The Committee engaged with the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment in a virtual meeting on its 2022/23 annual performance plan.
The Chairperson said that a significant number of annual targets were not met. This was poor planning. The Departmental officials should know that programme performances below 80% would not be tolerated. Ministers would be questioned on the steps they took to address this issue with the programme leaders who had not achieved their targets.
Matters discussed included fishing licences, not reaching targets, the reduction in budgets for certain programmes, recommendations for dealing with severe climate conditions, the conservation of biodiversity, and how to deal with illegal mining.
The Department responded to a wide range of questions from the Committee. It said that appeals for fishing licences were still being considered without bias. It was working on improving its performance to achieve its targets, and many plans were in place to aid this. The reduction in certain programmes was due to funding going to other aspects within the same sector and some programmes targets were achieved with less expenditure. Severe climate conditions were monitored, and disaster action plans were discussed. Conservation of biodiversity was of utmost importance and steps were being taken to make the best decisions moving forward for vulnerable ecosystems. Illegal mining was monitored, and four cases were currently being dealt with. Many issues within the Department were holding it back from achieving a clean audit, but steps were being taken to overcome these challenges.
The Department gave the Committee a breakdown of all the programmes being undertaken. Because of time limitations, the team undertook to provide written responses to the questions that had not been addressed.
The Committee went over the agenda and was advised that it was not provided with the presentation from the Department on the issue of the St. Lucia Estuary and other biodiversity issues. This presentation would be moved to another meeting.
Ms Barbara Creecy, Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, apologised on behalf of the Department for the delay in the presentation. On Thursday morning, the St Lucia Estuary Mouth had breached naturally and was still open. This was a result of the rough seas. The chief executive officer (CEO) would get more information when there was an engagement with iSimangaliso, and the Members would be made aware of the findings.
The Committee moved the adoption of the agenda.
The Chairperson said that a significant number of annual targets were not being met. This was poor planning. The Departmental officials should know that programme performances below 80% would not be tolerated. Ministers would be questioned on the steps that they had taken to address this issue with the programme leaders who had not achieved their targets.
Minister Creecy expressed her condolences to the families in KwaZulu-Natal on the losses that they had suffered during the flooding. The first priority was the Climate Change Bill. The second was the mainstreaming of the work of the high-level panel (HLP) and their recommendations for transforming the wildlife sector. The major focus for this year was on environmental programmes delivering the jobs that they had been assigned to do. The third priority was to ensure that environmental programmes improved significantly. Waste management was a problem that needed to receive attention as it was causing significant environmental damage. The fishing rights allocation process would be concluded this year. Appeals were continued till the end of May. More attention would be given this year to the Phakisa ("hurry up") programmes, and the master plan would be finalised this year.
2022/23 Annual performance plan and key programme priorities
Ms Nomfundo Tshabalala, Director-General, Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE), presented the Department's annual performance plan (APP) for the 2022/23 financial year. She was aware of some programmes not reaching their targets and that measures were being implemented to address this.
The Committee was taken through the presentation. The presentation covered the Department's strategic outcome goals and priorities for the year per programme.
The presentation also covered the 2022/23 budget allocation per programme.
(See attached document for details).
Mr N Paulsen (EFF) said he wanted a response from the Minister about whether the South African Weather Services (SAWS) informed the Department of severe climate conditions so that proactive measures could be taken to reduce damage and the risk of loss of life. Referring to Programme 5, he said conservation was for the elite. Would the Department adopt a more human-centered approach to natural resource management and get consensus from communities on where the protected areas should be? Could the communities receive reassurance on how they would be compensated for the damage caused? Referring to Programme 9, he asked if overfishing was a huge concern to the Department and, if so, how did it explain the allocation to big fishing companies like Oceana while reducing the number of new entrants. How could this be justified? Big companies had a monopoly on the citizens' resources.
Mr D Bryant (DA) said that there were low-performance officials in the Department, and proper consequences needed to be implemented against them. Top-performing officials should be recognised and promoted. The presentation lacked a focus on proper consequence management. Referring to Programme 3, he asked why there was no mention of off-shore wind programmes. Was this something that the Department would be looking into moving forward? A report mentioned the increased flood risk for Durban and the recommendations to be taken forward to address this. Had the Department been made aware of this report? If so, were steps taken, and what were these steps? Referring to Programme 5 – had the high-level panel (HLP) White Paper been published? If not, when would it be published? In Programme 8, there was a lack of information on legal land invasions on forestry sites. There needed to be a strategy in place to address this. Appeals needed to be considered for fishing licences, as many fishers faced economic destitution.
