DEFF on procurement of goods and services around COVID-19; DEFF/SANParks on allegations raised by former employee, with Deputy Minister

Environment, Forestry and Fisheries

06 October 2020
Chairperson: Ms F Xasa (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee received briefings by South African National Parks (SANParks) on a former employee’s allegations on SANParks management, as was reported in the public domain as well as from the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF) on the procurement of COVID-19 goods and services following the report published by the Auditor-General. The meeting took place on a virtual platform

The Deputy Minister, Ms Maggie Sotyu, accompanied the Department. Also present was the management team of the SANParks.

The presentation by SANParks was in response to the Portfolio Committee’s request to respond to the allegations made in a book titled “The Dark side of the Kruger National Park” which was written by a former employee of the Park.

Even though the book was difficult to get hold of because the author had self published, the Board had managed to get it. Allegations made in the book fell into three main categories:

  • Allegations of racism, unfair labor practices and human rights abuses
  • The inadequate state of SANParks staff housing and the
  • Failures in the internal communication with how Human Resources policies and developments of the Park are communicated and implemented.

The presentation by SANParks took the Committee through the allegations made and the remedial action taken in response to the allegations, which included instilling a consultative culture in the organisation. During the consultation process over 900 staff members have participated in meetings with the new park manager and his team to address their issues.

In conclusion to their presentation, the Board reassured the Committee that there are consistent follows up taking place to ensure that the work done by the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), the Commission for Conciliation Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) as well as work done around staff housing is given the highest priority and attention. Constant reports are being given to the Minister and Deputy Minister.

In the discussion that ensued, the Committee felt that of the three main issues raised, the one of animals being driven into the Associated Private Nature Reserves (APNRs) was not addressed. An allegation in the book was that animals were being driven into the private reserves, where they were vulnerable to hunting. The Committee expressed that a concept document in relation to the dropping of the fence, which ultimately results in the animals being susceptible to being hunted, was meant to be presented to it, but this was not done. The Committee also asked for clarification regarding the matter of alleged poaching.

Turning its attention to the issues relating to staff, the Committee asked that clarification is given by SANParks regarding the sort of human rights abuse staff was experiencing.  It also asked for details relating to the labor relations at the Kruger National Park. Another question of importance to the Committee was why so much accommodation was offline and unavailable to paying guests when staff was moved into guest accommodation.

Another point of concern raised by the Committee was the appointment of Adv Boyce Mkhize, who had been appointed to look into the allegations made in the book by the former employee.

The Committee expressed that it was not entirely satisfied with the question on how much accommodation was taken offline. This was because several camps had been closed almost entirely. Also in terms of the animal damage mentioned, the Committee said that after having been to several Parks it was said that there had been no significant animal damage.

The Department took the Committee through its presentation relating to the procurement of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). The presentation gave the Committee a breakdown on how R18.8 million was spent for procurement. Details of those contracts were provided in an Excel spreadsheet with detailed information set out.

It also confirmed that since the end of August it had stopped making emergency procurement and had gone back to a state of normalcy. Being back to normal meant that if the Department wanted to buy goods that were below R500, it would use the Supply Chain Management (SCM) process. However should the goods required be more than R500, then it would go through a tender process.

Closing, the Chairperson said that the presentation by the Department on the procurement of PPE was just for the Committee’s understanding as there were no findings from the Auditor-General yet. He emphasised that the Committee oversight role is to ensure that public funds are spent properly.

Meeting report

The Chairperson welcomed everyone to the meeting and apologised for the technical challenges he was experiencing. He advised that with the help of the Committee Secretary he would try his best to ensure that the meeting runs smoothly as possible. He asked that Committee Members alert him when seeking his attention and it would not be a problem if they raised their voices when doing this.

The Chairperson went on to say that he is handing over to the Deputy Minister, to lead the meeting and announce who will lead each item on the agenda.

Taking over, the Deputy Minister welcomed everyone to the meeting and rendered an apology on behalf of the Minister. She then let the Chairperson and the Committee Members know that she was accompanied by Mr Ishaam Abader, Acting Director-General: Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, Mr Shonisani Munzhedzi, Deputy Director-General: Biodiversity and Conservation, Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries and Mr Rannoi Sedumo, Chief Financial Officer, Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries.

