The Portfolio Committee met virtually to consider and adopt its draft Budgetary Review and Recommendations Report (BRRR) of the Department and to be briefed by the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) on its first quarter performance for the 2023/24 financial year.
The Department reported that it had managed to achieve 85% of its quarterly targets, and had spent 24% of its annual budget. Members expressed concern over the lack of improvement in the supply chain management (SCM) processes that seemed to affect the performance of the Department. The Committee also noted the delay in the processing of the Aquaculture Development Bill, as well as the reduction in the number of air quality monitoring stations that were able to provide reliable data. Other issues raised included measures needed to counter illegal dumping, and the UPL chemical disaster in Durban, and whether the resulting challenges had been resolved.
The Department also reported on the current state of its nurseries. The nurseries were not producing optimally at present for reasons such as the lack of proper and adequate operating procedures, dilapidated infrastructure, the fading of nursery practice skills over time, lack of personnel, and the lack of security and fencing. The majority of its staff were elderly, so they were recruiting young people to boost productivity. Members pointed out that the Department had set a target of planting ten million trees way back in 2019, and by 2023 only 289 000 trees were produced per year. It was suggested that the Department consider partnering with some of the competent municipal nurseries to assist it in achieving its targets.
The Chairperson said that the briefing on the COP28 at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) conference had not taken place, and no communication had been made as to who had formed part of the multi-party delegation.
Mr D Bryant (DA) said he had spoken to colleagues from the National Council of Provinces (NCOP), who had received correspondence that representatives from the National Assembly (NA) and the NCOP would be attending the COP28. The names from the NCOP had already been submitted, so he was not sure why the Portfolio Committee’s had not come through yet. It was something to be looked at, but the DA had yet to receive any correspondence on the matter.
Mr N Paulsen (EFF) indicated that the EFF had not received any correspondence either.
The Chairperson said it seemed that they might not be going, but he would make formal queries all the same.
Consideration and adoption of BRRR
The Chairperson said that the Members had received a copy of the Budgetary Review and Recommendations Report, which they would be taken through. He invited Members to make any corrections or comments.
Ms A Weber (DA) referred to point 2.1, and said that issues on the contract from 2017/18 kept on growing. It had now been five years since the investigation had started. She asked if they could request a report on the investigation.
Ms H Winkler (DA) asked that a grammatical error in point 6.2 be corrected.
Ms Nomfundo Tshabalala, Director General, Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment (DFFE), replied to Ms Weber that if a detailed written question was posed to the Department they would then be in a position to provide the information requested. On the contracts, she explained that the Department was not in agreement, and there had been a long debate over those contracts in the past audits. Eventually, the Department agreed to disclose the amounts in the 2019/20 report, and as a Department there was an issue raised during the discussion of the audit report of 2019/20 where there was a concern over the lack of movement in the investigation of those contracts. Appropriate consequence management had been initiated. The Department had no investigating companies, and had had to go out on an advert in 2020, and in 2020/21, had established a body shop. The investigations had started in 2021.
She had noted the concern raised by Ms Weber. She said that the Department was also concerned about the irregular contracts, and was also trying to fast-track the investigations which had covered about 50% of the cases. The reason given by the Department then had been that it was going to be contractually costly to terminate contracts, and therefore it was not easy -- the only way they could terminate them was through a court process, which was going to be a lengthy one. The main reason the contracts were deemed irregular involved the objectivity of criteria, which meant that the required criteria were not made public.
The Chairperson noted that written responses had been submitted to the Committee, and that the Minister was required to respond 60 days after the report's adoption. He invited the Members to adopt it.
Ms S Mbatha (ANC) moved the adoption of the report and proposed that the Committee write a formal letter of inquiry on the issue of COP28.
Ms T Mchunu (ANC) seconded the adoption of the report and the formal inquiry on the COP28 so that the Committee knew where it stood.
Mr Pauslen registered his objection to adopting the report, saying that the Department had got its goals watered down to get the audit outcome. He could not accept such mediocrity, and said the Minister and the Department's leadership should be fired. He did not feel that the current leadership was what was needed to manage the climate change process. Anyone who was happy to accept the performance did not deserve to work in government or represent the people of South Africa. He was shocked that two Members had agreed to adopt the report. He promised to make sure the public knew about the mediocrity being accepted by the Department.