Ms C Phillips (DA) referred to slide 13. Of the noted criminal investigations, did any concern illegal mining? If so, could the details be provided to the Committee? Were there any guilty verdicts from the criminal investigations? What were the results of the inspections and verifications of the rhino and elephant tusks? Could the Committee get a copy of the penguin and shark management plan? Why was there no management plan for the baboons? On slide 15, what oversight was carried out on the water programme? What was happening to the towns that did not have wastewater land sites? On slide 22, how many staff were available for the compliance inspections? On slide 26, could the Committee be provided with a list of the 30 priority areas being monitored? There needed to be more information on the Antarctic outreach programme. Was there any air quality management stations in the Rustenburg area monitored nationally? Was the Department helping local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and non-profit organisations (NPOs) in warding off mining companies' activities? Approximately how much had the Department contributed to the collection of chemicals from UPL that had been washed into the sea?
The Chairperson asked for a report on the progress made by the entities of the Department that had the capacity to increase revenues. Had the Auditor-General's (AG's) findings been implemented? Would the Department get a clean audit for the 2022/23 financial year? How much had been allocated towards office allocation? Due to COVID-19, would all officials be required to return to their offices or just a select few? What were the reasons for setting targets so low on black economic empowerment (BEE) allocations? Which functional areas had the Department identified where savings could be made? What was the difference in personnel posts between 2021 and 2022? What were the reduction drivers in the Regulating Committee for Meteorological Services (RCMS) management? What was the reason for removing the target on the rhino programme? Could there be clarification on how the Department would achieve effective compliance? Could there be more information on the litigation process for 2022/23? How would the Department deal with the research and cost of the expanded management of the marine protected areas? How would the reduction in the ocean economy project management affect the delivery of the deliverables? What did the budget reduction for employees mean for service delivery under the programme for oceans and coasts? How important was the ocean economy project to the Department? Why had resources been withdrawn from this project? What were the capital projects, and where were they located? Did the Department have more information on the emissions from the forestry sector? What was the possible abuse of the carbon emission issue? What was the explanation for not funding certain SAP programs? Referring to the biodiversity programme, she asked why some programmes received a drastic cut in funding. How would the budget that had been provided help to maintain South Africa's ecosystems, such as wetlands and estuaries, which were vulnerable?
Minister Creecy responded to Mr Paulsen's question about the SAWS. She said there was an integrated disaster management system that existed in government. SAWS issued warnings on media channels and in different languages in extreme weather conditions. There was also active engagement with the national disaster centre. Impact-based forecasting was needed, where the consequences and recommendations were provided to citizens for them to take proactive measures. The current disaster management systems have helped prevent an increase in the loss of life and property in dire situations.
She responded to Mr Bryant, saying that eThekwini had one of the best climate response strategies in the country. The Department had been working with the district municipalities to develop a process of mainstreaming strategies. These strategies required revisiting urban planning. There would be infrastructure reconstruction to make the area more climate-resilient. There had been a recognition that extreme weather conditions would occur more frequently, and the Department had not expected it to be as bad as it had been. However, more extreme climate changes would occur frequently and this needed attention to be focused on infrastructure budgeting and planning. There was a focus on ecosystems.
The fishing rights allocation was still in process. All appeals were being considered and would be reviewed. Various processes would be undertaken for this allocation.
In response to Ms Phillips, she said the penguin management plan had not been released yet, and it would be published for public comment when it was ready. The shark management plan was still being developed, and there needed to be a viable conservation process in the country. SANParks was working on a new model for improving beneficial offerings to communities.
In response to the Chairperson, the Minister said that the major part of the biodiversity economy fell within the protected areas, but some were also in private hands and not budgeted for by the state. The state was still responsible for regulating areas that were in private hands.
Ms Tshabalala responded on the funding of entities and the commitment made by the Department and National Treasury around sustainability. Entities like SANParks were facing challenges due to COVID. They were working on a turnaround strategy. These entities provided a public good, so the Department did assist them in funding their projects and providing them with resources. iSimangaliso had had an additional allocation of R8.3 million. There was a need to maintain infrastructure in SANParks, and the Department had provided R80 million to assist them with this. It was also assisting with air quality stations and their infrastructure development. The Department was looking at the sustainability of its entities. There were various aspects of the expanded public works programme (EPWP) projects that were being assisted by the entities.
The issue of irregular expenditure was being taken very seriously. Policies and structures had been put in place to improve internal controls, and the Department had reconstituted the chief financial officers (CFOs). There was a standard approach for dealing with issues of compliance and procurement. Consequence management and corrective measures were being taken seriously as well. The Department was keeping an eye on performance in the different areas it oversees. The Department aimed for an unqualified audit opinion, realising that there would be issues that needed attention.
The target for BEE had been 90%, and it was now 60%. There had been no indication of what the baseline was, which had caused the change and the Constitutional Court judgment. The Department was working on a realistic baseline. Due to fiscal consolidation, the Department had reduced the budget for certain programmes. Key projects such as those involving wind, water and land were being considered, and further research was being done on these matters in the respective areas.
Ms Mmamokgadi Mashala, Deputy Director-General (DDG): Corporate Management Services, DFFE, said Departmental officials were required to return to their offices after the pronouncement, and 80% would be recalled to the workplace until all could return to their workspaces. There was a headcount on an annual basis to reconfirm the officials in the Department. The salaries that had been paid out to the officials were monitored on a monthly basis. There were also payroll reconciliations. Post establishment was influenced by staff appointments, retirements and resignations. Interns were also employed in certain areas in the Department. There was an 8% turnover rate higher than the previous financial year. The process of finalising the structure of the Department was almost complete.