Also present were members of the SANParks board led by Ms Joanne Yawitch, Chairperson: SANParks, Mr Fundisile Mketeni, Chief Executive Officer (CEO): SANParks and Mr Gareth Coleman, Managing Executive: Kruger National Park: SANParks.

SANParks’ response to the book titled “The Dark side of the Kruger National Park”

Taking the Committee through the presentation, Ms Yawitch stated that should there be any questions that she will be unable to answer; the CEO and his team were available to assist. The presentation was a response to a request made by the Portfolio Committee to the allegations made in the said book.  

Ms Yawitch pointed out that the book was not easy to get hold of because the author, Mr Risenga Matelakengisa, had self published the book; however she had been able to get hold of it. Allegations made in the book deal with events that took place during the period of Mr Matelakengisa’s employment at the organisation up until his dismissal in 2013. Events spoken of in the book took place as early as 1990.

 Allegations made in the book, predate the tenure of the current board and management of SANParks, which has made it difficult to respond in detail to some of the allegations. Also many of them dated quite far back. However, some of the issues raised by Mr Matelakengisa were still of concern in the Kruger National Park at the present moment and the current board and management were busy addressing them. The focus of the presentation was on the issues raised in the book that are currently being dealt with, even though it is not the same people mentioned in the book doing this.

 The allegations fall into three main areas of concern at the Kruger National Park:

  • Allegations of racism, unfair labor practices and Human Rights abuses
  • The inadequate state of SANPark’s staff housing and the
  • Failures in the internal communication with how Human Resources policies and developments of the Park are communicated and implemented.

Going through the presentation document, Ms Yawitch took the Committee through the investigations by Management and the Board into the allegations; the remedial action taken on the issues identified and the progress to date.  Expanding further on the remedial action taken to instill a consultative organisational culture, Ms Yawitch explained that this meant that everyone right across the board in the organization would be kept in the loop around key organisational developments.

Elaborating further on the progress made to date, it was very difficult during the lockdown particularly because there were only essential workers on sight and many other staff members had gone back to their homes, until the lockdown had been brought down to level 2 and 1.

During the consultation process to date, over 900 staff members have participated in meetings with the new park manager and his team in order to address their issues.

Concluding the presentation, Ms Yawitch reassured the Committee that because this was an ongoing issue, one of very deep concern to the Board it is following up consistently and are ensuring that the progress in relation to the work done by the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) and the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) as well as work done around staff housing is given the highest priority and attention by both the Executive Management and Management in the park, and by the Board. She confirmed that is reporting regularly to the Minister and Deputy Minister on the matter.

The Chairperson requested the Members to engage on the presentation they received.

Discussion

Ms H Winkler (DA) noted that in the three main issues that were raised as concerns, one was missing, being the issue of animals being driven into the APNRs, that is, the private reserves that are adjacent to the Kruger National Park. This issue of the hunting of protected species in private reserves was flagged on numerous occasions by the Committee. A concept document on the dropping of fencing was meant to be presented to the Committee last term was not done. That process would need quite rigorous consultation because protected species are being allowed to venture into these areas where they are vulnerable to being hunted. She mentioned the controversy of Skye the lion as well as the young boar elephant that was shot recently and highlighted them as two of the many incidents the Committee does not have awareness of. In the book, the former employee alleged that SANParks staff was driving animals into the private reserves.

She asked that the matter be addressed in this meeting and committed to taking the matter further. She asked for clarification on the matter of alleged poaching by SANParks staff as well of protected animals.

With the allegations of human rights abuses, she asked for clarification on the sorts of human rights abuses that staff were experiencing. She concluded by asking for clarification on the housing matter.

Mr J Lorimer (DA) asked how SANParks would characterise labor relations at the Kruger National Park currently. Which unions represent staff and are any of them in dispute with management currently? He asked for specifics on how many staff were moved into guest accommodation. When did they move out? Was staff occupation of the guest accommodation the reason, why was so much accommodation was offline and unavailable to paying guests?

