South African Weather Services, South African National Biodiversity Institute, South African National Parks and iSimangaliso Wetland Park Annual Reports 2021/22; with Minister and Deputy Minister

Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment

18 October 2022
Chairperson: Mr P Modise (ANC) (acting)
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Meeting Summary




The Portfolio Committee on Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment was briefed by entities of the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment on their 2021/22 annual reports.

South African Weather Services had achieved 82% of its targets and obtained an unqualified audit opinion with no material findings. It had incurred new irregular expenditure of R353 503 due to expired contracts, which it hoped to clear before the end of October 2022.

The Portfolio Committee asked about the difference between impact-based weather forecasts and prior systems. Members asked whether collaboration similar to what had been undertaken with lifeguards in Cape Town had been done in KwaZulu Natal, considering the catastrophe that had befallen that province. Members asked about the security, functionality and maintenance of the air quality monitoring network, the awarding of a contract for radiosondes, employment demographics, and supply chain management issues leading to irregular expenditure.

The South African National Biodiversity Institute had achieved 92% of its annual performance targets and received an unqualified audit with material findings. The entity reduced its irregular expenditure from previous years by 99% to R311 000. However, new irregular expenditure amounting to R9m had been incurred in 2021/22, due to recurring contracts from prior years that could not be terminated without interrupting the Institute’s operations.

The Committee asked for clarity on the Institute’s strategic intent, asked for clarity on the Institute’s role concerning other departments and entities when it came to clearing invasive species, and asked how the Institute planned to address supply chain management issues that had led to irregular expenditure.

South African National Parks had achieved 80% of its performance targets. There had been a marginal increase in tourism revenue, but it remained well below pre-pandemic levels. SANParks had received an unqualified audit with material findings. New irregular expenditure amounting to R4.9m had been incurred.

Members asked about land claims and other community-related issues in and around national parks, including protests and Expanded Public Works Programme employment. They also asked about animal relocations, rhino protection and anti-poaching strategies, the funding of disciplinary action, the slow pace of consequence management, supply chain management and human resources challenges at rest camps in national parks, and the entity’s response to audit findings.

iSimangaliso Wetland Park had achieved 100% of its performance targets and received an unqualified audit opinion with one matter related to supply chain management which would be addressed through the audit action plan. The Park continued to work with stakeholders, particularly people living in adjacent areas.

The Committee asked about plans to keep the Lake St Lucia Estuary open, land claims from neighbouring communities, progress on clearing invasive species, silt and reeds, and the construction of the administration block. They requested details about the community beneficiation scheme and negotiations with amaKhosi regarding land claims and co-management.

Meeting report

Opening Remarks
Mr P Modise (ANC) was voted as Acting Chairperson. Apologies were received from Mr N Singh (IFP), Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, Ms Barbara Creecy, and Ms Nomfundo Tshabalala, Director-General (DG), Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE).

South African Weather Services Annual Report 2021/22
Ms Nana Magomola, Chairperson of the Board, South African Weather Services (SAWS), said that SAWS had received an unqualified audit opinion with no material findings from the Auditor-General of South Africa (AGSA). A new chief executive officer (CEO), Mr Ishaam Abader, has been appointed. DFFE and National Treasury (NT) had allowed SAWS to convert part of its Government Infrastructure Grant (GIF) of R125m into an operational expenditure grant for the year. SAWS achieved 23 out of 28 performance targets in 2021/22, representing an improvement of 12.4 % compared with the previous year, despite economic challenges affecting SAWS’ statutory and commercial revenue from the aviation sector. She shared that SAWS had recently published a comprehensive climate overview of the Southwestern part of South Africa, covering a wide range of topics including the impact of climate change. It also collaborated with the Coastal Marine Applied Research Group at Plymouth University to develop a rip current forecasting tool for the Cape Peninsula coastline. Radar functionality at the air quality stations remained a challenge, however. Power supply disruptions, theft and vandalism continued to affect the stability of SAWS’ observation infrastructure.

Mr Abader confirmed that SAWS had achieved 23 out of 28 performance targets in 2021/22. Targets in Programme 3 (Infrastructure and Information Systems) and Programme 4 (Administration) had not been met.

Partially achieved targets under Programme 3:
- Only 82% of the target of 85% availability of Global Atmospheric Watch (GAW) infrastructure was met because ozone soundings and nitrous oxide instruments suffered complete failure.
- Only 69% of 75% availability of Priority Areas Air Quality Stations was met because of theft and vandalism of Three Rivers station and damaged transformers at Sebokeng station.

Not Achieved and partially achieved targets under Programme 4:
- B-BBEE Level 8 rating was not achieved due to low scores under the Skills Development and Enterprise and Supplier Development pillars.
- R26.8m of R28.6m unregulated commercial revenue was met due to lower revenue obtained from advisory and consulting fees. Lower revenue was also generated from information fees due to the dry winter season.
- Four out of five placements in Work Integrated Learning (WIL) were achieved with four being persons living with disabilities. One of the WIL candidates had resigned.

