The iSimangaliso Wetland Park presented its second quarter performance report to the Committee in a virtual meeting, dealing with matters such as the targets, challenges and progress on different programmes. These programmes included corporate support services, biodiversity conservation, tourism and business development, as well socio-economic environment development. One of the main challenges was the procurement of personal protective equipment, which had delayed some programmes. Successes had included an increment in commercialisation, expansion of its marketing tools, and strengthening the community beneficiation scheme.
Members raised concerns after hearing that local stakeholders were afraid to speak out due to fearing they might lose their concessions and opportunities. There had also been complaints from visitors about the lack of animals in the park, so the issue of re-wilding was brought up. The Committee also wanted reassurance that the financial deficit that existed at the end of the second quarter would be gone by the end of the financial year.
The South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) also delivered its consolidated second quarter report against its annual performance plan for 2021/22. The challenges faced were related to the impact of the pandemic, fiscal constraints and the implementation of its audit plan. The achievements included exceeded targets on marketing platforms, and biodiversity systems being fully operational.
Members wanted to know if the irregular expenditure issues had been dealt with appropriately. There was also a concern about funding delays, and they wanted to establish if the problems were because of late applications by SANBI, or the Department of Finance delaying transfers, as this was heavily hindering the implementation of entities' programmes.
The Chairperson proposed adoption of the agenda, which Ms N Gantsho (ANC) seconded.
Mr N Paulsen (EFF) wanted to add the matter of the oversight visits being cancelled to the agenda, and the Chairperson agreed for it to be handled under "general items,” after the entities’ presentations and discussions.
The Chairperson commended the upcoming animal welfare colloquium on 18 March to the Committee. She said joint committee meetings were held with the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD).
Mr N Singh (IFP) said he would not be part of the entire meeting since he had another urgent meeting to attend to and would attempt to re-join.
Ms C Phillips (DA) expressed concern regarding the Department of Agriculture, stating they had more than a year to present the animal welfare colloquium, yet had been pushing it to the side. She asserted they were there for the profit made from the animals as opposed to the welfare of the animals. It was their duty, as the Portfolio Committee for the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment (DFFE) to see that the colloquium went ahead, and not just leave it up to another department. There should meetings between both departments, and it should be done on an equal footing since this Committee was just as responsible.
Mr D Bryant (DA) shared the same sentiments as Ms Phillips, saying that one of the reasons for the joint meeting was because of lack of urgency observed by the DALRRD in going ahead with the colloquium. In addition, the issues that had been raised about wild animals involved cross-cutting competencies between DALRRD and the DFFE, including the memorandum of understanding (MOU) drawn up between the two departments. Therefore, to just simply hand it back to the DALRRD was futile, despite the fact that they were the leading agent. It was important to know if they had done things like setting a date for the June colloquium, and other logistical arrangements.
Mr Paulsen disagreed and said there had already been negotiations with DALRRD, and the Committee could not impose itself on other portfolio committees and tell them what they ought to do and not do. This would result in stepping on toes, and other committees could also do DFFE’s work. What should rather happen was for the DFFE to do a follow-up with DALRRD on the recent developments.
Ms A Weber (DA) expressed disagreement with Mr Paulsen’s statement, and pointed out that the departments were very intertwined -- the DALRRD and DFFE shared a lot in common. There should be more working together, rather than viewing it as managing/overseeing. The proposal was that both departments should steer the colloquium and share the responsibilities equally.
The Chairperson noted the comments and stressed that DALRRD was nevertheless the leading agent and took the bulk of the work in this matter, but also did not rule out working with them.
Mr Bryant expressed gratitude for the Chairperson’s feedback and was happy the DFFE would have a role in the event, even though they were not the lead agent. He also requested a copy of the MOU.
Ms Barbara Creecy, Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment, said the Ministry would follow-up on the matter and send a communiqué to the Committee in writing.
Mr Singh suggested there needed to be set timeframes and have the colloquium physically, instead of online.
The Minister responded that the MOU had been drawn up, signed and sent to DALRRD for their signatures, and a due follow-up would be done.