Having read somewhere that Adv Boyce Mkhize had been appointed to look into the allegations of the claims made in the book, Mr Lorimer asked the Board to confirm if this was indeed correct and if so was his appointment part of the SANParks process.

Mr N Singh (IFP) stated that the complaints made about 30 years ago are still relevant currently and that the report suggests that SANParks and the Ministry are doing something about it. He stated that the matter needed to remain on the agenda for progressive reports. He furthermore questioned who the independent investigator appointed to investigate the matter was.  Referring to Mr Lorimer’s question asked about labor relations and current employee representatives being on top of this matter, Mr Singh wanted reassurance if similar issues were still being raised in 2020.

Response

The Deputy Minister expressed that she was happy to hear that the Members had read the book, but admitted that not all her team had read the book. She advised that as soon as they read about the allegations in the newspaper, they immediately made contact with the leadership of SANParks and the Chairperson indicated that she managed to obtain the book and identified all the matters in the book and developed responses to those allegations, especially the question regarding the private investigator that was appointed to investigate the allegations.

The Deputy Minister stated that the Ministry would be in a position to respond to the question about the staff accommodation at the park. She reminded the Committee that she and the Chairperson were in Kruger National Park in March, just before the lockdown. She had an opportunity then to go through areas of the Park where staff were being accommodated. From that visit, they called on the Chief Operating Officer (COO) and the Parks Manager to pay attention to the issue of staffing. A few days ago, she also had an opportunity to send some people to the Park to assess the situation because her constituency is on the borders of the Park. She was satisfied to see that the Management had done something about the matter. There were some staff members who were interviewed and said that the matter had been attended to. She claimed she is unable to respond to the matter of the chalet used for the visitors, that is, when the staff members were taken out of the accommodation in order to revamp those areas, whether they were taken to the visitors’ accommodation. SANParks would be better placed to respond on that matter.

She emphasised that the investigation is currently underway and the Minister is paying attention to what is happening in the park, but of the request made by the Committee to respond to the matters identified in the book, they were presenting.

Responding to Ms Winkler’s question on animals being driven into the APNR, Ms Yawitch claimed to not have any knowledge on the issue and advised that the CEO would need to respond to it. She agreed that it is an outstanding matter whereby fences were taken down in the late 90s and early 2000s. The fences were taken down not only between private land but also some of the community reserves, provincial reserves and the Kruger National Park in order to create a sufficiently large ecosystem to enable the Big Five to be sustained, with enough space as animals do roam backwards and forwards. She admitted that she had no knowledge of the practice of driving animals into the APNR for hunting and that the CEO would elaborate further.

Responding to the matter of whether SANParks staff had been involved in poaching, she admitted that there have been incidences where SANParks staff had been arrested by the South African Police Services on suspicion of having been involved in poaching. The poaching of rhino horn is a billion-dollar industry internationally. It is run by very rich syndicates. There has been some infiltration in the Park by the syndicate. It is also true that the syndicates use poor people in the communities that join the Park as their foot soldiers. Again, she said that the CEO would be able to go into detail about some of the cases that have come forward.

Responding to the housing matter, she said the Kruger National Park is the oldest park in the country. If you go there, you will see that in the older camps like Olifants and Skukuza, the camps themselves are old, the visitor accommodation is old, the staff accommodation is old, and as funds have become tighter and tighter, as the number of staff have increased, there has been a situation where staff have been crowded into inadequate accommodation. The accommodation is in bad condition. There is an overcrowding problem and in some cases there were people still living in single quarters which is not acceptable in the current day and age. A range of renovations and refurbishment was taking place to ensure that all staff are living in decent accommodation that gives them dignity and a reasonable quality of life while they work in the park.

She responded to the matter of the number of staff members that have been kept in guest accommodation during the lockdown, stating that the CEO would clarify the numbers. However, the difficulties in getting accommodation in the Park is not because some of the staff are living in that accommodation. With the level 1 lockdown regulations applying to the hospitality industry, it is not permitted to have more than 50% occupation. They are fulfilling the same demand but with half the accommodation available and that should change as the new lockdown regulations and directions come in. A lot of their visitor accommodation had been completely closed from March until about a month ago. In some cases they have had issues with infestations of bats and rodents and they have had to do maintenance and refurbishments of accommodation that experienced animal damage during that period, having no people around at all in that kind of environment creates problems.