Mr Norman Mzizi, Chief Financial Officer (CFO), SAWS, summarised SAWS’ financial position. It had ended the year with a R36m surplus, compared with a R10m deficit in 2020/21. He confirmed that SAWS had received an unqualified audit opinion with no material findings. Due to expired contracts, four new cases of irregular expenditure amounting to R353 503 had been incurred. NT had approved the condonation of two of these cases, amounting to R112 704. No new fruitless and wasteful expenditure had been incurred. R40.9m of irregular expenditure and R2.2m of fruitless and wasteful expenditure remained outstanding from previous years, all cases of which were planned to be cleared by the end of October 2022 and consequence management had been done where applicable.

Mr N Paulsen (EFF) asked whether the new impact-based weather systems had been thoroughly tested. He said that the deteriorating network of weather stations and a lack of funding created risk because it compromised the ability to predict severe weather events and issue early warnings. What was SAWS doing to ensure that this situation was remedied? He said that there were over 5 million people in South Africa who identified as “coloured” and 4.6 million who identified as “white,” but the target for white female and male employees was much higher than for coloured males and females. Why were the targets not aligned with the total population of these particular racial groups?

Mr D Bryant (DA) congratulated SAWS on achieving an unqualified audit opinion, in contrast with the DFFE’s qualified audit opinion. Although it had missed some targets, its performance had improved from last year. He was heartened by the cooperation between SAWS and other governmental spheres, especially the program that included working with the City Of Cape Town lifeguards. “It is a fantastic initiative and I know that those lifeguards are doing an incredible job”. He asked whether SAWS was confident that its equipment was working optimally at present, considering what had happened with the April 2022 floods in Kwazulu-Natal (KZN). Were there any initiatives similar to the one with the lifeguards in Cape Town in that province?

Ms A Weber (DA) said 82 out of 181 the weather monitoring stations on the South African Air Quality Information System (SAAQIS) website, including the ones at Kendal and Grootvlei, displayed no data. Was it because these stations were non-functional or was the website just not being updated with data from these stations?

Ms C Phillips (DA) was concerned that a contract for a very important piece of technical equipment, a radiosonde, was given to a company that had no experience in supplying radiosondes. What consequences had there been for the people who had awarded this contract? How long was the SAWS without radiosonde information due to this contract being awarded incorrectly?

Ms T Mchunu (ANC) appreciated that SAWS had received an unqualified audit opinion. She asked how involved the South African Police Services (SAPS) had been in investigating the theft and vandalism at the Three Rivers weather station and the transformer damage at Sebokeng station. She asked whether SAWS had looked into skills development at a tertiary and school level. Did SAWS know which suppliers were required to increase their B-BBEE rating? Were current suppliers assisting upcoming suppliers, especially those from previously disadvantaged communities? She asked the CFO if he was certain that the NT had approved the condonation of the two cases of irregular expenditure.

Ms S Mbatha (ANC) asked if SAWS had a monitoring and evaluation strategy for supply chain management (SCM), as this was where the problems with irregular, fruitless and wasteful expenditure were occurring. What consequences had there been for the employees involved?

Ms N Gantsho (ANC) recalled that during public hearings, communities had said that SAWS’ regional weather indicators were unclear, making it difficult to prepare for any weather and fire disasters.

The Chairperson congratulated SAWS on obtaining an unqualified audit outcome, but noted that R353 000 was still a lot of irregular expenditure. He reminded the SAWS top management that this was taxpayers’ money. He asked whether SAWS had an audit intervention plan to address this expenditure. He recalled that SAWS was assisting staff in managing contracts, but found it very disturbing that there were people in management who did not adequately understand contract management.

Mr Abader said that impact-based weather forecasting was a new concept even internationally. It predicted not just weather conditions but also the implications for ordinary citizens. The forecast accuracy was similar to traditional systems, but the difference was in how information was relayed to citizens, so that they could take mitigating and participatory actions in extreme weather events. SAWS had had several internal workshops dealing with the deterioration of weather stations. He said that SAWS got additional funding from DFFE to improve observation networks. The lightning detection network was one of the big upgrade projects.

He undertook to respond to Mr Paulsen’s question on demographic targets at a later date, but he suspected that the targets were based on employable population, not the total population.

He was confident that SAWS had a very stable and reliable network of observational equipment meeting World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) and South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) standards. However, calibration, power surges and load shedding could sometimes compromise its functionality.

SAWS held two workshops concerning working with local governments in KZN and communities across the country. “We have been investigating better methods of creating awareness and strengthening collaborations between SAWS and the communities, because the impact of severe weather is mostly felt at the local authority level.” SAWS also had a relationship with national, provincial and local Disaster Management Centres. He said that some of the SAAQIS air monitoring stations were under SAWS control, but others were held by private owners and other government entities.

