The Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF) was supposed to present a report to the Committee on the poaching of South Africa’s biodiversity, dealing with affected species, relevant statistics and trends over the past five years and law enforcement efforts. However, due to technical issues, the Committee did not receive the documents and presentations in time and the meeting did not address this substantive matter. The Chairperson said that while the Committee was disappointed, it reserved any comments until a proper investigation had been conducted to determine why Members had not received the documents meant for discussion.
The Committee considered and adopted the minutes of previous meetings.
It also adopted the Committee’s Budgetary Review and Recommendation Report (BRRR) for 2020. It called on the Minister and the Department to urgently work on the Committee’s recommendations. This was based on the fact that the report provided for 60 days, after the date of the adoption of the report by the National Assembly, within which the Minister had to provide a detailed response to the Committee. The Committee’s concern was that it often took some time before the report was adopted by the National Assembly, and this leeway should not be used as an excuse for inaction by the Department.
Members of the Democratic Alliance said the party did not support the adoption of the BRRR in its current state.
[NOTE: The meeting started ahead of the originally scheduled time, and commenced with the Committee considering the adoption of the minutes of its previous meetings on 26 January 2021 and 2 February 2021. This was not covered by PMG]
Budgetary Review and Recommendation Report (BRRR) of the Portfolio Committee on Environment, Forestry and Fisheries on the Annual Reports and Financial Statements of the Department of Environmental Affairs And Its Four Entities, Namely: SANParks, IIWPA, SAWS & SANBI as well as Forestry and Fisheries Branches for the 2019/20 Financial Year,
The Chairperson led the Committee in going through the report briefly. He then opened the floor to comments that would lead to its adoption or rejection.
Mr N Singh (IFP) said that in adopting such kind of reports over the years, the Committee usually gave the Minister or the Department a timeframe within which to respond to the queries and recommendations of the Committee. In the current report, there was a clause that required the Minister to give a detailed response to the Committee, responding to their queries, within 60 days after the adoption of the report by the National Assembly.
He expressed concern that there were instances where the reports took months before they were adopted by the National Assembly, yet he felt that some of the concerns of the Committee were very urgent and should not wait for such a long time.
Dr Scotney Watts Committee Content Adviser, agreed with Mr Singh’s sentiments that all the recommendations could not wait for the adoption of the report by the National Assembly. What the Committee had done previously was to extract recommendations that needed short-term or immediate response, which then informed the work of the Committee.
The Chairperson followed up with Dr Watts on what the next steps were.
Dr Watts said that although it was written in the report that the Minister or the Department would have time within 60 days of the adoption of the report to give a detailed response to the Committee, the Committee would continue to exercise ongoing oversight over some matters. The Committee had in the past gone through all the resolutions that it made to the Department, and had called on the Ministers to answer on the outstanding matters, as it had done the previous year.
Mr D Bryant (DA) said that he would be satisfied with a final version to be presented to the Committee, but the Democratic Alliance was not able to support the BRRR in its current state.
The Chairperson commented that this was a draft BRRR report to be adopted, as Members had already considered another preliminary draft that did not include the budgeting and financial aspects. He said that there was no other time to adopt the report, and recommended that it be adopted as is, and that the timeframe issue of 60 days should not be a reason for its rejection.
Mr Singh supported the BRRR, which was meant to document the successes and the challenges which the Department had faced, and which the report had done. He cautioned, however, that there needed to be an understanding between the Chairperson and the Ministry that the Department should not use the 60 days’ leeway as an excuse for inaction.
In light of all the comments from the Committee, the BRRR was adopted.
Mr Singh asked the Committee to read an article that had appeared in the press that had implicated the Department. As the Committee had not received the documents for the present meeting, he asked that all the Members read the article, and requested the Department to also answer to those allegations in the press at the next meeting.
Mr Bryant also expressed the Committee’s concern that Members had not been able to receive the documents for the meeting in good time, and asked the Chairperson to follow up on the issue.
Ms C Phillips (DA) said she had requested some information from the Department arising from their presentations in previous meetings, and had still not received the information. She asked through the Chairperson that this information be made available.
The Chairperson said that he did not want the Committee to discuss the issue of the documents and presentations that had not been availed for the present meeting. He said that investigations would be carried out to determine what had really happened.
He adjourned the meeting, and said the meeting would be rescheduled and that a proper explanation would be given to the Members on the document issue.
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