She confirmed that the investigator for the book’s allegations was Advocate Mkhize. On the matter of the labor unions in the Park, they belong to both Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and the South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU). Ms Yawitch then handed over to the CEO to further add onto the questions and issues raised.

Mr Mketeni elaborated that they have three trade unions: NUPSAW, HOSPERSA and NEHAWU that are representing employees in the whole organisation, including Kruger National Park. He confirmed that Adv Mkhize did the investigation in 2019, after the allegations were brought to their attention. There were 11 allegations that were being investigated and nine of those were unfounded but they acted on the two allegations that were legitimate. This resulted in the release of the Head of the Kruger National Park and they were replaced with new management who is looking into issues of discrimination and racism. He confirmed that SANParks is trying to accelerate the process of renovating the houses to livable conditions. It is starting with Skukuza. It has 30 contractors on site in the whole Park presently to look at issues of maintenance and renovations.

Responding to the matter of hunting of animals he said that fences were dropped in the ‘70s. The intention at that time was to allow for the free movement of animals. They have recently re-negotiated the management plan. They have signed new Memorandums of Understanding (MOU) with the neighboring farms in order to regulate the relationship. It also issues area surveys and area censuses. He said he was not aware of members driving off animals, but they do set the quota together with the two provinces, Mpumalanga and Limpopo. There are specific members who are issued permits for hunting, but they do not hunt in the Kruger National Park but the neighboring provincial reserves offer hunting. Some of the private landowners who hunt are more invested in tourism.

Follow up Discussion

Mr Lorimer said that he wanted to ask a conceptual question about what approach SANParks takes with accommodation. Has the Park taken a principled decision to provide accommodation for entire families of staff members? He expressed that he was not satisfied with the response to his question on how much accommodation was taken offline. There are several camps which have been closed almost entirely. A camp like Skukuza which has around 230 guest units, was offering accommodation at a tiny percentage of it and that was not answered by any of the explanations that SANParks has put forward.

It had been said that there had been animal damage. Having been to several Parks he said that he had been told that there was no significant animal damage.

Mr Lorimer said that he wanted to know why SANParks chose to appoint Adv Mkhize to investigate these issues. This was because Mr Mkhize had a record, which he wanted to highlight. He said that these should be red flags for anyone seeking to appoint him to a position this important and this sensitive.

The first  was that in 2013, the North Gauteng High Court ruled that Mr Mkize had to pay back R1,7 million of a golden handshake received in 2011 which was paid for in exchange for his resignation as a trustee of Liberty’s medical scheme. The court found that the agreement subverted the board’s obligations and that according to the court, Advocate Mkhize seemed blissfully unaware of his fiduciary obligations to the scheme and its beneficiaries.

Secondly, he was appointed as the CEO of the Mpumalanga Economic Growth Agency (MEGA) and given a five-year contract. When he had more than three of those years still to go, he left with a massive payout, a golden handshake of over R4 million amid reports of irregularities.

Another report was released in March 2020, by Corruption Watch, entitled ‘Corruption in South Africa’s Water Sector’.  Giving some background information on the report, Mr Lorimer said that Mpumalanga had put Adv Mkhize’s agency in charge of municipal water programs and an evaluation committee was set up, but after the meeting Adv Mkhize apparently altered the committee’s recommendations and it was alleged that he changed the scores of the committee to favor a company which the committee had scored as amongst the worse and that company was subsequently appointed. There are indications of corruption shown in a database of companies with which it did business. A report found that 76 of 439 companies have the same directors and 108 companies used the same tax number. A Democratic Alliance colleague in the Mpumalanga legislature said that since the inception of MEGA, it had made no positive contributions to the economy of the province. It was used as a vehicle to channel tax-payer money.

Thirdly the Chief Financial Officer of MEGA, Velile Mqhum, was fired in March 2015 after a disciplinary hearing conducted in his absence found him guilty on a range of charges relating to contraventions of the Public Finances Management Act. He took his dismissal to court and won a R2 million payout after an out of court settlement was reached. He alleged that the charges were trumped up by Adv Mkhize when he was in charge and he had alleged that Advocate Mkhize had interfered with supply chain management and tried to force him to pay a service provider half a million Rand in advance. Seeking an answer, he asked why a person with a record like this was appointed to such a sensitive job.