He said that most of the contracts at SAWS were legacy contracts that the new management team had inherited, and that the past responses had been given by people with institutional knowledge of these contracts.

He undertook to make information available on the contracts and companies relating to Global Atmospheric Watch (GAW), which was different from the upper air soundings and radiosondes.

He said that SAWS reported all the cases of theft and vandalism to SAPS and local law enforcement agencies. SAWS was looking at replacement sites for some of the equipment that would make it easier to prevent theft and vandalism in the first place.

He said that SAWS ensures they have a pipeline of the required skills. “We have to ensure that we have a constant pipeline of meteorologists and technicians because they are the lifeline of the organisation. We also raise awareness of the workings of the SAWS to encourage and inspire learners to seek careers in Maths and Science”.

He confirmed that SAWS did develop local suppliers but emphasised that a lot of equipment at SAWS was specialised and therefore not available locally.

He was confident that NT would condone the two cases of irregular expenditures. SAWS has instituted SCM control mechanisms, including the appointment of an internal audit team, staff training, and the development of standard operating procedures.

SAWS sent daily fire risk predictions to its regional partners, but was also looking at alternative means of disseminating information, as part of the United Nations initiative to ensure that early warning systems reached all global citizens.

He assured the Chairperson that SAWS did not take the R353 000 of irregular expenditure lightly. SAWS had a dedicated person dealing with contract management and established databases in legal services and SCM specifically to review contracts and provide early warning of expiring contracts.

Ms Petro Dekker, Executive Manager, SAWS, explained that the slightly higher target for whites reflected the economically active populations, which were 4.8% and 4.1% for coloured males and females, and 5.1% and 3.9% for white males and females, respectively. Current staff demographics were also taken into account. As employees from over-represented groups resigned, the vacancies were used to align the overall demographics closer to the economically active populations.

Ms Lebogang Makgati, Regional Manager: Western and Northern Cape, SAWS, confirmed that there had been no period during which SAWS had been without radiosondes, and that all the equipment at SAWS needed to comply with international standards. She said the vandalised station had been relocated to a safer site with a stable power supply. She said that SAWS was working closely with local radio stations to ensure that information reached all communities in a language they could understand.

Mr Mzizi said that disciplinary action had been taken in all four cases of irregular expenditure. Some of those involved had received written warnings and final written warnings. NT had requested information on one of the cases that had not been condoned yet, and this information was subsequently submitted.

Follow-up discussion
Ms Mbatha asked SAWS how it dealt with load shedding, considering the expensive equipment it relied on.

Mr Abader replied that interventions included Uninterruptible Power Supplies (UPSs) and voltage regulators. He added that loadshedding sometimes caused equipment damage, preventing sending and receiving data between databases.

Mr Bryant was glad that workshops between SAWS and communities were occurring regarding awareness and sending of early warning messages. Have there been any meetings between SAWS and eThekwini Municipality? He commended SAWS for the early warning messages circulated in eThekwini Municipality during the past week.

Mr Abader replied that there had been a specific focus on eThekwini Municipality. SAWS researchers conducted a very interesting survey on the severe weather over the last couple of years. The findings of the study inspired many recommendations from urban planning and urbanisation perspectives to guide local authorities and provinces on future developments. He added that SAWS was creating awareness not only through local radio stations, but also on YouTube. There were also continuous engagements between SAWS and the local and provincial Disaster Management Centres.

Dr Jonas Mphepya, Executive: Weather and Climate Services, SAWS, clarified that the interactions with eThekwini Municipality were similar to those with all other municipalities. It was an interactive process that occurred whenever SAWS issued any warnings. Therefore, there was no direct project and interaction between SAWS and any specific municipality.

Ms Makgati added that there were certain engagements between SAWS and Disaster Management Centres such as quarterly meetings and joint awareness campaigns. Recent activity included the United Nations International Day for Risk and Disaster Reduction from 13 to14 October. Each province had their own discussions and SAWS participated in KZN. The national event was held in Cape Town with representatives from KZN and other municipalities. SAWS was able to translate all the impact-based warnings into isiZulu in KZN and send the information to local communities.