She introduced the entities, and the presenters were asked to include areas where the Department had failed to meet its objectives. She was satisfied thus far with the performance of iSimangaliso Wetland Park since they had managed to overcome their teething challenges in the first two quarters. iSimangaliso was commended for the progress made through the expanded public works programme (EPWP), and the opportunities it had created for youth empowerment and employment.
iSimangaliso Wetland Park
Prof Thandi Nzama, Chairperson, iSimangaliso, began with opening remarks on the work and progress of Isimangaliso, such as working tirelessly to have a clean audit. iSimangaliso was also set to host the Eco-Tourism Investment Summit on 25 March.
Mr Sibusiso Bukhosini, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), iSimangaliso did the presentation on the targets of the entity's various programmes -- corporate support systems, biodiversity conservation, tourism and business development, and socio-economic environment development.
The outcome of the targets for all programmes combined was 80%, which meant that 42 of the 52 targets had been achieved.
Challenges faced by the entity included:
- A delay in the procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE) and material, and the contracts delaying the start of the programme for biodiversity conservation.
- On the business development front, travel restrictions due to the lockdown had reduced the number of tourists visiting the park.
Progress for the entity included:
- There had been 58% of youth beneficiaries supported, and more people had been trained due to the Presidential stimulus funding.
- There had been an influx of local communities visiting the park during September, since it was tourism month, particularly to the beaches.
- The community beneficiation scheme presented at the executive committee (EXCO) had been approved.
Mr Bryant referred to the information on the slides, which indicated that none of the 11 targets were off target. However, this was not fully the case, because the implementation of the procurement plan was off target. Whether it was resolved or not, considering it happened during the second quarter it should still be included in the presentation. He asked if this could be corrected. Secondly, what PPE was missing that had caused the delay? Was this related to Covid or hazardous waste of the wetlands?
Regarding the 320km of coastline that was cleared, seeing that the target was reached, did they continue clearing the coastline or did they stop?
The leadership structure of the conservation awareness unit was important, but only one of the two vacancies had been filled. Was Isimangaliso on track to ensure that the other position was filled, and were they reaching out to the leadership? He also wanted to know why the expenditure on contracted services had almost tripled.
Ms Phillips asked what the reasons were for the PPE delay, and if there was a penalty clause built into the contract. The funding for water was received only on 18 June -- why was this the case? It had been mentioned that the relationship between iSimangaliso and the community had improved. However, the overall state was not yet “rosy,” because there were people from St Lucia who would not speak out since they were afraid of being victimised. This was because of the possibility of having concessions and opportunities taken away from them by the management of iSimangaliso. This raised cause for concern, as those with issues were afraid to speak up.
The presentation on iSimangaliso's financial performance had stated that the deficit had "increased from last quarter by R14 million" due to the grant being spent and conditions that were not met. What was the grant for, and how much was it? Lastly, what was the update on the administration building that had been shown to the Committee in January 2021?
Mr Paulsen said there had been a target of 44 000 visitors to the park, and iSimangaliso had achieved 34 000. In setting this target, what consideration had been given to the impact the Covid pandemic would have had on the target?
There were plans to "re-wild" the park as part of the 2023 plans and to make it more attractive. Had the park approached SANParks regarding the availability of wild stock? This would ensure they could offer game drives and attract more visitors, including those who come to Africa to experience seeing wild animals. What were the plans to acquire wild animals?
With the plans iSimangaliso had, it was vital to have the necessary skills in place. Therefore, what had been done to ensure the park had a work base skills audit to assess if they had the necessary skills to achieve their full potential?
Still on the matter of making the park more attractive, he asked what the plans were to upgrade the facilities.
Ms T Mchunu (ANC) began by acknowledging the improvements made by the entity, which gave hope that there would be positive results at the end of the financial year. She asked how often the management engaged stakeholders and communities, including the AmaKhosi and their communities. Regarding its employment status, she commended the entity for the internships completed and asked what the ratio between males and females at senior management level was. What was the percentage of the people who were employed at a senior level from within the area of the AmaKhosi? Regarding finances, it had been mentioned that the deficit in the first quarter was R22 million, and had reduced to R8 million second quarter. Would this be reduced to zero by the end of the financial year?
