SANParks & Isimangaliso Wetland Park Authority 2020/21 Annual Report

Environment, Forestry and Fisheries

18 November 2021
Chairperson: Ms F Muthambi (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

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Annual Reports 2020/21

The Portfolio Committee on Environment, Forestry and Fisheries was briefed by officials from the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), South African National Parks (SANParks) and the iSimangaliso Wetland Park Authority (ISPA) on their Annual Reports for the 2020/2021 financial year.

The Chairperson of the Committee congratulated both SANParks and ISPA for the vast improvement in their 2020/2021 performance, with SANParks improving from 68% performance in the 2019/2020 financial year, to 84% during this financial year. She indicated that ISPA is the only entity in the portfolio which has managed to achieve 100% of its set targets. She described this achievement as exceptional, and added that this is the level of performance that the Committee expects from the department and its entities.

During their briefing, officials from SANBI indicated that they are in the process of implementing the action plans contained in SANBI's Audit Action Plan (AAP). Members raised their concerns about whether the entity will be able to implement some of its action items by 30 November 2021, as originally planned. However, the officials assured them that most of these action items will be implemented, whilst the remaining ones will be implemented before the end of the first quarter. The Committee requested that the entity provide a progress report, by no later than 6 December 2021, on the status of their implementation.

The Committee was informed that a new board has been appointed at SANParks. Members welcomed this development and indicated that in due course the Committee will arrange a session with the new board, so that it can explain how it intends to deal with the issues faced by the entity.

Officials from SANParks indicated that whilst the decline in revenue affected the entity’s ability to deliver, it was still able to achieve 84% of its targets. While SANParks has, so far, managed to generate R746 million from its tourism activities this financial year, it has recorded a R78 million deficit. To overcome this deficit, management is exploring various strategies to improve revenue, which include green bonds, public-private partnerships (PPPs) and resource mobilisation.

The Committee questioned why it and the nation had not been informed that two-thirds of South Africa's rhinos have been poached in the past decade. Officials from SANParks disputed this and noted that SANParks did report on the decline in the rhino population over the past decade in its 2019/2020 financial Annual Report. The officials shared statistics on the rhino population with the Committee. These statistics show that the rhino population has declined from 10 000 in 2008, to less than 3 800 in the 2019/2020 financial year, whilst the most recent census indicates that the number has dropped below 3 000. There are a number of drivers of this decline, but poaching remains the main one. Other contributors include extended droughts, similar to the one during the 2015-16 financial year, which cause rhinos' reproductive rates to drop, particularly in the case of white rhinos.

To stop this decline and to increase the number of rhinos in the Kruger National Park (KNP), SANParks has looked at creating soft sanctuaries, where there will be more visible protection of rhinos. In addition, the organisation is looking at creating strongholds for the rhinos, both inside and outside the KNP, as well as suitable habitats that are large and remote enough, which will allow for them to be removed from areas where they are experiencing high poaching. SANParks' officials acknowledged that the conservation of rhinos will require a collective effort from all relevant stakeholders.

Officials from ISPA informed the Committee that the entity managed to receive an unqualified audit with findings. An AAP has been developed and all the material findings of the Auditor-General of South Africa (AGSA/AG) are currently being addressed. The entity is working hard both to obtain a clean audit opinion and to ensure that it complies with all key statutory requirements, so that it is able to fulfil its mandate.

The Committee highlighted its concerns about the alleged shooting of three small-scale fishing farmers by the entity’s sea patrol rangers, which resulted in the death of one of the farmers. The officials from ISPA explained that the field rangers had come across three (alleged) poachers in the act and, when one of the individuals was confronted and ordered to surrender, he instead opened fire. Officials from ISPA went to see the family of the slain individual and apologised for the event, and their apology was accepted. The officials also engaged the community on the matter.

The Committee indicated that there is still room for improvement at all the entities.

Meeting report

The Chairperson indicated that the Committee will be briefed by the SA National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), SA National Parks (SANParks) and iSimangaliso (ISPA) on their Annual Reports for the 2020/2021 financial year.

The agenda was adopted.                  

The Chairperson welcomed the newly appointed board of SANParks and indicated that in due course, the Committee will arrange a session with them, so that they can explain how they intend to deal with the issues faced by the entity.