South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) Annual Reporrrttt 2021/22
Mr Edward Nesamvuni, Chairperson of the Board, SANBI, said that the Institute had achieved 92 % of its performance targets for the 2021/22 financial year, up from 89% in the previous year. SANBI had received an unqualified audit opinion and had developed an audit improvement plan to address the areas of concern raised by AGSA. The internal audit processes complemented the implementation of the audit improvement plan from the prior year. The audit risk committee remained focused on its role of oversight and audit matters, risk management, finance, compliance and organisational controls. He was proud that SANBI had reduced outstanding irregular expenditure of R146m, incurred since 2005 by 99% to R311 000. Additional irregular expenditure amounting to R9m had been incurred in 2021/22, due to recurring contracts from prior years that could not be terminated without interrupting SANBI’s operations. SANBI’s financial performance had improved from the previous financial year as COVID-19 restrictions had been relaxed, allowing for increased use of facilities. SANBI was looking forward to returning to pre-COVID-19 levels of operations and financial performance as the economy recovered and tourism became more comfortable. It had been SANBI's quest to develop staff and facilitate professional development through external and internal training, coaching, mentoring, bursaries, career ladder programs and professional exposure. It had a talent pipeline which would actively host students that needed experiential training to finalise their qualifications through the WIL programme. SANBI consistently offered bursaries and mentoring for postgraduate students in areas relevant to the biodiversity sector and internship programmes. The Groen Sebenza programme was one such initiative. The Presidential Stimulus Programme created 954 job opportunities for youth in bio-security, ecological infrastructure and placements in zoological and botanical gardens. The first national botanical garden to be established in the Limpopo Province was proclaimed at Thohoyandou Botanical Garden on 5 November 2021. Extensions were also pursued at gardens such as Walter Sisulu and Harold Porter National Botanical Gardens. SANBI published the second Status of Biological invasions and their Management in South Africa (SBIMSA) Report in May 2021. SANBI also played a key role in the national strategy to respond to the catastrophic increase in the illegal harvesting of succulent plants across South Africa’s arid zones, particularly in the Karoo biome.

Mr Shonisani Munzhedzi, CEO, SANBI, said that the Institute had missed one target each in three of its four programmes.

Programme 2: Biodiversity Science and Policy Advice
- 36 of a target of 45 additional risk analyses were developed for alien and invasive species. The target had been missed because of capacity constraints and because the external review process was not incentivised.

Programme 3: Human Capital Development and Transformation
- 53 out of a target of 75 WIL students had been recruited for designated workstations. The target had been missed because of adjustments to funding arrangements.
- 13 out of 15 postgraduate students' bursaries had been awarded. The target had been missed because SANBI had received fewer eligible applications.

Programme 4: Administration.
- AGSA had required material adjustments to the financial statements and performance report. Disciplinary action was taken where necessary. The internal review process would be strengthened to ensure material errors are corrected before finalising the audit report.

Ms Lorato Sithole, CFO, SANBI, reported that SANBI’s financial position was solvent and liquid, with total assets exceeding total liabilities by R638m and current assets exceeding current liabilities by R223m. The Institute had a surplus of R32m in 2021/22, after suffering a R64m deficit in the year before, mainly due to special grants and savings from curtailed operations. New irregular expenditure amounting to R9 million had been incurred as it had not been possible to terminate services without a replacement.

Mr Paulsen asked SANBI to expand on its overall strategic intent. He asked what was being done to enhance the capacity to develop and sustain national biodiversity information management networks. National biodiversity information was of strategic importance in helping the country achieve its biodiversity and conservation mandate.

Ms Phillips congratulated SANBI on the condition of the Harold Porter Botanical Garden. She had visited it recently and the people living in the area were very proud of the garden. In particular, she complimented the staff for how they dealt with baboons. She asked whether SANBI only dealt with the national gardens, or was it also involved in different biospheres around the country like Magaliesberg and Kogelberg biospheres.

Ms Weber observed that the alien species targets set by SANBI were to be implemented by the DFFE. At the same time, the Department of Water and Sanitation seemed to be responsible for clearing invasive species in dams. Did SANBI collaborate with other departments when budgeting and setting targets for clearing invasive alien species? Different departments seemed to work independently instead of together on this problem. She asked on what grounds SCM staff had been disciplined. One had to have a specific qualification to work in SCM. Why was it still necessary to train them? What would happen if the same people continued to make the same mistakes?

Ms Mbatha congratulated SANBI on its unqualified audit report. She asked why the external review process of risk analyses for alien and invasive species had not been incentivised. How would this be corrected? How many females and males of which races were awarded bursaries and needed experiential training? She was satisfied with the disciplinary action taken in response to irregular expenditure but asked for clarity on the case involving local content requirements. How had tenders been advertised without the local content requirements? How would SANBI make sure that it did not happen again?

Mr Munzhedzi said that SANBI relied on external networks and had internal teams and partnerships with other institutions related to science and biodiversity. He said that SANBI dealt with the foundations of biodiversity. This required basic including taxonomy, trends, classification and the mapping of ecosystems and species. “We have more than 2 million specimens in our herbarium that cut across the number of species in the country. We are involved in a very big project of collecting and storing the seeds for the future. All the projects involving seeds and specimens are done by the scientists at SANBI.” This information was very useful in meeting SANBI’s mandate to provide a regular national biodiversity report. SANBI also produced a report dealing specifically with alien and invasive species every three years. The information in these reports also assisted SANBI with future forecasts for decision making and planning.