The Chairperson said that the objection was noted.
Mr Bryant said the DA reserved their comments for the debate portion of the report, but noted the adoption of the report. He supported the formal inquiry being made on the COP28 matter.
Read: ATC231031: Budgetary Review and Recommendations Report (BRRR) of the Portfolio Committee on Forestry, Fisheries and Environment on the Annual Reports and Financial Statements of the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment and its Five Entities, namely: the South African National Parks, Isimangaliso Wetland Park Authority, South African Weather Service, the South African National Biodiversity Institute as well as the Marine Living Resources Fund for the 2022/23 Financial Year, Dated 31 October 2023
DFFE's first quarter report 2023/24
DG Tshabalala said that the Department had achieved 85% of the targets set for the 2023/24 financial year in the first quarter. Some of the targets not achieved had been started, but were not concluded by the end of the first quarter. Some of the branches had achieved all their targets, but others were not able to do so. They had anticipated to have spent 22% of the budget by the end of the first quarter, but had spent 24%. The budget had been developed before the budget cuts, which were going to be reflected more in the second quarter.
She reported that the Department had improved compared to their performance in the first quarter of the previous financial year, but their targets had been reduced in number, mainly to ensure that they focused on service delivery targets.
Ms Andiswa Jass, Chief Financial Officer (CFO), DFFE, said that in programme one, they had two targets, which they had achieved. After the audit report, they developed an audit action plan they were working on. They had managed to spend 24% of the budget in Q1.
Ms Mmamokgadi Mashala, Deputy Director General (DDG): Corporate Management Services, said that they had achieved all their Programme 1 targets set for quarter one, and had also exceeded some. Their expenditure for the quarter amounted to R285.4 million, which constituted 29.5% of the allocated annual budget of R 966.8 million.
Ms Vanessa Bendeman, DDG: Regulatory Compliance and Sector Monitoring, reported that they had achieved 80% of their set targets in Programme 2. Their expenditure for the quarter amounted to R71.2 million, which constituted 23% of the allocated budget of R308.6 million. They had overachieved some targets, including the number of finalised criminal investigation dockets handed over to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) for a prosecutorial decision, where they managed to finalise 16 against the targeted eight. This was due to arrests that had been effected which were not anticipated, and expediting the handing over of dockets to the NPA. They were unable to issue the targeted 66 administrative enforcement notices issued for non-compliance with environmental legislation, and managed only 63. The reason for the deviation was that notices in relation to the Alien and Invasive Species (AIS) sector were not issued due to the few reports received as a result of limited human resource capacity
Dr Lisolomzi Fikizolo, DDG: Oceans and Coasts, said that they had managed to achieve all their Programme 3 targets for quarter one. Expenditure amounted to R129 million, or 26% of the allocated budget of R496.8 million.
Dr Patience Gwaze, Acting DDG: Climate Change and Air Quality, said that in Programme 4, they had managed to achieve 83% of their set targets, while their expenditure for Q1 amounted to R174.1 million, or 26% of the allocated budget of R673 million. The target not achieved was with regard to the number of air quality monitoring stations reporting to the South African Air Quality Information System (SAAQIS), meeting a minimum data recovery standard of 75%. Only four of the 15 priority area ambient air quality monitoring stations reporting to the SAAQIS had met data recovery standard of 75%. The air quality monitoring stations were experiencing poor data recovery due to load-shedding. As a corrective measure, they were procuring power backup systems to reduce data loss during load-shedding.
Ms Mohlago Mokgohloa, DDG: Biodiversity and Conservation, indicated that they had achieved 80% of their targets in Programme 5, and their expenditure for the quarter had amounted to R656.4 million, which was 32% of the allocated budget of R2.080 billion. The unachieved target involved producing the report on implementing improvement plans for six management authorities. They had set a target of six consultations to be held with the management authorities, but only three had been held. The other consultations did not occur due to non-availability by management authorities, but they would be held in the second quarter. The other target was the submission of the revised National Biodiversity Economy Strategy (NBES) to Cabinet for approval to publish for public comments, which did not happen because the updated statistics were not available by the submission due date. These were, however, being developed for submission in Q2.
