Chairperson was experiencing lack of connectivity due to load shedding in the Eastern Cape, she had asked Mr Modise to chair the meeting. Acting Chairperson, Mr P Modise (ANC), mentioned that it looks like the problem of electricity in the Eastern Cape persists. He welcomed the Minister.

Minister Barbara Creecy suggested that they allow SANParks to present first as its CEO needed to leave early for another commitment. She explained the Deputy Minister was attending to Harbour Day responsibilities. She was to join them the next day to lead delegation while Minister Creecy attends  a Cabinet committee meeting.

SANParks progress report on BRRR recommendations
Mr Fundisile Mketeni, SANParks CEO, spoke to its response to the  recommendations:

• SANParks should work on getting a clean audit and improving internal control systems to prevent misstatements and to ensure targets are SMART.       
They worked on this when they finalised the 2019/20 annual financial statements looking at correctness, completeness, accuracy, and adequacy. The 2019/20 AFS were processed by the board. Now they are busy with the Auditor General and they get feedback from the AG. They look forward to the outcomes of the audit. Performance information is submitted to the Internal Audit for quality and compliance review before it is submitted to the AG.

• SANParks must develop a strategy for increasing the number of visitor to National Parks.        
With the COVID-19 situation, it has developed a value generation plan and financing strategy for national parks. It will be part of their recovery plan to get tourists back to national parks. He reported positive progress in local visitors booking to visit the national parks. Tourists are now excited about flying to visit national parks after the lockdown.

• SANParks provide documentation for dropping the fence between Kruger and private reserves
The documentation with reasons for dropping the fence was provided to the Committee.

• SANParks should clarify what it is doing differently in its anti-poaching measure/strategy now that the number of species poached is increasing.  
It has developed and implemented an anti-poaching strategy called Project Ivory with the following key elements: use of technology, use of drones, working with communities outside parks, disrupting criminal networks. With the strategy they put in place, the reduction in rhino poaching is improving on an ongoing basis. They are learning, fundraising, and doing research in these areas. Technology is available and they want to improve in this area. The use of drones is being explored; working with communities outside the park is an area that needs the government to work together, to disrupt criminal networks. They also have air mobility using the existing air wing capacity and improving ground mobility using canines to protect rhinos. They also continue to train their rangers because they must remain safe as they fight crime.

• SANParks should fully implement the Wildlife Utilization Strategy to achieve transformation.
It has developed and currently implementing a Wildlife Economy Strategy with a key focus on facilitating participation of Women and Black people into the Wildlife Economy.

• The Minister should request a forensic audit into the irregular expenditure at SANParks.
SANParks appointed an independent service provider to conduct an investigation into irregular expenditure. The investigation has been concluded and report is due on 3 September 2020. Mr Mtekeni had met the service provider the day before who indicated they want more time to work on this. SANParks will provide feedback to Parliament when it has been completed.

• SANParks should increase the percentage of women on its staff.
Exco has instructed that when filling vacant positions at management level, women should be prioritized. Only the CEO will approve a deviation to this instruction. He was happy to announce that they have a GM Financial Management who is a woman. They will be interviewing for the Head of Human Capital in the next two weeks and have shortlisted only women.

Questions
Mr N Paulsen (EFF) said that it has been a challenge getting women to participate in the environmental industry and to appoint women in key positions, especially black women. What is the government doing to encourage black people and black women to participate in this industry?

Mr N Singh (IFP) asked that at some stage SANParks should give them statistics on Project Ivory on what progress has been made. He stated that visitors making inquiries to visit the national parks is encouraging. Are these local or international visitors? He requested that the Minister make the SANParks forensic audit available to the Committee.

Ms H Winkler (DA) said that there is a lot of controversy and concerns about key protected species from the national park that are being hunted into the adjacent private farms. What are the interventions to address this important issue?

Responses
On including black women in the industry, Mr Mketeni said that SANParks has a women’s forum where they discuss transformation and retention of women in the organization and making the environment conducive for women to stay and participate. This is led by the COO who is a woman. It is also about the branding of the organization. The brand of the organization attracts women as it is an institution with no controversy. Our job is to contribute to present and future generations. This Women’s Month they were very interactive.