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) specialists provided numerous datasets regarding ecosystems, rivers, wetlands, strategic water resources and many other areas relevant to biodiversity and conservation. SANBI’s mandate went beyond biospheres to include ecosystems, DNA, bio-banks, genomes, genetics, biomes and everything else concerning biodiversity and conservation. It also dealt with the 22 strategic Water Sources Areas. SANBI was working on a report on the status of the biological invasions in the country which would be published in a year or two. SANBI worked with all sectors and was mindful that the DFFE dealt with the regulatory aspects. The role of SANBI from a science perspective was to work with partners to ensure that they understood the pathways and the impacts of invasive species. The risk analyses went into detail on the extent of the impact and the behaviour of the existing alien species, and the appropriate method to respond to invasions, such as biological agents or mechanical interventions. He said that consequence management took various forms and was complimented with ongoing training. There were so many regulations that needed to be understood in SCM, and they changed regularly, making it necessary to train officials continuously. He confirmed that SANBI tried its best to ensure that previously disadvantaged individuals were prioritised through bursaries, graduate support, internships, WIL exposure and mentoring. In writing, he undertook to provide precise information about the actual delineation in terms of race and gender.

Ms Carmel Mbizvo, Head: Biodiversity Science and Policy Advice, SANBI, explained that the Institute ensured that the biodiversity data and knowledge were collated, coordinated and made accessible across the various sectors through a biodiversity advisor, a comprehensive web-based tool that provided free access to SANBI’s biodiversity information, knowledge and guidelines. SANBI ensured that there was skills development around biodiversity information management for students, interns and learners at provincial and local levels. She explained that the experts and scientists that SANBI relied upon to assist them with the risk analysis process had been volunteering their time. SANBI had found it difficult to ensure that their contributions were done within its timeframes. SANBI had reviewed the process and going forward, it would contract experts to deliver the risk analyses within its own timeframes.

Ms Sithole explained that AGSA had found that the inclusion of local content in some cases had not been in alignment with the Request For Quote process, meaning that the transactions had become irregular due non-compliance with local content requirements. She said that training from the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition (DTIC) was very important to ensure that the employees are clear on how to maintain compliance relating to local content requirements.

South African National Parks (SANParks) Annual Report 2021/22
Ms Pam Yako, Chairperson of the Board, SANParks, highlighted that SANParks had achieved 49 out of 57 of its performance targets in 2021/22. She said SANParks generated 65% of its revenue, with the remaining 35% coming from national fiscus grants. There had been a recovery in domestic tourism, although it had not reached pre-COVID-19 levels. SANParks was looking to increase its hospitality offering and tourism experience in response to some complaints and social media comments. She said that the adoption of the Rhino Management Strategy by the board would help SANParks improve its management of the species and other species. She said that after SANPark's previous engagement with the Portfolio Committee, it had decided to elevate land claims and community issues, especially around Kruger National Park (KNP). It was looking to negotiate a better beneficiation scheme and strengthen relations with the communities. Although SANParks had obtained an unqualified audit report, the material findings remained a concern. SANParks had adopted an Audit Improvement Plan to address these findings.

Ms Hapiloe Sello, acting CEO, SANParks, confirmed that SANParks had achieved 49 out of 57 of its performance targets. The eight targets not achieved were:

- Increasing the rhino population in KNP by 0.5%. Although there had been a 2.9% increase in the black rhino population, there had also been a 14.7 % decline in the white rhino population.
- Delivering 495 animals to Zinave National Park. Only 89 animals were delivered.
- Implementing ten new and diverse tourism products to attract domestic visitors. Only four had been implemented: at Skukuza Golf Course, Apostle Battery Boutique Hotel, Wilderness Eco Boat Ferries and Treehouse Product Shingwedzi.
- Conducting responsible tourism audits in four national parks. The audits were only conducted in Mapungubwe, Marakele and Golden Gate Highlands National Parks.
- Implementing a human capital management strategy. The strategy had been developed but not implemented.
- Implementing 80% of corrective actions recommended by the Auditor-General. 71% of corrective actions had been implemented.
- Implementing 82% of the annual Ethics Management Maturity Improvement and Implementation Plan. 75% of the plan had been implemented.
- 80 000 visitors at national parks during SANParks free week. 28 000 people had visited parks.

Mr Dumisani Dlamini, CFO, SANParks, said that economic uncertainty and the ongoing effect of COVID-19 on tourism had had an impact on SANParks’ finances in 2021/22, resulting in a net deficit of R223m. There had been a marginal increase in tourism revenue, but it remained well below pre-pandemic levels. SANParks had received an unqualified audit with material findings. The findings related to:

- Non-compliance with regulatory prescripts resulting in irregular expenditure of
- Management Effectiveness Tracking Tool (METT) scores could not be verified due to the weaknesses in the METT digital system.
- Financial misstatements.
- Control weaknesses in procurement and contract management.

