The purpose of the meeting was to brief the Portfolio Committee (PC) on the incorporation and streamlining of the Forestry and Fisheries branches within the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries. This process was the result of a pronouncement by the President in June 2019 which resulted in the transfer of the Forestry and Fisheries functions from the then Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) to the then Department of Environmental Affairs. As a result, the Department was configured into the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF).
Members commented that this work of incorporation was not just “a cut and paste exercise” of just taking someone and putting them somewhere else, and continuing with business as usual. Members thought that the Department had made good progress compared to what the Department of Agriculture had done when it had to take over some of these functions.
There was appreciation for the way in which the process had been divided into different work streams. An issue was raised about people who might not have a particular responsibility, because that responsibility was taken care of in the general department. How many superfluous staff would there be that would need to be moved from their current functional responsibility to something else within the broad department? Would some people be made redundant? Would people be reskilled?
Questions were raised about the fisheries rights allocation process and the fact that consultants were required for this, because the Department did not have in-house capacity. The issue of capacity was also raised with regard to the consultation process with small-scale fishers and so-called recreational fishers. Would the Department build up capacity, or decentralise or delegate some of these functions to provincial authorities?
Other questions concerned the numbers of people employed in the Forestry and Fisheries branches and what steps would be taken to professionalise these branches. Did the Department have provincial offices to ensure that it had capacity on the ground? Did the Department have provincial authorities to deal with issues? It was always a problem trying to get hold of the right person for the right province for either fisheries incidents, or incidents of timber theft or illegal logging in forests.
The Department was asked about commitments which had been made since 2010 on increasing accessibility by decentralising fisheries management functions to operating offices in provinces with fisheries activities.
It was noted that, prior to the 2009 Cabinet restructuring, inland and freshwater fisheries were mainly overseen by provincial environmental entities. The main priorities were to conserve and protect aquatic resources, but not so much the freshwater fisheries and aquaculture. How did the Department plan to accommodate the development of the inland water resources, while still protecting the integrity of these aquatic ecosystems? The responsibility of managing fisheries research and patrol vessels had been transferred to the South African Maritime Safety Authority, because of the contract and financial mismanagement in the Fisheries branch. Now that marine fisheries research seemed to be on the verge of being streamlined, who would manage the vessels?
The Department assured Members that it did not intend to declare redundancies and to retrench. If anything, the Department thought that it would be having staff shortages in terms of the functions that it would need to perform. If there was duplication and if the Department felt that there were other areas in the organisation where it would like to use particular employees, it will go through the correct labour relations process. Members were assured that there was an ongoing change management process. There were 1 557 people in the Forestry Branch and there were 363 people (including financial management) in the Fisheries branch.
Members were told that one of the problems in the Fisheries branch was that the Marine Living Resources Fund, which the Department had inherited, was not in good financial shape. A review process would have to look at the financial constraints, and also an amendment of the Marine Living Resources Act.
On the process for allocating fishing rights and the use of consultants, the Department said it might in future want to keep a situation where there was independent oversight over the allocation process. When previous processes were analysed it appeared that where there was centralisation of decision-making in the hands of one person, where there was no independent oversight, those processes had led to multiple legal challenges. It should be borne in mind that some of these processes only took place on a five-year, eight-year, or 15-year basis, depending on the rights that were being issued. As and when the Department needed that capacity, it would have to draw in that additional capacity.
The Committee was told that a Forestry Sector Master Plan was currently in the Cabinet process. Once it had completed that process, it would be released for public comment. The idea was that it should enable land redistribution, where foresters themselves could be beneficiaries.
Concerns around freshwater fishing and freshwater aquaculture were a result of policy vacuums; the Department was in the process of developing legislation in this regard.
Both Forestry and Fisheries, in terms of the Constitution, were national competencies. The Department did have decentralised offices, but it was not giving powers to provinces. If Members had anything to report, the Minister’s office was the place to report it; that would enable the Minister to ensure that there was proper follow-up.
The Chairperson said that there was only one item that would be presented to the Portfolio Committee (PC), but it would still be necessary for the PC to adopt the meeting agenda, so that nothing was “left to chance.” Mr N Singh (IFP) proposed adopting the agenda, and Ms H Winkler (DA) seconded the motion. The Chairperson welcomed the delegation from the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF), which included the Minister, Ms Barbara Creecy. He said the PC wanted the Department to take it through this important item, which would help the PC understand what had happened after the reconfiguration of the department and what stage it was at. He referred to a decision by the President that there would now be a department called Environment, Forestry and Fisheries. The actual task now was to make sure that this happened. The PC might underestimate what was involved. That was why the department had been given this opportunity.