Ms N Gantsho (ANC) referred to Groen Sebenza programme, and asked if there was a plan to expand it beyond six months. How would the implementation of the infrastructure projects change spatial inequalities? In addition, what spatial disparity indicators would be changing?
The Chairperson asked what the specific iSimangaliso plans were for rolling out the green energy programme strategy? Secondly, what did the entity look for when doing environmental audits -- for example, the Maphelane Resort. What were the findings for those audits? Thirdly, why were the Amakhosi councils important to iSimangaliso?
It was stated that during a meeting last year, the Committee had recommended that iSimangaliso, SANParks, the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) and the Marine Living Resources Fund should develop a joint outreach programme. The purpose was to make sure education awareness was brought to the schools. How much progress had the entity made on its part, especially in exposing rural schools to opportunities, including providing bursaries in aid of fighting poverty, inequality and unemployment?
Lastly, how much progress had been made in addressing the non-compliance issues in the areas of procurement and project management?
Mr Bukhosini acknowledged that Mr Bryant was correct about the one off-target.
Regarding the PPE, it was for both safety and chemicals. The service provider had had a couple of challenges at that time, and those matters were resolved and the annual target had been exceeded. Concerning the coastline clearing target goal, he said that the Department did not stop after it had been reached, and there was a responsibility to continue clearing the coastline.
There was acknowledgement that funding was indeed received on 18 June, the main result being the delay in procuring the PPE and safety issues, as mentioned above.
He expressed shock at the assertion that there were people afraid to talk due to their concessions. The entity was working with all stakeholders. In his view, there was a good working relationship among them, and concerns that were brought to their attention were dealt with. The CEO claimed he had not received a complaint from any of the business operators, as well as members of the public, on the issue of people being silenced and victimised. More people were constantly engaging the entity and coming forward with suggestions on how to do business with them.
Providing an update on the administration building, he said the square meterage was going to be based on the industry standard and not people’s opinions of standards -- and take it from there. The ground floor was 104 square meters, the first floor 706 square meters, and the external buildings 61.7 square meters. The area where archives and files were kept was 162.5 square meters. The total area therefore was 1 964.2 square meters, and the overall budget was approximately R32 million. Assessments conducted by professional quantity surveyors in South Africa had indicated the building costs per square meter for the 2020/21 financial year would be R16 200 per square meter and the one referred to had been R15 521. The industry price was R16 200 per square meter, and this considering was for a competitive building.
The dynamics of the office block and the price issues had been submitted in writing, and Members of the Committee could have access to the document. The budget for the project had been approved many years ago, and the CEO had had to plead with government to make the funding available. This was a multi-year project, and additional funding was sought. Construction was set to commence soon.
In response to the question about the visitors, there had been a presentation about the institutional arrangements between iSimangaliso and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, which indicated that the accommodation was being managed by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife now. The visitors being referred to in this instance were those coming for the day and paying at the gate.
About re-wilding the park, there had been cheetah brought in at Mkuze. There had been a reintroduction of the wild dogs. The Committee was updated on the movement of rhino due to challenges around forestry within Mkuze. Therefore, there had been good progress in terms of re-wilding in the parks, with it now having enough game.
A skills audit had been conducted by the organisation, and it was ensured that people were positioned in the right positions. In addition, with service providers, there was a transfer of skills in order to maintain situations and have reliable service providers in future.
On the matter of the Amakhosi, two forum meetings had been held with them. and if there was a further need, they would meet them. Senior management was predominantly male, and there had been commitment to appoint a female CFO. There were good numbers of senior management who came from the communities, including the CEO.
The Groen Sebenza programme was a two-year programme. There was funding for it in both years, and there was a desire to make it an ongoing programme beyond that.
Regarding the infrastructure spatial disparity, Members of the Committee were encouraged to see the matter for themselves, since there were plans to visit the park. Some small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) had moved from grade one to grade two and had vehicles of their own, not hired, therefore changing their lives for the better.