Mr Mketeni replied that generally their visitors are 70% South African local and loyal customers. The borders are closed so visitors are local visitors from different provinces. Some customers are unhappy because they cannot secure space at the parks but SANParks has been cautious in how they open up the parks.

Mr Mketeni replied that they will supply statistics for Project Ivory the next day. They saw a huge drop in numbers during the lockdown.

Answering Ms Winkler, Mr Mketeni replied that they have regularised that relationship two years ago by signing an MOU with all the stakeholders on the western boundary. There is no hunting in the national parks. Using a landscape approach, they want to look at land use compatibility. They want more people to have access to the western boundary, especially traditional authorities. There are new entrances to the area.

Hunting is not regulated by SANParks. Provincial authorities are the ones who regulate the issuing of permits for hunting. SANParks did a census and agreed on a culling quota. It is an open system. It does have an advantage in terms of population control because when animals feel more pressure inside the park, they migrate. The project was requested by the Minister as they want to ensure the best water use for the wildlife economy. They acknowledge the sensitivity and concerns of some NGOs around the hunting which is allowed in other reserves but not in the national parks.

The Minister replied that the forensic investigation is complete and they were processing its recommendations. They will discuss it with the Committee in due course. When they need to take remedial action, this report would be their evidence. The timing will depend on their decisions on remedial action and any consequence management that there might be. But in the long run, they will provide the report to the Committee.

Department of Environment, Forestry & Fisheries progress on BRRR recommendations
Acting Director General, Mr Ishaam Abader, responded to these (see document).

Discussion
Ms Winkler felt as though the response was insufficient. She had previously requested the concept document which envisioned the dropping of the fences between the public reserve and the Association of Private Nature Reserves (APNR). To date, they have not received this concept document. It makes no sense to have a national park which is meant to protect biodiversity only for that biodiversity to venture into private parks and be hunted in controversial ways. Why is this occurring? Why has it not been bought to the Committee’s attention so we can interrogate whether this is appropriate and strategic?

She referred to waste management and said the support for the informal economy and the Waste Pickers Association is something repeatedly bought up by the Committee. How many municipalities have been assisted to successfully absorb the informal waste picking economy into their channels? They do not have sufficient land and the Committee cannot keep speaking about this and not see tangible change on the ground.

On forestry, the Committee knows there is only one community indigenous-based forest stewardship project and it is successful. The Committee had bought up that this should be replicated across other municipalities as well.

About fisheries, there are very limited resources of stock available and there is a growing obligation to assist those who rely upon this as a source of income. Government is looking to alternative industries to absorb this unemployment such as ecotourism and the aquaculture. However, the Committee has not seen much improvement in these alternative industries.

On air quality stations, she does not see any recommendations on how they are going to ensure these stations are manned properly and monitor air quality. There should be a report on the website so they can use this data to inform the community about hazards, otherwise it is useless having these air quality stations.

She referred to litigation, saying there have been court judgments and these need to be taken seriously when they are drafting regulations and amendments to Acts. These need to be taken into consideration when drafting legislation going forward.

She wished DEFF could say that all the Portfolio Committee recommendations made last year have been addressed and these recommendations do not need to be repeated this year.

Mr J Lorimer (DA) said they heard about new security measures for storage of confiscated abalone. He asked what the security measures are that were instituted. Were there any thefts after they were instituted? What is the approximate value of the confiscated abalone in storage? When will abalone from the storage start to be sold?

Mr Lorimer said that a senior fisheries official faced criminal charges related to the theft of confiscated abalone. He requested an update on the status of this case.

Mr Paulsen focused on the resources that are prioritized for small-scale fishers. What are these resources exactly other than fish modifications or fishing permits? What other resources are being availed to these small-scale fishers other than allocations?

Mr Singh said that the Department's response to the 2018/19 Committee recommendations is a work in progress. However, they need to encourage the Department.