She congratulated both SANParks and ISPA for the vast improvement in their 2020/21 performance, with SANParks improving from 68% in the 2019/2020 financial year, to 84% during this financial year (and she challenged the new board to continue the momentum). ISPA is the only entity in the portfolio which has managed to achieve 100% of its set targets. She described this achievement as exceptional, and added that this is the level of performance that the Committee expects from the department and its entities.

Ms Beryl Ferguson, chairperson, SANBI, requested that the officials of SANBI be excused from the meeting once they had answered the Members' questions, as they had already presented the Annual Report the previous day.

Briefing on SANBI’s Post External Audit Action Plan

Mr Shonisani Munzhedzi, CEO, SANBI, and Ms Lorato Sithole, CFO, SANBI, briefed the Committee on SANBI’s post external AAP. The officials indicated that the entity has managed to implement all the action plans it had set to achieve prior to November 2021. Some of the items it has implemented include:

-The development and implementation of preventative measures as detailed in the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) manual for irregular and wasteful expenditure 

-The updating of the irregular expenditure register and the disclose note on the annual financial statements (AFS)

-Instituting disciplinary action against officials responsible for non-compliance

 

Ms Sithole indicated that several action plans are still in progress, which include:

-The review and strengthening of the process currently used to review the supporting documentation for AFS

-The implementation of consequence management against officials responsible for irregular and wasteful expenditure

However, she expressed confidence that the entity will be able to implement all its action plans on time.

See presentation attached for further detail

The Chairperson mentioned that the AAP is clear.

She opened the floor for discussion.

Discussion

Mr Bryant asked how confident the entity is that it will be able to implement several of the processes by 30 November 2021, as originally planned.

Mr Munzhedzi stated that the action items include the finalisation of the SOP, as well as training sessions. Some of the training sessions have already been done, but some modules are still outstanding. The entity has also begun drafting the SOP. He added that management is working hard to achieve the timelines they have set.

Ms Sithole agreed that most of these action items will be completed in the next 12 days, as the entity has already started implementing them. The remaining items will be implemented at the end of the first quarter.

The Chairperson indicated that the Committee will monitor the progress with keen interest. She asked for the entity to provide a progress report on the implementation of the action items by 6 December 2021 at the latest.

The Chairperson of SANParks, Ms Pam Yako, on behalf of the board, said that the previous board has paved the way for the incoming board, and the new board's job is not only to maintain the momentum set but also to make improvements.

She indicated that the COVID-19 restrictions had affected tourism in the country, which affected the entity’s revenue (as 80% of its revenue comes from tourism). Whilst the decline in revenue affected the entity’s ability to deliver, it was still able to achieve 84% of its targets.

As part of its social responsibilities, the entity has spent time providing support to the communities living next to the parks, and this is something it wants to build on in the coming year.

Regarding the board’s priorities, she mentioned that the board is focused on revenue generation, cost containment (due to falling revenue), improving its target achievements, and identifying new working methods. The migration to working digitally has forced the organisation to be more efficient in how it conducts its business.

The Chairperson requested that in their presentation, the officials only highlight the critical issues identified in the fourth quarter, the audit outcome, and post the implementation of the AAP.

SANParks Annual Report 2020/21

Mr Dumisani Dlamini, Acting CEO, SANParks, briefed the Committee on SANParks' Annual Report for the 2020/2021 financial year. He reported that SANParks managed to achieve an overall performance of 84% during this financial year. The entity cited the national lockdown as the main driver of the entity’s loss of revenue. With the reduction in its revenue, the entity was unable to fill all vacancies.

He informed Members that he would focus only on the AG’s findings.

AG’s findings

The AG made findings in the entity’s financial reporting and its compliance with laws and regulations.