Addressing the matter of the green energy programme, he said there had been energy-saving initiatives implemented, such as the use of solar panels, and there was a clear strategy in place. The environment audits ensured there were regular checks on iSimangaliso for compliance. The land audit had been completed, and there was a process of initiating consultation.
The Amakhosi meetings were very important to iSimangaliso because the chiefs(induna) were there, and it was a time to hear their challenges and share the work the organisation was doing, including the upcoming plans.
On the subject of outreach, iSimangaliso did go to the schools and had invited them in limited numbers owing to Covid-19. There had been 30 bursaries handed out to needy students with the aim of addressing poverty, inequality and unemployment.
There was a clean audit strategy and plan, which was focused more on the implementation stage. Further, a supply chain management (SCM) manager had been appointed.
Ms Qhamu Mntambo, Chief Financial Officer, responded on the matter of contracted services. In the previous financial year, R160million had been spent. Currently, after six months R59.908 million had been spent, which was less than the previous financial year. Something to note was that iSimangaliso had the Presidential stimulus in the previous financial year, hence the higher amount spent on contracted services.
In terms of grants, revenue was recognised only when conditions were met. The entity was liquid and able to overcome the deficit issue and meet its obligations.
Ms Phillips asked how much of the budget was received and how much had been spent. Further, the organisation should provide the bill of quantities to the Committee. There was a call to have iSimangaliso and Isemvelo in a more structured relationship with full accountability from both sides, based on clashing incidents.
The Chairperson posed a question as to what baseline indicators iSimanagliso was using to measure progress towards achieving the strategic plan. To what extent were community members involved in the integrated plan? There had been negative reviews online from visitors regarding the lack of wildlife -- what was the organisation doing about it?
Mr Bukhosini said they could resend the bill of quantities -- the information on budgeting was all there. On the matter of Isemvelo and iSimangaliso, the clashes were no longer of major concern and both entities were working "hand in glove" together. Relocation of the employees from the entities was not realistic now.
The integrated management plan (IMP) was initially made for a period of five years. It had been submitted to the Minister for extension and was now for ten years. The consultation of iSimangaliso and its stakeholders had been extensive, and there was an obligation to engage stakeholders through platforms like radio, newspapers and so forth. However, there was still a problem when the land claimant representative had met. They had been supposed to revert with feedback to the communities, but this was not occurring much.
He said there was an excess of animals like elephants and zebras, which had reached carrying capacity in the park, and they were looking into giving some away.
Students given bursaries were from disadvantaged backgrounds and were doing well in their studies.
Prof Edward Nesamvuni, Board Chairperson, South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), said the performance targets for the programmes were for the national botanical and zoological gardens, biodiversity science and policy advice, human capital development, transformation and administration.
The key challenges highlighted were:
- The impact of the pandemic, affecting SANBI’s ability to generate income through the botanical and zoological gardens programme. Field operations were limited, and face-to-face interactions with communities, partners and beneficiaries had to be complemented by online engagements.
- Financial constraints. There had been low visitor numbers and restrictions on mass events which had resulted in low income and failure to meet targets.
- Implementation of the audit plan. SANBI had received an unqualified audit opinion. There had been ongoing engagements with the Auditor General of South Africa (AGSA) to ensure that the matters raised in the AGSA report were addressed.
Ms Weber commented that there appeared to be significant differences in the first and second quarter for not reaching targets and non-compliance -- what had contributed to this difference? What were the differences in the data capturing between the first and second quarters? Lastly, there was concern about crucial vacancies that were still not filled, and as lots of money was spent externally on consultants, could people be identified who would fill those vacancies as soon as possible?.
Mr Bryant asked why there was slow progress with the infrastructural development project. SANBI should do better in steering "Kids in Gardens" going forward, given the benefits it had for the children. There had been a lag in the student placement programme as a result of Covid-19, but as regulations were relaxed in the second quarter, could this be made up?
Ms Phillips said some people had come to her regarding the amount of weeds invading the lawns, particularly in Kirstenbosch Gardens. On the issue of late funding, was it due to late applications on SANBI’s side, or had the Department of Finance been late with their distribution?