Ms Nonhlanhla Mkhize, DDG: Environmental Programmes , said that they had managed to achieve only 50% of their targets in Programme 6, but had exceeded two of them. Expenditure for Q1 amounted to R557.9 million, which constituted 17% of the allocated budget of R3.258 billion. Among the non-achieved targets was the number of full time equivalent (FTE) jobs created, where they had managed to create 5 762 against the target of 6 424 for the quarter. The reasons for this included the delays in finalising supply chain management (SCM) processes, as well as unresolved matters involving the implications of terms of reference on Value Added Tax (VAT), the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act (COIDA), the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF), and stipend payments pertaining to training tenders. The other non-achieved target was the number of hectares receiving initial clearing of invasive plant species and the follow-up. This was due to the cancellation of tenders in parts of the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, while iSimangaliso Wetland Park had commenced the process only in late June. The last one was the number of wetlands under rehabilitation, which was due to delays in finalising the rehabilitation tenders. South African National Parks (SANParks) could not achieve that target due to the floods.
Ms Mamogala Musekene, DDG: Chemicals and Waste Management, indicated that they had achieved all their targets in Programme 7, and had exceeded two of them. Expenditure for the quarter amounted to R158.3 million, which constituted 25% of the allocated budget of R634.2 million.
Ms Pumeza Nodada, DDG: Forestry Management, said they had also managed to achieve all their targets in Programme 8 and exceeded one. Expenditure for Q1 amounted to R119.1 million, or 20% of the allocated budget of R586.7 million.
Ms Sue Middleton, Chief Director: Fisheries Operations Support, said they had managed to achieve 88% of their set targets in Programme 9. Their expenditure amounted to R88.1 million, which was 20% of the allocated budget of R302.3 million. The area of non-achievement had been on the Aquaculture Development Bill that was supposed to be submitted to the Cabinet by the first quarter. The delay was due to pre-certification of the Bill by the Office of the Chief State Law Advisor (OCSLA) being received ten weeks after submission, resulting in the delayed submission of the Bill to Cabinet. On the Marine Living Resources Fund, they had managed to achieve 82% of their targets. Their expenditure for Q1 amounted to R80.7 million, which constituted 25% of the allocated budget of R322.8 million. The targets not achieved were on the number of work opportunities created within the fisheries sector, which had been due to the inability to employ more workers in the quarter, as the payment mechanism used could not accommodate more monthly payments.
Mr Wickness Rooifontein, Chief Director: Financial Management, Marine Living Resources Fund (MLRF), said they had achieved 98% of their total revenue target for the year. There were no issues to raise in terms of revenue. They were considering reviewing their fees in the current year to be implemented in the 2024/25 financial year. They had spent R10 million of their budget.
Ms Jass said that in the first quarter, the DFFE had a projected spending target of 2.385 billion, and had exceeded it same by 4%. They had spent 55% of their annual budget.
Ms Winkler referred to Programme four, and asked what the status of the adaptation strategy implementation was. Regarding the air quality monitoring stations and the data loss due to load-shedding, she asked what the timelines were for receiving the backup power so that they could report in line with the required standard.
She asked whether the Department had managed to achieve the target on the donation of game animals in accordance with the previous targets, and to whom had the game been donated. What kind of assistance had been given to the communities where game was donated to ensure that they were able to manage the wildlife population and make it a sustainable venture?
Why had the Department removed the target in Programme Six on the submission of the white paper, and had it finalised the engagement with stakeholders on the development of the white paper?
She asked for a breakdown of the NPA cases that were still outstanding. On programme 6, she asked where the renovated units were located -- how much had been spent on the refurbishment and renovation? On programme 7, she asked what the municipal cleaning programmes were, and how much they had cost. She asked what the plan was to ensure that the Aquaculture Bill was submitted.
Ms Weber asked whether there was a job creation target in Programme 3, and what it was. When was the Aquaculture Bill coming to the Committee? How did the Department ensure that marine spatial planning and the governance plan were still being implemented, as it was not included in the Department's annual plans.