Credible financial reporting

  1. Restatement of corresponding figures
  2. Adjustment material misstatements in annual performance report

 

Compliance with laws and regulations

  1. Internal control deficiencies that resulted in a failure to comply with laws and regulations, misclassification of expenditure items, and inadequate resourcing of the internal audit function
  2. Failure to prevent irregular expenditure amounting to R43.3 million
  3. Financial statements that did not comply with the requirements of the reporting framework as required by section 55(1)(a) of the Public Finance Management Act

 

Measures to address audit findings

Compliance with laws and regulations

SANParks incurred irregular expenditure amounting to R43.3 million, relating to two issues. The first was an insurance contract which was not completed timeously. The second issue was that the renewal of a contract for the tourism reservation system was done irregularly. To deal with the latter issue, SANParks has procured a new system and a contract with the service provider is being finalised. Management is investigating all the breaches to the supply chain management (SCM) processes and, once this is complete, it will provide a report to the board.

Credible financial reporting

An AAP has been developed and it aims to implement corrective measures to address internal control deficiencies identified by the AG. He added that management will also strengthen its internal management reviews and oversight mechanisms, to detect and correct errors in the AFS and the annual performance report.

Financial sustainability

He indicated that so far SANParks has generated R746 million from its tourism activities. However, with a deficit of R78 million for this financial year, management is exploring various strategies to improve revenue, which include green bonds, PPPs and resource mobilisation.

See presentation attached for further detail

The Chairperson opened the floor for discussion.

Discussion

Mr Bryant asked what potential alternative revenue generation activities the entity is considering. He also asked whether it has considered commercialising some of its assets and utilising existing facilities via PPPs.

He praised the entity’s rollout of its vaccination programme and asked what approach it takes to staff who do not want to be vaccinated.

The Chairperson mentioned that in the past the entity had a culling facility for elephants in Skukuza; however, she believes that the facility has now been closed. She asked why it was closed, particularly as it was generating revenue.

Touching on the revenue raised through the resource mobilisation programme, she asked if the entity could provide a list of its donors. Additionally, she asked whether SANParks publishes its donor list for public scrutiny, and if not, why not?

Still referring to SANParks’ donors, she asked what SANParks does with donations received from donors whose interests conflict with those of SANParks, such as hunters who have links to poachers. She indicated that it is important for the entity to provide the names of its donors so that the Committee can conduct oversight.

She pleaded with the entity to provide greater support to people with disabilities (PWD), as they too enjoy the rights afforded by the Constitution. She asked for how long SANParks has been unable to meet its employment targets for PWDs. Further, how does it ensure that PWDs are included at SANParks?

Referring to the budget expenditure, she asked how the entity managed to spend 100% of its budget whilst not achieving all its AAP targets.

She expressed her concern about the fact that communities residing next to the parks are living in abject poverty. She asked for clarity on the specific interventions that the entity has pursued to include these communities in its projects, as she believes this will enhance their sense of ownership in the parks. She indicated that the Committee would arrange a future meeting with the entity, where it will be required to brief Members on how its projects have assisted these communities.

Dr Luthando Dziba, Head: Conservation Services, SANParks, acknowledged that the elephant numbers in the KNP are growing and more recently at a rapid rate. Before 2000, the KNP had a culling policy, which kept elephant numbers at 7 000. However, the most recent census showed that this number has breached 30 000, which has left officials at the entity concerned, particularly as elephants have a significant impact on the environment.

He added that in line with the norms and standards, the culling of elephants is provided for as a last resort intervention. To deal with this issue, the entity is considering relocating some elephants from the KNP to the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area. Additionally, with the decline in elephant populations in some African countries, SANParks hopes to share its successes in increasing South Africa’s elephant population.

Referring to the question on the facility in Skukuza, he clarified that the abattoir in the area is still functional and does still process animals. However, it very rarely processes elephants, with only seven elephants having been processed.

He acknowledged that including communities in SANParks' initiatives is complex. As part of its effort to correct this, SANParks has developed and approved the Greater Kruger Transfrontier Conservation Framework. This is a development framework that will ensure the participation of all stakeholders on the western boundary of the KNP. It was also designed to ensure that the fences in the KNP are lowered in the associated private reserves, and to ensure that there is economic development in the communities surrounding the Greater Kruger area. A number of these communities and traditional authorities have signed the agreements (which are provided for in the framework) and the work is still in the early stages.

Still referring to the framework, he added that SANParks sees opportunity in areas such as the Letaba Ranch Provincial Park and the Mthimkhulu Game Reserve, as they both have large tracts of land with high conservation value. If they are utilised properly, communities will be able to participate in the economic activities. He expressed the hope that in the next few years, SANParks will be able to advance the community’s participation in economic activities taking place at the KNP.