Minister Creecy introduced the DEFF delegation: Mr Ishaam Abader, Acting Director-General (DG), and Ms Limpho Makotoko, Deputy Director-General (DDG), Corporate Management Services. The Minister said that the Deputy Minister had another engagement, so she apologised for not being able to attend the session. The Minister herself had to go to another engagement in about 45 minutes and she asked the Chairperson for his indulgence.
Incorporation and Streamlining of Forestry and Fisheries Branches within DEFF
Ms Makotoko took the Committee through the presentation
On 14 June 2019, the President pronounced the configuration of government departments, which resulted in the transfer of the Forestry and Fisheries functions from the then Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) to the then Department of Environmental Affairs. As a result, the Department was configured into the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF).
A National Steering Committee was convened by the Ministry for Public Service and Administration (MPSA) which included all the affected departments. It was determined that the integration process was to be implemented into two phases:
- Ring-fencing and transfer of staff, assets, budgets, systems, resources and finalisation of the start-up structure by March 2020; and
- Full reconfiguration of the transferred functions into the department and finalisation of the organisational structure by October 2020 for implementation from 1 April 2021.
Six work-streams were identified to do the technical work in the areas of human resource Management; infrastructure and assets; finance; information and communication technology; legal and policy matters; and communications.
A start-up structure inclusive of the Forestry & Fisheries functions was developed and submitted to the MPSA for concurrence. This included a joint submission for the ring-fencing of staff, assets, systems, resources and structures.
The second phase of the process had commenced and focused on reconfiguration of the structure, merging of functions, elimination of duplications and grouping of homogeneous functions. The first draft had been submitted to the MPSA for consultation. The process would be finalised by the end of March 2021
Among the functions that were ring-fenced for transfer from DAFF to DEFF was Forestry and Natural Resources Management. This involved forestry management in various regions; forestry development and regulation of commercial and small-scale forestry; and the management of woodlands and indigenous forests.
Also ring-fenced for transfer was fisheries management. This involved aquaculture development and socio-economic development; control and surveillance of fisheries; the management of offshore and high seas fisheries, small--scale fisheries and inshore fisheries management; and fisheries research and development.
Ms Makotoko referred Members to slide 6 of the presentation which gave an analysis of the positions that were to be transferred. She highlighted that figures on the total establishment included posts for which there was no funding. In line with the National Macro Organisation of Government (NMOG) principles, it was agreed that such posts would not be transferred to the new department. This meant that those posts were being abolished.
The Forestry function comprised 1 816 posts, whilst the Fisheries function comprised 586. The positions were transferred to DEFF with effect from 1 April 2020. No unfunded positions were transferred in line with the NMOG principles.
Human Resource Management
Positions within the department were prioritised to fund prioritised strategic positions within the fisheries branch.
The Marine Living Resources Fund (MLRF) was established in terms of the Marine Living Resources Act. It was a Schedule 3A Public Entity registered in terms of the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) and Treasury Regulations. The Fund required its own separate financial management and submitted financial statements separately from the Department. The Director-General was the Accounting Officer. The Auditor-General annually audited the accounts of the fund and capacity was created for the MLRF to report directly to the Accounting Officer on its financial management.
In order for the department to fulfil its mandate, 63 strategic positions were identified as critical and were being filled in phases, starting with the most crucial ones - marine inspectors, scientists and researchers.
As part of a review of the forestry structure, 150 posts were being re-purposed in consideration of the release of State-managed plantations, and the implementation of the Forest Sector Master Plan. This approach would ensure that the branch could create capacity for implementation of key strategic areas. These included:
• Expansion of the primary forestry timber resource. Three posts were created for regional coordinators at the level of directors. This would result in a split of forestry operations of the existing regions and would culminate in three additional regions: Directorate: Western Cape, Directorate: Northern Cape and Free State; and Directorate: Mpumalanga. The total number of regions would be eight.
• Sector transformation. A directorate for sector transformation had been created to review and integrate support functions and create a shared services model to provide support services to coastal and inland regions.
Other Work-streams Progress
Infrastructure and Assets: All assets had been transferred to DEFF and contracts ceded. Movable assets verification had been completed. Planning and precinct development to cater for permanent office accommodation was underway with the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure.