AGSA had identified new irregular expenditure amounting to R4.9m to go with R64m outstanding from previous years.

Mr Paulsen noted that there had been socio-economic baseline surveys of the people living around national parks. How had SANParks used these studies to understand the livelihood strategies of these communities? How many people from surrounding communities were employed by SANParks through the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP), and what was the value of payroll for those communities? How many land claims in KNP were still outstanding, and what was being done to address these claims? Was the METT digital system piloted before being implemented by SANParks and if so, what had the results of the pilot been?

Ms Weber drew attention to slide 13, where SANParks claimed that the population of animals moved to Zinave National Park had increased significantly. Given how long it took for a rhino to gestate, she did not see how this could have happened. Had some of the rhinos been pregnant when they were relocated? She said that dehorned rhinos were being killed in KNP because poachers were not only after the horns. Had SANParks met its target of dehorning 300 rhinos? How much had it spent on dehorning? Why had five parks not participated in the SANParks free week? She observed that the CFO had not said anything about the disciplinary case involving the former CEO. How had the hearing been funded? Was SANParks responsible, and if not, who did fund it?

Mr Bryant recalled that there had been a commitment from the SANParks and the Deputy Minister during the last meeting to engage with SAPS regarding protests on the roads leading to KNP. What were the results of those engagements? He argued that the 21% decrease in the number of poached rhinos simply reflected the fact that fewer rhinos were left to poach. The poaching percentage was steady at around 7% of the average estimated population. It was nothing to boast about. The target should be zero poached rhinos.

Meanwhile, there were still 87 unfilled ranger posts. The fault was with management, not the rangers. He was also concerned about the relocation of animals. Were they all from KNP? He understood that because the relocated animals were doing well, there would be no need for more relocations. Why had the initial target been 495 and would it be revised? He asked for clarification on whether there had been no bids at all for new tourism products or no successful bids. If the former, there must have been a problem with advertising the opportunities. He asked whether rhino horn stockpiles were audited on a regular basis and, if so, whether the Committee could be provided with the results, obviously without publicising the location of the stockpiles.

Ms Gantsho asked what strategies SANParks had, other than dehorning, to curb rhino poaching. Was SANParks satisfied with the current security systems in place? Why was it not employing rangers to assist in securing KNP? When would a permanent CEO and CFO be appointed?

Ms Phillips asked whether the figure of 2458 rhinos at KNP included relocated rhinos and asked for the latest number of relocated rhinos. How many of the rest camps had acting and permanently appointed camp managers? Did SCM challenges at the camps include access to basic necessities like cleaning supplies and printer cartridges? What kind of penalties were imposed on people who fed wild animals at KNP? She recalled that a family of hyenas had been shot a few months earlier because they were scavenging and being fed at picnic spots.” Was there effective waste management in the camps? Were there baboon- and monkey-proof bins, especially at the rondavels? She reported that the gardens in the camps were looking very sad. Would it be possible to use grey water to maintain them?

Ms Mbatha said SANParks must develop a strategy to address the rhino birth rate. She asked for clarification of why SANParks failed to achieve its target of implementing 80% of corrective actions recommended by the Auditor-General: were service providers supposed to make a declaration of interest? She understood that COVID-19 had had a serious impact on SANParks but still thought that it should have managed to get more visitors to parks during the free week, and that poor weather conditions were not an excuse.

The Chairperson did not think it was fair to keep referring to lockdown restrictions, which had largely been lifted during the period under review. He drew attention to a contract identified by AGSA for which less than three quotations had been obtained, and asked why disciplinary action was only going to be taken against the officials involved as late as March 2023. It was not even the first time the same problem had occurred. Some officials consistently approved deviations from SCM prescripts. Did SANParks intend to retrain these same officials and expect them to behave differently? What kind of disciplinary action could the Committee expect would be taken against them?

Minister Creecy agreed with Mr Paulsen that the impact of conservation areas on nearby rural communities was a critical issue. SANParks had been conducting public hearings on the White Paper on the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Biodiversity and the game meat strategy. There was an understanding that the biodiversity and conservation sector were integral and could play a more pivotal role in creating sustainable livelihoods in rural areas. She recognised that, despite efforts from a range of players including the DFFE and SANParks, the economic benefits and transformation efforts had not been fully optimised”. Over the last week, there had been a workshop with a number of representatives of traditional authorities and other rural communities that live on the outskirts of protected areas, during which activities had to be undertaken to intensify the impact of SANParks on the local communities had been discussed. SANParks was also targeting the March 2023 Biodiversity Indaba to develop cooperation with the small business and agricultural sectors. A SANParks investment summit the year before had looked at ways to create greater access for new players in the biodiversity and conservation economy inside protected spaces. She proposed an in-person meeting to discuss sensitive information related to rhino horn stockpiles. She emphasised that the fight against poaching could not be won only through boots on the ground because it involved organised crime syndicates. SANParks was working with a range of policing agencies through its fusion centres, and had made significant busts at OR Tambo International Airport, a processing facility in Ekurhuleni, and internationally.