Mr Singh said that the Department should not make the costly errors as with the fishing rights allocation process (FRAP) of 2016. He had seen a new report that an industry association had submitted and he encouraged the Department, especially the Fisheries, to read it and respond to some of the suggestions they made to Fisheries.

Mr Singh asked how long the court case that was mentioned had been going on for. Has the official been suspended with or without pay? Does the litigation apply to internal and external matters? He asked about the appeals.

He asked about the delays in dealing with fisheries and asked if this was largely due to lack of manpower.

He asked the Minister what consequences were being meted out for irregular tenders. Do they deal with those officials who have followed irregular procurement procedures?

He asked the Minister if she is satisfied with the South African Weather Service (SAWS) board.

Ms T Mchunu (ANC) appreciated the presentation. She asked about human resources for the Forestry branch which was transferred in 2019 from the Department of Agriculture. Did the transferred posts come as funded posts?

She commended the CFO's strengthening of internal controls by means of the Annual Financial Statements (AFS) improvement plan. She requested that DEFF entities follow the plan for good audit outcomes.

Responses
Minister Creecy asked that they allow them time to process the forensic report and allow them to give feedback only in due time.

She replied that the SAWS Board gave an extensive briefing document on all the concerns about governance and appointments. That report is an indication that the current board is taking their responsibilities seriously and dealing with some of the unfortunate legacy issues.

On plans for internal controls, she suggested that when they deal with the audit outcomes of the various DEFF entities that they raise this with each board as the board is the executive authority responsible for the audit outcome. It is always good when the Portfolio Committee instructs the board chairperson what they expect in terms of board improvement plans. She suggested that the Committee wait for that opportunity and make important suggestions to the executive authority responsible.

Mr Abader replied that, yes, they do consider the court judgements and look at the implications. He made reference to the captive lion breeding court case involving animal welfare.

Mr Abader replied that he was not aware where the criminal case is currently in terms of process but the case is proceeding in the Western Cape High Court. He was not sure of these dates.

They have a litigation unit in the Department that analyses the judgements and makes recommendations to the legal section and to the branches that are impacted by the court judgement. The specific branch relooks at the relevant legislation that is lacking or unclear. Senior management of the branches look at the lessons learned from the judgements. Another important aspect is they talk to the Minister of Justice. In terms of the general appeals, they have engaged the State Attorney’s Office on who needs to be appointed. That is in process. They are still in the process of looking at advisors for technical appeals. They are looking at roughly 40 appeals that are in the backlog process.

Mr Abader said that the SANParks CEO had left already so could not speak to that case but they have conveyed to the Committee that this needs to be presented on another occasion.

Mr Abader asked the Deputy Directors General to answer the questions related to their portfolio.

In terms of waste management and the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) regulations, the producers have the responsibility to ensure that they take care of social welfare aspects because the informal economy assists with their products when they become waste. With the regulations, it is about transitioning that informal economy into the formal economy.

Another waste management intervention that will be put in place is coming from the CSIR together with the Department of Science and Innovation. There are guidelines on integrating the informal sector into municipal waste collection services. Some municipalities have already started to implement those guidelines which formalise that waste economy. The EPR regulations as well as the integration of those guidelines are assisting them in formalizing the informal economy.

On the question of alternative industries, this is a target in their current APP to develop an alternative livelihood strategy for fishing communities. This would need to be a multidisciplinary and intergovernmental responsibility and response because Fisheries can only deal with fishery-related activities such as aquaculture, boat repairs, and net repairs. Alternative livelihoods would have to involve other departments as well.

They have completed a stock count of the confiscated abalone as an audit process. The size value of the stock is estimated at 60 million. The last stock count took place in May 2020. That was for the selling of the dry abalone. The stock in storage is wet abalone and only dry and processed abalone may be sold. They are in the process of appointing a service provider to dry the abalone on their behalf. It is expected that the next sale will take place within one month to six weeks.

There have been two attempted robberies that were unsuccessful due to the increased security systems that are working.