Finance: Budgets were finalised and transferred.
Information and Communications Technology: Detailed IT Infrastructure and systems assessments were conducted. The National Treasury had granted approval for additional Microsoft Licences for Forestry and Fisheries. Connectivity and transfer of old emails from DAFF to the newly created DEFF email accounts was being finalised.
Legal and Policy: Lists of active contracts and litigation matters for Fisheries and Forestry were identified and transferred to DEFF.
Communications: Forestry and Fisheries Functions had been consolidated on the DEFF Website.
Ms Makotoko referred Members to Slide 10 for the departmental organogram which showed how various functions had been reallocated. She said the structure shown was under consultation, and the Department was hoping that the eventual structure would not be totally different from the one that was being proposed. It would take comments, and look at further steps in terms of feedback that it received.
•The transfer of 29 remaining posts from the former DAFF had not been concluded. An intervention was underway.
• There would be further engagements on integration of the Woodlands Management function from Forestry into the Biodiversity and Conservation branch.
• There were ongoing consultations with management and labour unions and a continuous change management process. Change was not always easy for people, and the Department needed to have a way of supporting people as they settled in.
• There were ongoing discussions on the consolidation of Fisheries, Oceans and Coastal research functions.
• Matching and placing - there would be instances where people were re-allocated in the Department, and did not report to the same branch that they used to; in some instances, there might be minor changes in the functions that they performed. This process would be done in consultation with the officials, and would look at organisational requirements, and not necessarily individual preferences.
Minister Creecy said the Department would respond to Members’ questions.
Mr N Singh (IFP) appreciated the presentation and acknowledged that this was work in progress. In his view, this was not just “a cut and paste exercise” of just taking someone and putting them somewhere else, and continuing with business as usual. It seemed that a lot of thought was going into rationalisation and overlap of functions. He thought that the Department had made good progress compared to what Agriculture had done when it had had to take over some of these functions. He liked the idea of the work streams, and trying to ascertain whether there were certain people who might not have a particular responsibility, because that responsibility was taken care of in the general department. He wanted to know how many superfluous people would need to be moved from their current functional responsibility to something else within the broad department, due to overlap.
Mr Singh said he had “always had a hang-up about the Forestry branch”. He had always said that the Forestry branch was oversaturated with employees. There were 1 587 posts there. With the release of state-managed forestry plantations, DEFF had to “sharpen its pencils” when it came to the number of employees in the Forestry branch, even if it meant some of those staff becoming beneficiaries of state forests. Something like that must come up in the Department’s planning in the next six months, because he believed that that branch was way overstaffed, given the responsibilities it had.
The PC had been dealing with the Fisheries Rights Allocation Process (FRAP) recently. The PC had been told that consultants would be required, because the Department did not have in-house capacity. What thought was being given to building capacity within the Department? The previous week it had said that there might be a bias if the FRAPS was done within the Department, because this had happened before. The Department could not rely on consultants forever. There had to come a time when there were responsible officials at the Department who took their work seriously, and there was no element of bias and complaints, as had been the case before. To what extent was the Department trying to build this capacity through a skills audit within the Department? The PC had heard about small-scale fishers in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. It knew that during the consultation process with the small-scale fishers and the so-called recreational fishers, the Department did not have capacity. What would it do to build up capacity, and/or decentralise or delegate some of these functions to provincial authorities?
Mr N Paulsen (EFF) thanked the Department for the presentation. He was concerned that during this process, some people might be made redundant. What would the Department do with those people? There was a serious lack of capacity within the Department to deal with many of the issues in fisheries, for example. Would those people be reskilled or would they be placed elsewhere? The Department was reliant on consultants. This added to the costs of the Department. How would the Department look at professionalising the Forestry and Fisheries branches, by having capacity within the Department to deal with so many things? Given the fact that there was an opportunity to streamline the operations, there should not be duplications of similar functions. One could not have a communications department for Forestry, one for Fisheries, and another for Environment; there should be one communications department. There would be a lot of overlap. What would the Department do with those skills that had now become redundant?
Ms H Winkler (DA) also thanked the Department for the presentation. She wanted to know what the total staff contingent was now for Forestry and Fisheries, taking into consideration that there was a transfer of a number of positions. Did the Department have provincial offices for the DEFF branches in each province, to aid with decentralisation, and to ensure that the Department had capacity on the ground to prevent bottlenecks coming to the national Department?