She appreciated what the Department was doing with regard to air quality, but said that the problem had pre-existed the load shedding. She asked why the Department was not getting the whole system up and running. Changing the targets was not acceptable. The delay in SCM processes was not good, despite consequence management. There was a need to make sure that processes ran smoothly. There was a need to start looking into why the interventions put in place were not working.
Mr Bryant asked how far the Department was with the rock lobster strategy and the adaptation strategy.
Ms Mchunu asked for details on the human resource capacity issues. Was it a matter of a lack of staff, or a lack of performance by staff members? On air quality monitoring, she asked how long the Department anticipated that they were going to take to be able to furnish the procurement of back-up systems so that they resolve the issue of data loss.
She said that the non-achievement of targets in programme 4 was a reflection of the type of relationship the Department had with the entities. She asked them to explain how this was becoming a problem. Did they have mergers in place to correct the issue of lack of consultations, to ensure that it did not occur again?
Ms Mbatha said that Programme 6 was not performing very well. She therefore wanted to know the urgent corrective measures being taken by the Department, as it was not improving. How best could the Department correct the challenge of SCM processes. She was concerned about the ratio of the Environmental Management Inspectors (EMIs) concerning their workload, as there was a specific ratio that the inspectors had to work according to the workload of the inspectorate.
She commented that SCM was becoming a problem that was affecting most of the programmes. She asked to what extent the SCM process was being supported with power backup systems. At the moment, while the programme was still waiting, what interventions were in place to address the load-shedding concerns? It was concerning that only four out of 15 air quality monitoring stations seemed to be working. On the biodiversity and conservation consultations, she asked whether those institutions had any other managers that could attend those meetings, or if they depended on only one person. What surety could the Department provide that that issue would be resolved by the third quarter if they relied on one person to attend those meetings?
Ms Mbatha said that although they had achieved their chemicals and waste targets in programme 7, she wanted the Department to include Tshwane, where there was a lot of illegal dumping. She asked them to look at the diversion of the waste from the disposal sites, because there was still a problem with the disposal sites and she was not happy. Buyback centres had been officially opened before, but seemed not to be operating very well and had closed down. She asked about how best the Department could assist on those issues.
Mr Paulsen said there had been no report on the UPL chemical disaster in Durban, and asked whether the provincial department had resolved the resulting issues. The Department had missed targets last year on the number of hectares of unplanted areas due to the late delivery of plants, protests and other security issues. What had the Department done to address these issues, and had they caught up with the targets missed?
He said that COVID had disrupted the aquaculture programmes, and the Committee was yet to see whether the Department would use the aquaculture industry to absorb a lot of the labour that now existed due to the total monopolisation of the industry by big businesses, and whether those programmes would be located close to those fishing towns that were now becoming ghost towns. He also expressed concern about reducing air quality monitoring stations to 15. This was unacceptable, and just encapsulated what the Department had become. What the Department was supposed to be doing was not being done. Would no one be held accountable? It was a ridiculous state of affairs. He wanted to know what the Minister was going to do with a Department that was ‘almost completely useless’. They presented things to the Committee as if they were okay, and should be accepted as they were.
DG Tshabalala thanked the Committee for the questions and some of the valuable input provided. She said the Department was doing its utmost best, but some areas continued to be challenging. Members had raised concerns about SCM on some of the deliverables, and what the Department had done was to increase capacity, but that increase was limited because they needed to live within a personnel budget that had a ceiling. Moving forward, they wanted to have dedicated SCM staff to procure the majority of the resources within the Department, and that was a plan they had.
CFO Jass said the Department had also identified SCM as a concern, and an internal investigation indicated a serious need to capacitate this area. She agreed that it was affecting the performance of Department, because it was an enabler for the delivery of services. They had looked at the capacity and had been in the final stage of analysing the appointment of the staff that would mainly be assisting environmental programmes when they had received a notice that they needed to seek concurrence from the Minister of the Department of Public Service and Administration. In the meantime, they ensured that some of the activities did not have to go out on a competitive bidding process, taking into account the Department's history of irregular expenditure. They had ensured close scrutiny of the terms of reference they got when they were about to go out to the market, to ensure that their processes were compliant and that they did not regress to the non-compliant status like in 2017/18. Monitoring stations were not necessarily with the Department -- they were facilitated by the South African Weather Service (SAWS), so that process on its own was done only by SAWS.