Ms Vanessa Bendeman, Chief Director: Corporate Legal Support and Litigation, DFFE, responded to Ms Phillips and said illegal mining was not a target for this Department. Other environmental officers saw to this. According to its mandate, the Department did render services where illegal activities were involved.
Regarding cases in process, the Department was currently reflecting on matters from the previous financial year. Court processes took time to conclude. Elephant tusks and rhino horns were checked for DNA and micro-chipping. The reduction of the budget was also due to having other donor-funded projects. Resources were being used to ensure that there was capacity to strengthen the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and South African Police Service (SAPS) so that matters involving poaching and so on were prosecuted. Court orders were used for rehabilitation in areas where activities had commenced illegally. The Department worked closely with Treasury to ensure that funds were used for what they had been allocated. The litigation budget was adequate to cover all litigation costs. The nature of litigation was such that it was difficult to know the correct amount, but the Department paid for the respective branches.
Mr Jongikhaya Witi, Acting DDG: Climate Change and Air Quality Management, DFFE, said there was monitoring at the air quality stations in Rustenburg, and some were undergoing refurbishment. This station was owned by the province. In response to the Chairperson, he said the Department had provided methodological guidance on how carbon stations could be measured and verified. Project owners reported the credits generated at these projects. National Treasury was responsible for dealing with issues of abuse at carbon stations, such as carbon leakage and so on. Consideration of carbon from plantations could be subject to abuse, and there was discussion on how to combat this issue.
Ms Flora Mokgohloa, Deputy Director-General (DDG): Biodiversity and Conservation, DFFE, said that land identified for the expansion of a conservation estate needed consultation with stakeholders as a requirement. Provisions were made for infrastructure that did not previously exist to bring this about. The Department entered into agreements with the communities on projects where they had to be moved off the land for conservation purposes. The communities earned money on the land.
The White Paper would be published during the second quarter of this financial year. The issues around the biodiversity economy took the bulk of the budget in the branch. Its strategies were being discussed. Elements around transformation were being discussed. SANParks and iSimangaliso had undertaken investor summits. An update would be provided regarding this. Entities were on the path to sustainable revenue. The Department undertook a national biodiversity assessment every five years, which indicated the state of biodiversity across the country. There were protocols and interventions that guided the Department that came from the assessment. This was a mechanism to protect the ecosystem.
Ms Nonhlanhla Mkize, DDG: Environmental Programmes, DFFE, said that there was oversight and monitoring of projects for compliance and to ensure the quality of work. Landowners were given guidance on how the land should be used or laid out.
Mr Kgauta Mokoena, Chief Director: Chemicals and Waste Policy, Monitoring and Evaluation, DFFE, referred to the issue of unlicensed landfill sites and said four were currently being investigated. Hazardous waste was taken to the Shongweni landfill site and Holfontein, among others.
A Department official said that research was done via surveys and other aspects to look at vulnerabilities and unique habitats. This was how possible areas for expansion were identified. The reduction in the budget of the Oceans Economy programme was due to the programme deliverables now being transferred to the budget cost centre and special monitoring services. Jobs that were not available anymore were in the industrial sector and not in the Department.
Ms Pumeza Nodada, Acting DDG: Forestry and Natural Resource Management, DEFF, responded to Mr Bryant and said illegal land invasions were a matter that had been identified and could have a negative impact on the master plan. The matter would be tracked on a monthly basis, and an action plan had been developed to address it.
Ms Sue Middleton, Chief Director: Fisheries Operations Support, DFFE, said that the grounds for appeal for the fishing licences were wide. COVID had affected the fishery industry, and many could not export their products. The priority was to prevent job losses.
Ms Phillips said that the issue of mining and the environment involved a gap. The officials who were there had said that they had no control over what was going on. There needed to be a change to address this. Information on the air quality management stations was needed by the Committee for further oversight.
Mr Bryant said that the White Paper and high-level panel recommendations needed dates or deadlines that should be in place.
The Chairperson said that regulatory compliance issues and the removal of targets needed more clarification. There had to be an update on the employment of people with disabilities in the Department. What were the functional early weather warning systems in place? How was the Department going to monitor jobs created by the Ocean Phakisa? The budget in the branch had been increased by R107 million -- how much of an impact would this achieve? Could there be more clarity on the budget and impact of the Green Fund? How would protection of the environment be achieved in the absence of public funding? Was the Department expecting donors from the private sector to put money into the Green Fund? How would the programmes be affected by the reduction of the budget? What were the targets and budgets for the waste management programme? On forestry management, how was the Department going to manage the plantations? Could there be more clarity on the staffing issues?
The Minister said that the White Paper would be taken forward to the Cabinet process.
The responses of the Department would be posted in writing to the Members.
The meeting was adjourned.
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