Ms Winkler followed up on her question on the dropping of the boundary fences to the APNRs. With the MOU  that was entered into, she asked if it was possible for the Committee to see the minutes to the meeting so as to be informed on how the quotas were informed. She said that it is her understanding that there is no proper science behind the quotas and that these are arbitrary figures.

As a matter of concern, she asked when the Committee was going to see the concept document that the previous Committee had requested. Also there are protected areas, within the game reserves that are meant to protect our flora and fauna. It makes no sense then to allow our protected species to be moved into adjacent areas where they can then be hunted. She asked for further clarification on the matter.

Follow up Response

Ms Yawitch, clarified that Adv Mkhize was not involved with SANParks anymore. All he did was do an investigation and give a report, then it took the process forward  and are doing the work with the SAHRC and the CCMA and not with Advocate Mkhize at this time anymore but  he did do the initial report.

Mr Mketeni responded that with Adv Mkhize, they followed the procurement process. He does not get involved with those details or in that area of the process because it is run by the Supply Chain Management (SCM), Certified Financial Manager (CFM) and adjudicators. He only became aware of some of the issues raised by Mr Lorimer after Adv Mkhize finalised the report, but they followed the procurement process when he was appointed.

On the accommodation matter, when the question was initially answered, SANParks had indicated that a small percentage was occupied by staff and further indicated that the staff were moving back to the finished, newly renovated accommodation. During level 5 of lockdown, there was no intention of providing accommodation but only at level 3 did they start relooking the accommodation, which is when contractors were brought back to start the work. A small percentage of the accommodation was occupied by the staff in the Kruger National Park.  He said that he understands that some of their guests preferred a particular type of accommodation. What usually happens is that when a person checks out, they book for the next round of visits. They might have experienced disappointment on those occupied by the staff, but for safety reasons they had to move them from dormitories so that they were not infected heavily by COVID-19. By the end of October, most of the accommodation will be available, particularly the accommodation where maintenance has been completed, but the ones that are amid major renovations will continue to be renovated.

Responding to Ms Winkler’s question he said that with the previous Parliament, they presented the MOUs. They even submitted the MOUs that were signed in that year but they could be sent again to the Committee with the obligations that were put to each party to be followed. He expressed that he was unable to answer why the hunting was being allowed. To answer this question it would require further input from all the stakeholders because hunting is a recognized management tool. They do not hunt in the parks, but the neighboring landowners and neighboring provincial reserves do. Mr Mtekeni said that they would engage the Department and the Provinces further on the matter, although they do allow for hunting to take place.

Second Follow up Discussion

Mr Lorimer expressed that he was still unclear on two matters. He first clarified that Adv Mkhize had done other work for the Park as recently as last year. He was involved in the suspension of Don English and a colleague.  He said he would be interested to know how extensively SANParks has used his services and what was he paid for his services.

He expressed that the answers he received regarding the accommodation matter was vague, particularly with how much of the accommodation is offline and why it is offline because taking off so much accommodation at Skukuza did not make sense. He had asked for a report on the matter at their meeting on 1 September 2020 and the CEO was given sven days to release that report. He suspected that the Committee did not receive the report and asked for the reason why the report had not been delivered after it had been requested by the Committee.

Ms Winkler clarified that she was asking for the concept document which was not received by the Committee which was a separate request to the MOU. She also expressed that her question on the science and consultation process behind the quotas was not answered. She clarified the question by asking, what criteria is being used to determine the hunting numbers allowed in the APNR areas? Which stakeholders are involved? Which experts are consulted? With regards to the concept document, which was requested by the previous Portfolio Committee on an understanding on the arrangements of the dropping of the boundary fences to the APNR’s and why that model was chosen and adopted. She said it should be in the previous minutes of the meeting with SANParks where this concept document was requested and she was requesting a copy of the minutes of the meeting that took place between SANParks and the APNR’s.