Mr Dlamini, referring to the Ten Year Tourism Broad Plan, indicated that this plan touches on the number of tourism products that SANParks wants to produce in the next ten years. A number of PPPs are currently underway. He explained that where SANParks has existing infrastructure, it enters into a management contract so that it is better able to maximise revenue. Furthermore, SANParks receives off-balance sheet funding, where the private partner creates a tourism product that they use, and once the investment is recovered, the product is handed over to SANParks. During the period in which the product is owned by the private partner, SANParks also generates revenue. The entity is exploring how it will use its existing asset base to generate revenue. It is currently receiving expert advice so that it can derive a better return on its investments.

He indicated that SANParks has conducted an assessment of its infrastructure, its assets, their condition and their nature. This assessment will assist in exploiting these assets for revenue generation. It is also looking at other methods to generate revenue, so that it can ensure the sustainability of the organisation.

The executive management has agreed on a new vision for 2040. He added that SANParks has completed its financial sustainability and feasibility model, which refers to the type of business model that needs to be developed for the entity to generate more revenue. However, with its Schedule 3a classification, SANParks has found it difficult to run a profitable tourism operation. To deal with this issue, he explained that SANParks is looking to petition the Minister to support the reclassification of the organisation. SANParks believes that the reclassification will be able to assist in the management of the tourism plant and will also unlock opportunities in the SCM environment.

Referring to the question on its donors, he said that SANParks will provide the Committee with a compiled list of its donors. He clarified that SANParks is guided by its resource mobilisation strategy when fundraising, so it does follow due diligence. If it finds that a particular donor does not have a good profile, it does not accept the donation. There have been instances where SANParks has declined donations. All donations are guided by a donation agreement which is vetted by legal services to ensure that there is no risk relating to the amount donated.

Regarding the publishing of the donor list, he clarified that the entity has never published a donor list as it was not aware of any legal requirement to do so. However, it will be guided by the Committee on how to deal with the matter going forward. Most of the money received is project-based and SANParks usually receives money where it and the particular donor have a mutual interest in a project.

On the question of PWD, he indicated that SANParks had a target of 1.5% of its staff being PWDs but it only achieved 1.1%, due to financial constraints. When it cannot achieve its target of employing PWDs, the organisation explores how it can provide procurement opportunities to them.

Referring to the budget expenditure, he mentioned that the R400 million reduction in its budget made it difficult for the entity to implement all its programmes.

On the inclusion of surrounding communities at the KNP, he said that executive management has mandated that 60% of all jobs created in the parks must be allocated to people living in the surrounding communities. Management is currently working on creating procurement opportunities. For instance, in the KNP there is a SCM project underway that is looking to open up the park so that people around the park are able to benefit from opportunities. SANParks has also partnered with First National Bank (FNB) and has incubated the small businesses around the KNP. The small business owners are being trained with a view to trading and doing business with the park.

Ms Lisa McCort, COO, SANParks, said that currently SANParks is unable to make vaccinations mandatory for its staff, however, it was pleased by the positive uptake in vaccinations in rural-based parks. SANParks is collecting data on the number of staff members currently vaccinated and it is relying on them to disclose when they get vaccinated. Staff members are encouraged to get vaccinated and SANParks has partnered with the provincial Department of Health to bring vaccinations to remote parks, which has worked well in the Northern Cape and the KNP. During its inspections of the parks, the Department of Employment and Labour was left satisfied with SANParks' implementation of its health and safety protocols. However, she admitted that, at times, officials struggle to ensure that visitors and guests abide by the regulations.

On the employment of PWDs, she mentioned that for the past two years SANParks has not met the national employment target of PWDs comprising 2% of total staff. She attributed this to the change in legislation, which requires that any voluntary disclosure of a disability must be accompanied by a doctor's letter. SANParks is in the process of appointing a panel of occupational health practitioners who will go to all the parks to assist PWDs living in remote areas to obtain a doctor’s letter, which will confirm disabilities that were voluntarily disclosed.