Dr Luthando Dziba, Managing Executive: Conservation Services, SANParks, said that the DFFE had tested the METT system in collaboration with the consultant that had developed the system. SANParks discovered some problems when uploading METT assessments onto the system. DFFE considered the issues flagged by AGSA, and SANParks had requested permission to use manual spreadsheets in the interim until all the issues with the METT system were resolved. He explained that as part of the rhino strategy, SANParks was considering moving or introducing rhino to new areas around the country, because populations in some rhino parks were fast approaching saturation. Rhinos had not been moved from KNP in the last four years. The biggest obstacle to moving rhinos from KNP was the tuberculosis status of the park, which meant that every rhino moved from KNP incurred an expense of R80 000 for testing. The dehorning strategy was part of a broader set of anti-rhino poaching strategies, which SANParks would be able to discuss with the Portfolio Committee at the anticipated in-person meeting. The filling of ranger positions in KNP was affected by budget constraints. SANParks aspired to have zero rhinos poached, but he admitted that it dealt with complex organised crime. He explained that because white rhinos grazed in open savannah, they were easy poaching targets. The relocation of animals to Zinave National Park had been done under a bilateral agreement with the Mozambican government, which had been willing to accept animals other than rhino from KNP because tuberculosis was endemic in the area. The 495 target had not been met because the Peace Park Foundation, which was funding the translocation, had experienced financial challenges.

Mr Property Mokoena, Managing Executive: Parks, SANParks, said SANParks benefited greatly from the EPWP. It employed 13 000 people at a cost of R300 million funded by DFFE. Because most national parks were located in rural areas, they employed people from surrounding areas through different community structures and park forums. He added that some national parks did achieve zero poached rhinos for the last two years. He said that SANParks was very strict regarding visitors feeding animals. Littering and feeding of animals were punishable through fines. KNP and Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park had recycling plants to process waste, and most national parks’ bins were animal-proof. Furthermore, Golden Gate National Park, Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and KNP all had codes of conduct which bound employees in terms of how to deal with litter and indicated that not dealing properly with litter was grounds for dismissal.

Mr Dlamini said that the cost of disciplinary hearings was accounted for as legal costs under the division of the CFO. He added that there had been overspending on legal costs in previous years and some of the disciplinary cases had not been concluded. Some suspended employees had taken SANParks to court, forcing it to defend itself. SANParks was aware of and dealt with SCM challenges and staff shortages at various parks. Two regional SCM managers would be appointed to help SANParks to coordinate activities in the parks. He acknowledged that the hard lockdown had not directly impacted the 2021/22 financial year, but pointed out that the ripple effects were still being felt. He said that disciplinary action had been concluded in seven out of 19 cases of irregular expenditure. The reason for the slow pace was that SANParks was following the National Treasury Framework and the relevant labour laws very closely. The training of SCM officials was being conducted in partnership with National Treasury. It did not mean that officials would not be held accountable. SANParks simply wanted to ensure that officials were empowered to the best of their ability before taking disciplinary action.

Ms Sello said that there were a total of 16 land claims in KNP and seven of them had been settled. She said that tenders had been advertised in the City Press, Sunday Times, governmental portals, local newspapers and on the SANParks website. The low number of bids was out of sync with trends from previous years. She maintained that it reflected investor uncertainty about the tourism sector. It did look like things were changing in the new financial year.

Follow-up discussion
Mr Bryant welcomed the proposal to discuss the details of rhino poaching at an in-person meeting. He said that some parts of the meeting should be open to the public, as some follow-up issues should be discussed in the public realm. He repeated his question about SANParks’ engagements with SAPS on the protests near the entrances to KNP. He thanked Dr Dziba for clarifying the issues around the relocation of animals, but asked why it was possible to sell but not relocate a rhino with tuberculosis.

Ms Sello asked Minister Creecy to respond on this matter because of the depth of the socio-political and socio-economic issues around KNP. She assured the Committee that these issues were considered at KNP, local, and national levels as required.

Ms Mbatha said that non-compliance with local content requirements was a serious problem. What corrective measures would be taken in cases of non-compliance? She questioned how suppliers could be remunerated in the absence of a valid contract, as the AGSA had found. How had it happened, and how would the responsible officials be disciplined?

Mr Dumisani Dlamini said that the issues around local content requirements had been resolved. He explained that there were no instances where suppliers were paid in the absence of a valid contract. What sometimes happened, however, was that final payments on a certain contract could sometimes exceed the value of the contract, leading to problems. He said that the SCM officials were generally very careful when calculating scores for tender awards, and the incident at Kgalagadi had been unfortunate. Officials sometimes make mistakes when under extreme time pressure. SANParks would do what was necessary to avoid similar mistakes in the future.