She said that the DG was mainly referring to the upgrading of nurseries concerning the late delivery in programme 8, and also the fact that they had to look at the refurbishment plan first, before the terms of reference, so that by the time they went out to the market, the market could at least respond. However, because they had initiated the process last year, there had been no proper feedback from the market.
Ms Bendeman responded to Ms Winkler's request for a breakdown of the NPA cases that were still outstanding, and said she would provide the breakdown in a written format on the progress so far, as they were still awaiting feedback from the NPA.
Regarding the capacity constraints, she said it was correct that in the first quarter they had only four inspectors, but they had appointed eight more inspectors since August, and in fact, in quarter two, they had managed to exceed that target. She agreed with Ms Mbatha that they needed enough EMIs. They had done a work-study focusing on the Department's capacity, and it was an issue they had raised in the Ministerial Technical Committee (MinTech) and the Ministers and Members of Executive Council (MinMec) in the provinces. This was to ensure that there was not just sufficient EMI capacity, but also enough operational budget for the EMIs to carry out their functions. They were trying to manage the filling of vacant posts in such a way that it did not compromise service delivery, at the same time considering how they could still render the support, bearing in mind the need to comply with the DPSA and National Treasury.
Dr Fikizolo said that the Aquaculture Bill had been removed precisely because the Department was not directly creating job opportunities in the sector, nor was it in possession of facilities that would be employing people. It was the private sector that did that. The difficulty, particularly regarding reporting, was when statistics should be given to the Department. The decision was that the Department would be unable to report on time regarding all the other things that the Department and the sector must first fulfil. When it came to participation in the spatial planning process, the sector was indeed critically important, because they were trying to create an environment where they were promoting coexistence of all the sectors that were doing business in the marine environment. It was important that they participated in the framework. Secondly, where there is conflict, a conflict resolution method should be developed by all the parties concerned. They were continuing to participate through public participation, because the public planning part of it was done by all the sector departments. The sector was still able to participate by informing the decisions that were taken.
DG Tshabalala said that the APP indicated 15 air quality monitoring stations, but that did not mean they were not looking at other priority areas.
Dr Gwaze said that the monitoring stations had been on the radar of MinTech and Min Mec over the past year. They had made improvements through the recapitalisation of monitoring stations. However, because of load-shedding, they had observed a significant regression, and the improvements they were making had been through the provision of power backups. They were encouraging provinces and network owners to procure backups so that they could improve data recovery. Noting the financial constraints that some municipalities were facing, they were also working with private network owners that they helped to get authorisation and licences. To date, they had brought 64 private stations into the South African air quality monitoring system to complement the Department's monitoring so that they could cover areas that did not have sufficient monitoring. They were also talking with National Treasury to establish a transversal contract for the procurement of air quality services so that they reduced the delays they might experience with the supply chain process.
DG Tshabalala replied to Ms Winkler that they would provide a written response on the adaptation strategy.
Ms Mokgohloa said that the Department did not actually have game animals, so the animals that had to be donated were from the various management authorities, and the Department merely coordinated that work. They had a policy in place, and at the beginning of the financial year, they developed a donation plan that they would discuss with the respective management authorities, where they indicated what game was available and who would be getting the donations within their respective provincial mandates. They have not donated any game in quarter one so far.
She confirmed that the White Paper had been gazetted on 22 June last year. They were planning for 2023 to develop a programme of action, which was basically an implementation plan they were doing in consultation with the various stakeholders. It was largely linked with the Economic Montreal Global Biodiversity framework adopted at COP14 in December 2022. That was what they had referred to when they said implementation. There were four objectives related to the white paper, and they worked with the respective stakeholders around its implementation.
Regarding the national biodiversity strategy, they had reflected in the report that they had been able to meet three of the entities. The other three were unavailable because they did not have the data readily available to update the national biodiversity economy strategy, and they had therefore requested that they look at rescheduling those meetings only in quarter two. Part of the collection of that data revolved around ensuring that it was validated, so to update the biodiversity economy strategy in line with the high level part of the recommendations, they needed to ensure that the correct data information was one being used in respect of what they would like the strategy to deliver by 2030.