She added that management is working with the board to have a pipeline of CVs that can be used for targeted employment. Management was unable to implement its target for employment of PWDs, with the exception of five, as a result of the freezing of vacancies due to the shortage of funding. However, management is continuing with the targeted employment. Over the past two years management has tried to improve universal access for positions at SANParks and also the work environment. 

She informed Members that both the board and management are aware that the target of women in management is well below the 50% standard required by the national government. One of the pillars in the entity’s Transformation Integration Plan is to achieve this target (of 50%) in the next five to six years. It plans to attract and retain (as it has a high turnover of women) women (particularly black women) through its employment equity plan and bursary scheme.

Ms Yako, referring to alternative sources of revenue, indicated that the new board has decided to take a long-term view on how it will diversify its income. The board recognises that it needs to obtain funds to sustain the organisation, whilst at the same time getting value for money. Organised labour will be involved in these new initiatives and, in fact, during its last strategy session, the board included representatives from the labour unions and they were able to provide input. 

She also said that SANParks needs to implement the targets set out in its socio-economic transformation strategy and she admitted that the entity has to show tangible results. To better contribute to the alleviation of unemployment and poverty, SANParks needs to work with labour, other government departments and the private sector.

She confirmed that the board is looking at ways to attract and retain more women in senior positions.

The Chairperson asked how many job opportunities were not realised due to the target of rehabilitating degraded land not being met. The Chairperson also asked whether the outstanding hectares will be added to the entity’s 2021-2022 target.

Regarding the entity’s claims on rhino poaching, she recommended that the entity back up its claims that it has turned the tide against rhino poaching with better research data. She asked why the Committee and the nation had not been informed that two-thirds of rhinos have been poached in the past decade. It was mentioned that a workshop was held to reflect on the experience that the entity has gained over the years regarding the declining numbers of rhinos. She asked whether the recommendations are too confidential to share at this stage.

She posed seven more questions:

1. Was a feasibility study done before the lodge at Skukuza was built?

2. What was the outcome of the investigation by the South African Human Rights Council (SAHRC) into claims of racism by white rangers towards their black counterparts?

3. Has this outcome been shared with the staff at the KNP?

4. Why is the southern part of the KNP dominated by white rangers, whilst the northern area is dominated by black rangers?

5. When does the entity anticipate that it will implement its turnaround strategy?

6. Why are the performing camps understaffed?

7. What is the rationale for closing units in the KNP?

Ms Weber indicated that in previous sittings the Committee had requested the report on the SAHRC’s investigations.

Ms Yako mentioned that the board received a briefing on the report last week. The report contains clear recommendations, which mainly pertain to the organisation's work culture. She assured the Committee that once the board finishes processing the report, all the identified matters will be resolved. She requested that the Committee advise the board on how best to release the report and what consequence management should be implemented.

Mr Dlamini indicated that R10 million has been allocated to the implementation of the entity’s turnaround strategy. The executive management at the KNP is passionate about the strategy and believes that there will be drastic changes once it is implemented.

Dr Dziba clarified that the sub-outcome goal on the degraded ecosystem has two parts: (1) the number of degraded hectares of land rehabilitated; and (2) the number of hectares allocated initial rehabilitation (where it achieved 7 880 ha of land rehabilitated). The entity focused its resources on the latter because of the rapid regrowth of plants in the Garden Route, particularly the alien invasive plants, which was caused by fires recorded in the area in the prior year. The resources were used to control the regrowth of the alien invasive plants. He added that the resources used were obtained from the Presidential Economic Stimulus Fund (PESF).

Responding to the questions about the job opportunities not realised, he said that the presentation report indicates that the number of full-time equivalent jobs created by the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP) were exceeded (4 700 jobs were created against a target of 4 200). 6 927 jobs were also created for the youth, against a target of 5 993, whilst 5 884 jobs were created for women, against a target of 5 080. For PWD, SANParks managed to create 271 jobs, against a target of 260.

Regarding the question on rhino poaching, he indicated that SANParks did report on the decline in the rhino population over the past decade in its 2019-2020 financial annual report. Statistics show that the rhino population has declined from 10 000 in 2008, to less than 3 800 in the 2019-2020 financial year, whilst the most recent census indicates that the number has dropped below 3 000.There are a number of drivers of this decline, but poaching remains the main one. Other contributors include extended droughts, similar to the one during the 2015/16 financial year, which cause rhinos' reproductive rates to drop, and this applies particularly to white rhinos.