With regard to the inspectorate and compliance, could the PC get a list of the individuals involved in the inspectorate and compliance enforcement for the different provinces? Did the Department have provincial authorities delegated by DEFF to deal with issues? It was always a problem trying to get hold of the right person for the right province for either fisheries incidents, or incidents of timber theft or illegal logging in forests. How did this work? There were the municipal forests, and the state-owned forests which fell under Forestry Management. What was the difference between these two streams?
As a part of the drive to increase accessibility, the former and the current departments had made several commitments since 2010 to decentralise fisheries management functions through operating offices in provinces with fisheries activities. What did the plans cost and what was the progress with the revised timelines for the decentralisation of the Forestry and Fisheries branches and their services? Prior to the 2009 Cabinet restructuring, inland and freshwater fisheries were mainly overseen by provincial environmental entities. The main priorities were to conserve and protect aquatic resources, but not so much the freshwater fisheries and aquaculture. How did the Department plan to accommodate the development of the inland water resources, while still protecting the integrity of these aquatic ecosystems?
The responsibility of managing fisheries research and patrol vessels was transferred to the South African Maritime Safety Authority, because of the contract and financial mismanagement in the Fisheries branch. Now that marine fisheries research seemed to be on the verge of being streamlined, who would manage the vessels?
Aquaculture development had been skewed in favour of marine aquaculture in terms of legislative and regulatory frameworks, while freshwater aquaculture had lagged behind when it was under DAFF. The integration of these should outline how the Department planned to service both the marine and freshwater aquaculture sectors with the current capacity. The servicing of both aquaculture sectors would be crucial to the upcoming Aquaculture Development Bill.
Mr Singh said that the Committee had been hearing about the MLRF and the Fisheries Management branch. What was the envisaged institutional arrangement between the MLRF, which was an entity, and the Fisheries Management branch? If he could recall from previous discussions, thought was being given to how to integrate them. Either one took the MLRF as an entity, and brought it within the full responsibility of the Fisheries Management branch, or one took the whole Fisheries Management branch and put it into the entity, because the entity would have its own executive committee and governance.
The Minister said she wished to assure Members that it was not the Department’s intention to declare redundancies and to retrench. If anything, she thought that the Department would be having staff shortages in terms of the functions that it would need to perform. If there was duplication, and if the Department felt that there were other areas in the organisation where it would like to use particular employees, it would go through the correct labour relations process. One could not just move people; they had to be consulted, they had to agree. That was one of the reasons why the DDG had that there was an ongoing change management process. At the end of the day, these were human beings; they were not units, and they had to be dealt with in an appropriate and correct manner, which gave people job security and also enabled development.
On governance arrangements, the key problem in Fisheries was that DEFF had inherited an MLRF that was not in good financial shape, and that constrained what one could do in the branch. Putting financial arrangements into good shape was a process, because one had to look at the tariff structure; one had to look at the collection and accounting processes, etc. While the Department may need temporary capacity for FRAP 2021, the Department might in future want to keep a situation where there was independent oversight over the allocation process. What had been seen if the 2012, 2013, and 2016 FRAP processes were analysed, was that where there was centralisation of decision-making in the hands of one person, where there was no independent oversight, those processes had led to multiple legal challenges. Going forward, that was what the Department wanted to avoid. It wanted processes that everybody could feel were fair and open. Sometimes one would need to have independent oversight always in those processes. One would need an independent review of the process before one could feel confident to allocate licences. It was the absence of that in previous years that led to a very litigious situation that one found today.
On Forestry, the Forestry Sector Master Plan is currently in the Cabinet process. Once it had completed that process, it would be released for public comment. The idea for public comment and implementation was that there should be a situation where there could be land redistribution through that process, and where foresters themselves could be beneficiaries. Once the Department had completed the master plan process at the Cabinet level, it would be in a position to share that with the PC, as well as its thoughts on the way forward.
In reply to Ms Winkler, the Minister said that concerns around freshwater fishing and freshwater aquaculture were a result of policy vacuums; the Department was in the process of developing legislation in this regard. The legislation should assist the Department to deal with what it dealt with in the rest of the biodiversity economy, which was sustainable use. Both Forestry and Fisheries, in terms of the Constitution, were national competencies. The Department did have decentralised offices, but it was not giving powers to provinces; that was not enabled by the Constitution. If Members had anything to report, the Minister’s office was the place to report it; that would enable the Minister to ensure that there was proper follow-up, and that the concerns that Members had were properly dealt with. She asked that Members please send complaints to her office, and the Department would make sure that these things were dealt with.