Criminal charges against the former DDG for Fisheries Management are being investigated by the court. The former DDG is currently challenging her dismissal. That hearing is set for late September.

They are working with the Department of Small Business Development to provide developmental support to cooperatives. They are also working with municipalities and provincial administrations in developmental support and financial support to small scale fishers. They also have several NGOs and enterprises that are assisting such as Sasol with vessels.

The officials in the Gansbaai case were suspended. They are back at work. With the new department, disciplinary charges against the officials have been instigated. The disciplinary process is to start on 2 September.

The case in the High Court is proceeding. That case was set down to start at the beginning of the year and run to the middle of September. There have been some delays due to COVID-19 so that period will be extended.

The capacity of the small-scale fisheries directorate is very small and under capacitated. It has eight staff members and four contract workers. This is a unit they will look at increasing.

DEFF is aware of the report raised by Mr Singh and it will be reading it. They are preparing themselves for the new fishing rights allocation process. The Department will look at all inputs, but they must put it into perspective that the industry associations are lobbying the department.

Dr Thuli Khumalo, National Air Quality Officer, said that the Minister has partnered with South African Weather Service (SAWS) to collect and host all the data that is monitored from all the air quality stations and display it in a public user-friendly manner so that South Africans can view the data. Ensuring that the stations are working and recording the data optimally is done regularly

In a previous meeting, she had spoken about the challenge they have with vandalism as the power lines are stolen by criminals. That affects whether the air quality stations can meet the minimum requirements. The stations cannot operate during load shedding. They cannot use a generator because they then monitor emissions coming from the generator.

They have ensured the Minister has supplied resources for air quality data reporting over the years. They also work with other spheres of government to ensure they collect the data and report to SAWS. However, they do have gaps where a municipality has not provided sufficient funds to maintain the station and make it work. The Department assists from time to time.

Mr Abader said that Ms Morongoa Leseke, Acting DDG: Forestry Regulation and Oversight, was unable to connect to the virtual meeting platform to answer the forestry questions.

Mr Abader replied that DEFF is in the process of developing a masterplan that will look at how we can replicate the successful community forest stewardship project across the country.

The Minister has also requested that they look at the forestry plantations to see how they can optimize the interaction between the Forestry branch and the surrounding communities and ensure the community projects are expedited and they can achieve scale in terms of these initiatives.

Mr Abader confirmed that the Forestry posts are indeed funded.

The Acting Chairperson asked if the responses were sufficient.

Ms Winkler highlighted it is not only the quality of the air quality data but it is also what parameters are being measured. DEFF is supposed to have been measuring particulate matter, not just carbon dioxide. Particulate matter is hazardous to public health. One of the interventions that SAWS is to take in collaboration with the municipalities is to ensure the monitoring of those necessary parameters. Lacking resources cannot just be used as an excuse, people are getting sick. What is our plan going forward? She requested time frames on targets for when these recommendations will be implemented. Otherwise, they are constantly going to be raising concerns with no tangible outcomes.

Dr Khumalo replied that in a previous meeting she had indicated that, correctly so, all the stations must monitor particulate matter because it is generally a problem in the country. However, pollutants are problem areas. Ozone does need to be monitored at the point of generation because it is a secondary pollutant that happens as a photochemical reaction in the atmosphere. Nitrogen dioxide and nitrogen in general, there will be a photochemical reaction in the atmosphere. They will only start to pick up ozone at a distance far from the station. What they are doing now is that they get particulate particle monitoring systems that can monitor dual pollutants to ensure they monitor both PM 2.5 and PM 10.

There are challenges as to whether all the stations can work efficiently. They have capacity building programs with the municipalities and provinces to ensure they can do this work. They have provided a previous report on the capacity building programs that they have. They also assist in supplying data where available so that stations can transmit the data to SAWS.

Mr Abader noted that in the presentation they have provided dates by when they have to implement each recommendation. If needed, Members can indicate where they need clarity about timeframes for a particular target.

The meeting was adjourned.



 

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