When the population is in a healthy state, the annual reproductive rate of rhinos ranges from 6% to 7%. However, during a drought this number drops below 1%, but will usually recover two to three years after the end of the drought. He also indicated that adult calves are vulnerable to poaching, as they are usually walking alongside their mothers. If a female rhino is murdered, her offspring is also lost, which is 10 to 12 animals over her lifetime.

He informed Members that SANParks wants to develop a common vision that will focus on improving rhino population numbers. Some of the workshops have looked at creating soft sanctuaries, where there will be more visible protection of rhinos. The organisation is also looking at creating strongholds for them inside and outside the KNP: these are suitable habitats that are large and remote enough, which will allow for them to be removed from areas where they are experiencing high poaching. He added that the rhino conservation initiatives will be pursued with the assistance of the private sector and the surrounding community.

SANParks has received funding from Total Energy South Africa and it is working with the Wilderness Foundation to develop a plan on how it can implement some of the interventions that will ensure that rhinos under state management are conserved, and that the population numbers recover from the current low base.

Mr Dlamini, referring to the understaffed camp in KNP, mentioned that as the organisation has been unable to fill its vacancies, servicing certain camps has been difficult. Furthermore, due to insufficient funds, it has been unable to maintain its infrastructure. To increase its revenue, it plans to reprioritise increased revenue-generation initiatives. In the KNP it has replaced most of the K-packs and it is employing additional staff on a short-term basis, to deal with the demand, particularly as the festive season is approaching.

The Chairperson requested that the CEO form part of the delegation that will brief the Committee on the TransFrontier Conservation Area.

She commended the entity for creating the right conditions for PWDs to enter and access the utilities at the parks. She recommended that much needs to be done to ensure that educational and awareness programmes are brought to schools, particularly those in the rural and township areas. She also encouraged SANParks to work with SANBI, the Marine Living Resource Fund and iSimangaliso on creating a common outreach programme, as the Committee believes that children in rural schools should be exposed to the opportunities available. She suggested that the entity should identify children in rural villages when it releases its bursaries, in an effort to fight poverty, inequality and unemployment.

Ms Yako indicated that on Sunday, SANParks will be launching the South African National Parks Week, when people can visit the parks for free. The aim of this initiative is to allow for people to be exposed to the country’s diverse ecology. As part of its goal to have as many people visit its parks as possible, SANParks is also offering discounted fees for accommodation.

The Chairperson of iSimangaliso, Prof Thandi Nzama, stated that in spite of certain challenges, such as the COVID-19 restrictions and budget cuts, the entity managed to achieve all of its 61 targets for the 2020/2021 financial year.

She reported that iSimangaliso managed to receive an unqualified audit. An AAP has been developed and all the material findings of the AG are currently being addressed. The entity is working hard both to obtain a clean audit opinion and to ensure that it complies with all key statutory requirements, so that it is able to fulfil its mandate. The leadership at iSimangaliso has prioritised certain key areas, such as the maintenance of the entity’s world heritage status, the reduction in reliance on government grants for funding, financial stability, the well-being of employees, and strengthening the relationship with communities in and adjacent to the park.

Regarding the maintenance of its world heritage status, she mentioned that the leadership is focused on ensuring that the ecological integrity of the systems is upheld, and a number of activities have been considered to achieve this, which include land and environmental audits, stakeholder engagements (which will ensure that the local communities understand the significance of biodiversity conservation), park management and the monitoring of programmes. The engagements have borne fruit and they have focused on ensuring that communities acquire a sense of ownership of the park and subsequently become ambassadors of iSimangaliso. They have also examined how best to address the issue of poaching.

Touching on the breach that occurred at the St Lucia Estuary, she indicated that this incident occurred on 6 January 2020 and it has been in the public domain ever since. The Minister has appointed a panel of excerpts to investigate the breach.