Second Follow up Response

Responding to Mr Lorimer’s question on using Adv Mkhize, Mr Mtekeni said that they used the Adv once to do the preliminary investigation and paid his fees. They never used him again after that. Some of the contents of his report were used to lay charges against implicated rangers which were sited from his report.

On the accommodation matter, he said that he submitted within the relevant period, the report that was asked for. He suggested that they enquire with the parliamentary officers on what happened to the report they submitted. He confirmed that they responded extensively in writing. It is where they cited percentages on the accommodation. He confirmed that they submitted the report when they were asked for it but committed to submitting it again.

He responded to Ms Winkler’s questions. With the concept document, they had to start afresh. He emphasised that fences were dropped in the 70s, where most of them were not there. They had to develop the management plan of the Kruger National Park and the greater Kruger within the boundary and regulate that relationship. Many documents were submitted to Parliament in terms of the management plan itself, the negotiations that took place and the agreements that were signed. He expressed that he was unsure of the concept documents because he indicated that fences were dropped in the 70s, so he never saw a concept document.

On the matter of how the quotas are set, they do use their scientists when they do area census inside the Park, assisting the provinces. They then agree with the provinces on the number and then the provinces will issue the permits. He said he could answer this question together with the provinces as this work is done by their scientists, by people working in operations who decide on the quota of animals to be hunted for a particular year and then the province will adhere to that.

The Chairperson commented that as a Committee, they have not been able to interact much with the public, that is, the relevant stakeholders, because of the pandemic. Their discussion and questions are thus limited to the information given by the Department as they ask questions. There also might be a need to involve the provinces and the private game reserves in some of the questions that they are dealing with. He put forward this comment for the Committee to bear in mind as they proceed with the meeting.

The Deputy Minister expressed that there is a lot of information Members of Parliament need regarding this report. If there is other information the Members would like to get from the Department, she suggested that the Members send their requests to the Chairperson of the Committee so that the Department can respond to the questions as there were a lot of questions they could not respond to through the management of SANParks. They may also write to the Department through the Chairperson to get those relevant answers. She commended the Members for bringing the matter of poaching to the Department’s attention as they intend to focus on it going forward and correct where the wrongs are.

Briefing by the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries on the procurement of goods and services around COVID-19 following the Report published the Auditor –General

Mr Sedumo took the Committee through the presentation which covered the background to the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) procurement process, which arose from the National State of Disaster declared by the President and the Regulations which were then put in place by the Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs.  Also in the presentation were the procurement practices followed by DEFF put down by Treasury for COVID-19 PPE, which would have included IT equipment that was procured to work remotely; the PPE contracts awarded by DEFF to service providers ,the specific challenges they encountered and lastly, the lessons learnt and the further strengthening of the procurement process going forward.

Expanding on the total amount of the expenditure for PPE contracts awarded, Mr Sedumo explained that R16.8 million of the R18.8 million was for IT equipment which related to security products that were bought to secure themselves when working outside of the office as well as internet connectivity. Laptops were also bought to enable individuals to work outside of the office. Conferencing facilities were also bought to enable them to work outside of the office. About R3 million of that amount went towards buying PPE which included sanitisers, masks and other items meant to protect the lives of employees and those that interacted with them on a limited basis during the lockdown.

The details of those contracts were provided in an Excel spreadsheet, where the names of each service provider and the goods that were purchased were detailed out. The spreadsheet was updated on a weekly basis with information about payments and deliveries made.

Concluding the presentation, Mr Sedumo stated that since lockdown began in March, it had been standard procedure to update the PPE report on a weekly basis. Since the end of August, the Department had stopped making emergency procurement and were now back to a state of normalcy. He said that should they need to deep clean their offices, it no longer using emergency measures. National Treasury did repeal the safety instruction which had been issued. Being back to normal meant that if buying goods that are below R500, they would use the SCM quotation process. However should the goods required be more than R500, then it would go through a tender process.

The Chairperson asked the Members to engage on the presentation but none of the Members had any questions or comments. He then made some general comments on the fact that the presentation on procurement of PPE was just for the understanding of the Committee as there are no findings from the Auditor-General yet. The Committee’s oversight role is to ensure that public funds are spent properly.

The meeting was adjourned.

 

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