Isimangaliso Wetland Park Annual Report 2021/22
Prof Thandi Nzama, Chairperson of the Board, iSimangaliso Wetland Park, reported that the Park had achieved 100 % of its targets in all four of its programmes and had also received an unqualified audit with one matter relating to SCM which would be addressed through the audit action plan. She said that the mouth of the Lake St Lucia estuary was still open, through the intervention of mother nature. The Park was also trying very hard to reduce its dependence on government grants. To this end, it is currently implementing a commercialisation strategy. 40% of the strategy had already been implemented. Some of the tourism infrastructure in the Park had been upgraded and increased tourism revenue was seen. The Park continued to work with stakeholders, particularly people living in adjacent areas, commercial and subsistence farmers, People and Parks, small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) and land claimants. It hosted the Makuya community on 12-13 October 2022 to share information on the wildlife economy. Thanks to the hands-on approach of the CEO and the management team, the Park was no longer experiencing conflicts with stakeholders. The Park was also more financially healthy than the previous year.

Mr Sibusiso Bukhosini, CEO, iSimangaliso Wetland Park, confirmed that the Park had achieved all of its performance targets and received an unqualified audit opinion. The one SCM matter raised by AGSA related to contracts awarded to suppliers on the basis of pre-qualification criteria that differed from the criteria stipulated in the original invitation for quotations. Similar non-compliance had also been reported in the prior year. The management team developed an action plan to address the finding,

Ms Qhamu Mntambo, CFO, iSimangaliso Wetland Park, gave an overview of the Park’s finances. Total revenue amounted to R305m, of which grants made up R272m. Grants recognition had increased by R100m as a result of additional grants received. The Park ended the year with a surplus of R28.4m.

Mr Paulsen asked what plans were in place to ensure that the estuary mouth remained open. He also asked whether there were any land claims by neighbouring communities and, if so, what was being done to address them.

Ms Phillips asked if the water level had dropped in the river and the estuary, and if any progress had been made in removing the silt and reeds in the river and back channels, as recommended by the High Level Panel. She also asked how much progress had been made in clearing the invasive plants along the coastline that the Committee had seen during its oversight visit in December 2021. What was being done about the severe water shortage at the ablution blocks at the Park over the December holiday last year? She also asked for an update on the construction of the administration block.

The Chairperson congratulated the Park on its performance, but noted that one should not applaud a fish for swimming. He asked the CEO to expand on the Park’s community beneficiation scheme. What role would the private sector play to ensure the scheme was sustainable? What progress has been made during the meetings with amaKhosi regarding land claims and co-management? If there were still land claim challenges, what was being done to resolve them?

Mr Bukhosini recalled that the Park had decided to intervene in the estuary mouth, but the Minister had appointed a team to investigate the situation after a public outcry. It was now widely agreed that the system would require adaptive management at some point because of the human intervention in the system. Details of all planned interventions and contingencies would be found in the monitoring plan. The issue was not the responsibility of the Park alone, and productive meetings had been held with farmers, the Department of Water and Sanitation and the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD). There were 14 land claims throughout the park, some of which had been settled through applicable legislation, but DALRRD would be better placed to respond to land claims. The Park’s role was to ensure that collaboration continued among the stakeholders and that the management of protected areas was not compromised. He said that the beneficiation scheme would improve the socio-economic conditions of the communities. The Park management was still fine-tuning it to ensure that benefits were shared in a true sense and it was a long process. Some land claimants had accumulated large amounts of money in trust accounts over decades, and the Park management challenged them to organise themselves to participate in the park economy. He had been in the Maphelane area himself and it looked like the water levels had dropped. Silt in the estuary was beginning to flow out of the system. 75 hectares of invasive plant species had been cleared.

A new problem that emerged as the water level rose was infestations of crocodiles and hippos that affected the work of contractors. He reported that the ablution blocks had been refurbished and the water problem had been resolved. The roofing of the administration block was now 80% complete. The meeting with the amaKhosi was beginning to bear fruit for iSimangaliso and conservation in general. AmaKhosi took on the role of disciplining members of the community who displayed untoward behaviours. Communities were now reporting things that were going wrong in the park. This indicated a working relationship between the park and all affected groups. He said that the Park always exceeded 80% local content, showing that it was serious about community empowerment.

Closing remarks
Minister Creecy assured the Portfolio Committee that there would be a focus on the issues raised by AGSA. The Department was very proud that all its entities, including the Marine Living Resources Fund, had received unqualified audit opinions, although it remained concerned that they were not moving from unqualified to clean audits. The Department was trying to address the nitty-gritty outstanding issues preventing the achievement of clean audits.

The meeting was adjourned.



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