On the reduction of heavy reliance on grants, she reported that the leadership at the entity is working on promoting iSmangaliso as a tourism destination of choice and is also enhancing the ecotourism endeavours, by strengthening relationships with a number of stakeholders, including Tourism KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) and Tourism South Africa. She added that the entity is also focused on implementing its commercialisation strategy.

She informed Members that iSimangaliso is at an advanced stage of taking over the operations of the tourism facilities at Ezemvelo and the CEO has indicated to the board that management is finalising its consultation with Ezemvelo employees and labour unions.

Referring to the inclusion of communities, she stated that the entity has conducted a number of community beneficiation programmes, as well as various skills development and youth empowerment programmes, to ensure that the communities benefit from the activities taking place in the park. iSimangaliso has also had a number of meetings with the Amakhosi and members of the traditional councils, in an effort to promote the transformation of the surrounding communities.

She was pleased to report that the entity is in a financially healthy state and it has managed to increase its revenue through grants, subsidies and administration fees.

She expressed her belief that for iSimangaliso to perform at its best, it is imperative that it provides an environment that is conducive to achieving optimal performance from each and every employee. She added that the organisation has been able to retain a skilled and diverse staff.

ISPA Annual Report 2020/2021

Mr Sibusiso Bukhosini, CEO, ISPA, took the Committee through ISPA’s Annual Report for the 2020/2021 financial year. He indicated that in spite of the challenges caused by budget cuts and the COVID-19 restrictions, ISPA managed to achieve a 100% performance for this financial year.

Key findings

-Achieved all its targets for this financial year

-Unqualified audit opinion with findings for a third consecutive year

-95% budget expenditure

-Unrestricted cash and investments amounted to R126 million

-CFO incurred irregular expenditure amounting to R119 192 and a Working for Water Project Manager incurred irregular expenditure amounting to R144 251

 

Organisational performance

Mr Bukhosini highlighted some of the entity’s achievements. These include:

-The treating of 56 956.05 ha of invasive alien plants, against a target of 3 000 ha

-The cleaning of 320 km of accessible coastline

-161 876 paid visitors’ entries

-Revenue generation amounting to R11 317 442

-The development and implementation of a tourism and commercialisation strategy

-877 beneficiaries who successfully completed accredited training

 

Financial performance

Mr Bukhosini indicated that the total revenue for the 2020-2021 amounted to R495 million, whilst the total expenditure amounted to R349 million, meaning that the entity recorded a surplus of R147 million for the year. He added that grants and subsidies made up the majority of the entity’s recorded revenue, amounting to R466 648 322.

See presentation attached for further details

The Chairperson opened the floor for discussion.

Discussion

Ms Weber commended the entity for its work over this financial year.

She asked why the investigation into the breach at the estuary has taken this long to conclude, and why the officials had conducted interviews only during the investigation.

Referring to an incident between the CFO and an employee who resigned, she asked for details on the matter and whether the money will be retrieved.

She also asked whether the grants received were part of the PESF. In addition, she asked whether the entity had other lawsuits against it, and whether the entity has implemented consequence management, to ensure that the entity is not sued again.

Ms Gantsho also commended the entity for its performance. She also asked whether the former employee had paid the money back to the entity.

She asked if the entity has donors.

The Chairperson had eight successive questions. First, she asked the officials to submit the entity’s AAP the following day. Second, she asked how they will address the matters identified by the AG. Third, she asked that they provide clear timeframes and indicate who will be responsible for addressing each matter. Fourth, she asked for more details on the consequence management implemented against officials responsible for wrongdoing. Fifth, she asked how much progress has been made to find a workable solution with the farmers who have taken them to court. Sixth, she asked when the entity had last interacted with the farmers. Seventh, she asked whether there has been a notable improvement in the chemical, physical and biological attributes of this system, particularly against what is expected.

During the year under review, it was alleged that the entity’s sea patrol rangers shot three small-scale farmers, one of whom died. She therefore asked about the nature of the working relationship with surrounding small-scale fishers.

Mr Bukhosini mentioned that the board had engaged and looked at the matter relating to the CFO. The board accepted her resignation and resolved not to pursue the money that she owes as this will cost more. Regarding the other staff member, he indicated that the individual was responsible for irregular expenditure incurred. The staff member had a disciplinary hearing and is currently paying back the money owed to the entity, on a monthly basis. The entity can provide a report on the matter if required.