Ms Mchunu asked to what extent the community was involved in SANBI’s projects. When would the staff development targets be met? Regarding the deficit, could SANBI give the Committee reassurance that there would be equilibrium by the end of this financial year?
Ms Gantsho asked if SANBI relied for funding solely on government grants, and if funds were sourced elsewhere, where from. Secondly, were different fees charged for local and international visitors? Thirdly, what criteria were used for teacher selection, and had the Department of Basic Education been roped in to assist in order to increase the number of teachers trained?
Mr Paulsen asked if there had been any disciplinary action taken against those involved in the irregular expenditure, and what the outcomes had been. Where SANBI had planned to increase the gardens and how had the surrounding communities been involved to provide labour in that regard?
The Chairperson said SANBI had been non-compliant with legislation due to targets not being met, among other issues. How much progress had been made to address this? In terms of programme administration, could a target be set and later be reduced or amended?
There had been a report about scientists at the University of Pretoria who had found three lions that had been infected by the Coronavirus -- was this infection verified? How much progress had been made by SANBI with its outreach programmes?
There had been delays in funding, especially for the expanded public works programme, and funding was coming later, which created challenges for the entities. Often the agreement between the Department of Finance and the entities commenced at the beginning of the financial year and took time to be finalised, and the transfers would come only by the second or third quarter. One way to address this when working with the team was to finalise the scope and working plans before the end of the financial year so that at the start of the next financial year, implementation could commence.
The targets were framed differently in different quarters. Because things such as roads were needed, there had been infrastructural delays affecting the new gardens in the Eastern Cape and Limpopo. The target for visitors had shown an increase. There was a curriculum support programme that was related to school grades, and SANBI was working with the DBE. Educators and learners came through for the programmes. There were also plans to get a partner on board to commit to a few years, similar to what SANParks used to do for a period of time. This was to have wider coverage. The learner integrated working programme was set to begin in the first quarter of the next financial year.
There was a need for more postgraduates to be involved in the area of biodiversity and support for the sector. They needed to be on site and take up posts for practical work. Since it was more of a contact occupation, Covid had played a role.
To deal with the vacancies, there was a need to prioritise critical positions.
To ensure the involvement of the community, tenders specified a minimum of 30% being contracted by local contractors. An important factor to consider was that all botanical gardens created their own micro-economies, either through value chains or via the appointment in contracted services. The majority of those people came from the local areas.
The entity's posts had now been frozen for a while, which would create a challenge. There was a priority for recruitment in critical areas, and this had influenced other investments.
Different fees were charged for local and international visitors.
The scientists who wrote the report about the animals getting the coronavirus did not refer to anything associated with the National Zoological Gardens (NZG) or the zoo for which SANBI was responsible. There had been a misinterpretation of the story from the journalist's side, and the story was cleared. There had been two doctors on site who performed medical examinations on the animals.
There had been a continuation of a number of SANBI environment outreach programmes, including celebrating the different environmental days with communities. There was a programme involving young people in the Presidential initiatives, the Groen Sebenza among others.
SANBI assured the Committee that there would not be a deficit at the end of this financial year.
Due to time concerns, the Chairperson encouraged Members that if they had follow-up questions, they should note them down in writing, since iSimangaliso and SANBI needed to be excused.
The entities were dismissed.
The Chairperson tabled Mr Paulsen’s motion about the oversight visit. There had been an extensive oversight programme planned. Some areas needed to be visited physically, but this had been cancelled. The Committee also needed to decide how frequently public hearings would take place in the five provinces where these facilities existed.
There was a plenary on Thursday and Wednesday, meaning oversights could take place only on Tuesday or Friday. The Chairperson mentioned that February was usually the best period to do oversight. The suggestion was that before Members went on recess in December, all quotations and other arrangements should be ready. Another possible way was if Members were within the area -- even if it was for other reasons -- they used that time to attend to the oversight and present the letter from the Chairperson.
The meeting was adjourned.
Download as PDF
You can download this page as a PDF using your browser's print functionality. Click on the "Print" button below and select the "PDF" option under destinations/printers.
See detailed instructions for your browser here.