Mr Ishaam Abader, Acting DG, DEFF, responded to questions. He said that the Accounting Officer for the MLRF was also the Director-General. Integration was a bit of a difficulty. That person was basically the Head of Department, for the Department as well as the entity. That was an anomaly. The issue of integration went further than what the Minister had said. There was a Fisheries branch, and also an Oceans and Coasts branch; there were certain overlapping functions there as well which would need integration. Some of the research aspects, for example, would need to be integrated into a cohesive whole, because of the split between Agriculture and Environment previously. That was another aspect that the Department would need to look at in terms of the overall integration.
[Ms Winkler wrote in the chat box: If there are staff that are not needed in one programme/department could we not bulk-up enforcement and compliance i.e. abalone poaching, illegal fishing, forestry theft?
Minister Creecy replied: It depends on the skills, geographic location of individuals involved. Not everyone can take up a law enforcement function.
Ms Winkler: Will Oceans and Coasts and Fisheries be re-integrated?
Minister Creecy: The structure with regard to these two branches is still under consideration by those involved. It may not be appropriate.
Ms Winkler: Agreed, maybe it could be an option for re-skilling and placement for redundant roles?
Minister Creecy: Let’s allow the process to unfold and not jump to solutions.
Ms Winkler: Much appreciated.]
On the finances of the MLRF, the Minister said a review process would have to take place in terms of looking at the financial constraints, and also around the issue of the Marine Living Resources Act itself, and the eventual amendment of the Act. The MLRA was a “fairly old act”. When the Department looked at reviewing that, it had to consider some of these institutional arrangements, as well as the financing issues, in terms of taking the Fund forward.
On the FRAP capacity, she said one needed to bear in mind that DEFF did need capacity internally, but some of these processes only took place on a five-year, eight-year, or 15-year basis, depending on the rights that were being issued. The issue was that, as and when the Department needed that capacity, it would have to draw in that additional capacity. In terms of internal capacity, there were gaps that need to be addressed.
On the policy gap in the aquaculture sector, she said the department was currently working on an Aquaculture Bill. It would bring that to Parliament once it had completed the consultation processes.
The Department did not have a list of the officials in compliance and enforcement in the forestry and fisheries sectors, but the Department would make that list available to the Committee.
The Minister said she would prefer that all complaints go through her office.
On the issue of people possibly being made redundant, Ms Makotoko told the Committee that the Department had done a process of skills auditing, which was a continuous process. The Department would be reskilling people, and placing them after consulting them. No-one would be made redundant in the process. As the Minister had indicated, currently what the Department foresaw was a situation where it would still have a shortage of capacity. The Department had also started a process of personnel verification, which would enable it to do the skills audit.
There were about 150 posts that were relooked at in the Forestry branch, and that resulted in the abolishment of those posts which were already vacant. Nobody suffered or was impacted negatively in terms of that process. The posts were abolished with the finalisation of the master plans. The Department was aware that there could be posts which it could still save.
On the current staff numbers: In the Forestry branch, there were 1 557 people; in the Fisheries branch, there were 363 people, including financial management. With all the plans, and the changes in the legislation on aquaculture, one would see on the structure that the Department had looked at capacity for aquaculture and economic development, and had created about 91 posts to cater for that matter.
Ms Winkler said to the Minister that she was not trying to play a critical role; everyone was trying to complement one another with their different skill sets to find reasonable solutions to the various issues across all of these programmes and entities. She asked what the difference was between forests that fell under municipalities, and that were mandated by those municipalities, and the forests that fell under DEFF. How was that delineated? What role did DEFF play when there were forests under municipalities?
Mr Abader said that the Department was a little bit out of its depth on the municipal forests issue. He asked that the Department do a proper response to the PC in writing. State forests were classified under three categories which were under state control at the moment. He assumed that municipal forests were under the auspices of the municipalities themselves.
The Chairperson accepted the proposal of a written response. Generally, on the issues of the reconfiguration and streamlining, the PC was very clear about what was happening. On the areas where there was still consultation, like the structure, the PC would keep its ears to the ground, but he hoped that as the Department continued, it would see the need to take the Committee on board. For now, the PC was very clear about the process and the critical stakeholders that the Department must engage as well, also taking into account the PC’s fears. Equally, streamlining functions, irrespective of people, were also critical. He encouraged the PC to appreciate the information; it would help the PC going forward.
The meeting was adjourned.
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