In response to the question on the grants received, he indicated that the PESF was the main grant that it received, and it was used to refurbish its facilities, some of which were derelict. The entity is considering leaving the rest of the refurbishments to PPP operators.

Regarding the lawsuit against iSimangaliso, he explained that the officials in charge of the SiyaQhubeka Forests, which neighbour the iSimangaliso wetland park, alleged a fire broke out and spread from ISPA to the forests. ISPA disputed this allegation and, to defend its claim that the fire did not start in the wetland park (nor does it allege that the fire started in the forests), it had to hire lawyers and a fire expert. ISPA is certain that the fire did not start on its side, as it has controlled burning areas, which ensure that fire does not escape from the park.

He clarified that the ISPA does not have donors but it has created good working relationships with non-governmental organisations such as Wild Trust and its entity, Wild Oceans, which is currently running a programme called Oceans Live. This programme has assisted it with stakeholder engagement and has made people more aware of the ocean in general and how it needs to be managed.

He indicated that the AAP is available and would be provided to the Committee on the following day.

He explained that when he was appointed as the CEO of the entity, he took it upon himself to meet with the disgruntled farmers. Since then, relations between the farmers and ISPA have improved and the farmers were consulted during the opening of the mouth. The only issue encountered during the opening of the mouth was how to avoid the potential flooding of nearby farmers’ land, as the estuary was no longer functioning properly. The entity cannot solve this matter on its own and it needs help with finding other land for the farmers, because for as long as they remain on the flat plain, their farms will encounter flooding. He appealed to government to look into the matter.

He indicated that management is constantly meeting with the panel of experts appointed to investigate the breaching of the estuary.

On the Global Environment Facility (GEF) 5 project, he mentioned that the project was initiated to respond to the challenge of high salinity in the estuary system (the estuary system contains both freshwater and saline). The system was affected when the uMfolozi river was diverted and it could not charge directly towards the estuary, as only seawater could go into the system, causing it to have high salinity; this situation was worsened by the drought.

He added that the project brought positive results and the system had to be monitored on a regular basis, but the scientist responsible for monitoring abdicated her responsibility. After that occurred, the system was infested with reed and, as the salinity levels dropped to low levels, the estuary transitioned into a lakewater system. However, through the Oceans Live programme, ISPA has started monitoring the system, which has led to an improvement. ISPA is awaiting a report on the analysis of the data.

He stated that the shooting incident took place near False Bay, which is a poaching hotspot. He explained that the field rangers had come across three (alleged) poachers in the act and when one of the individuals was confronted and ordered to surrender, he instead opened fire. Officials from ISPA went to see the family of the slain individual and apologised for the event, which apology they accepted. The officials also engaged the community on the matter. Upon investigation, ISPA found that the individual did not form part of the small-scale fishing group (as was originally claimed).

Staff from the entity are trying to find one of the other alleged poachers, who has been reported missing. He indicated that ISPA will have a meeting with the community and the Inkosi about the issue. ISPA has reported the matter to the police. Because of the high level of poverty in the community, individuals are resorting to poaching for survival. The entity has considered implementing youth programmes to assist with poverty alleviation.

Ms Gantso stated that she was not convinced by the response on the issue relating to the CFO and she asked if they could provide a written response.

The Chairperson requested that they provide the response by Tuesday.

Mr Bukhosini said that the entity will do so.

Ms Nomfundo Tshabalala, Director-General (DG), Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, explained that the process of appointing the panel was done by the department. She admitted that it did take time to investigate the breach. The department ran a lengthy process to ensure that they obtained the required expertise, which included experience in estuaries, sediments, hydrology and aspects of socio-economic impact assessments, because they felt that the opening of the mouth would have an effect on the community.

Another reason for the delay was the fact that a critical member of the panel indicated that he or she was not available. Therefore, the department had to advertise the vacancy, to ensure that it acquired a competent and skilled individual.

The Chairperson appreciated the input provided by the DG, indicating that it showed that the department has performed oversight over the entity.

She encouraged the entity to intensify its stakeholder engagements.

She thanked all officials present for their input into the engagement.

The meeting was adjourned.

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