Ms Mkhize said that the 2019/20 environmental programmes had been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Going back to the field after the pandemic, the Department needed to be more stringent in terms of strategy and ensure compliance with regulations. However, not all service providers could return to the field, as they were non-compliant, which impacted the branch. It was only in the current financial year that the Department was able to successfully conclude the tender process for the "Working for Water" programme in seven of the nine provinces, except for the Western Cape, where they had had to cancel the tender and had since gone back to advertise. The issue was also compounded by the fact that they had since moved from a pre-payment system to payment after the delivery of services. As a branch, they had had to work closely and expand the scope of work that they delivered through their entities. They had received permission from the DG so that they could use their own staff where it was possible to deliver projects. The branch was highly project-focused, but they were limited to the extent to which they were able to use their own capacity in terms of project management when one considered their range of the environmental programme portfolio. On the rehabilitation of plans, she said they had so far done eight rehabilitations.
On Programme 7, Ms Musekene said that municipal cleaning was a response to the national women's strategy, which had several pillars. They were implementing that programme through community outreach focused mainly on the campaigns aimed at raising awareness. They also had a programme that focused on the expanded public works programme (EPWP), where participants were recruited. The same was being implemented in collaboration with municipalities. The Department provided stipends for participants who assisted with clean-ups, while the municipalities brought the tools for cleaning and protective equipment for the participants. They were also working with the Department of Human Settlements, because metros got funding from the urban settlement development grant (USDG), while local bodies got their funding from the local infrastructure grant for the supply of trucks or any other vehicles that also support the cleaning operations so that municipalities could deliver on that front.
She said the tyre management plan had been published in the Gazette. They had gone through a rigorous consultation, but the plan to ensure that it was publicised for implementation by the end of March had been written into the annual performance plan (APP).
Referring to the situation in Tshwane, she said industrial action there was aggravating the situation. The Department had engaged the city and the waste management officer. Some level of waste collection was taking place, but it was happening under very different circumstances given that some of the trucks had been vandalised and the workers were also being threatened by some criminal elements. It was a matter receiving attention, and there had also been engagements with the provincial government to look into what could be done. The sooner the industrial action was resolved, the better they would be able to see change.
On diversion of waste, she emphasised the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) programme was in its second year of implementation, which allowed producers to also look into how waste infrastructure, either new or existing, could be used and supported through the EPR schemes. They were currently awaiting the feasibility study as well.
In response to Mr Paulsen, she said they had yet to receive the report on the UPL matter. She promised to interact with the authorities in KwaZulu-Natal to get a written progress report, because they had initiated an enforcement action to ensure that the contraventions were dealt with. They were also working with the Department of Water and Sanitation, given that there had been issues of pollution control. She promised to interact with the authorities to enable written progress to be provided to the Committee.
Responding to Mr Paulsen on the programme eight targets, Ms Nodada confirmed that the contract for seedlings had been signed for two years, so the service provider had already started to prepare things for them for the current financial year. Planting usually occurred during quarter three due to the more favourable weather conditions.
Ms Middleton said that the Aquaculture Bill had been gazetted for public consultation, and would appear on the Government Gazette on 17 November. It would be put out for consultation for 60 days thereafter, after consolidating the comments from the public participation programme, and would then be tabled before Parliament.
On spatial planning, she confirmed that aquaculture had been planned through the development of five aquaculture zones, three of which were controlled by the Department.
She responded to Mr Bryant on the rock lobster strategy, and confirmed that they had an anti-poaching strategy for rock lobster and abalone. However, they were still working with the West Coast Rock Lobster Industry Association to look into goods being sold on the international market. Branch officials had arranged training regarding forensic investigation and following the money. All of that would culminate in the second draft of the rock lobster strategy. It was a work in progress.
DG Tshabalala indicated that the 15 priority stations were the ones monitored by the SAWS. Overall, there were 109 stations, with some of them providing reliable data. In the interim, they had partnered with the private sector, which had provided 60 stations in the space of air quality monitoring, providing them with reliable data to bridge the gap.
Mr Paulsen said that if they were not going to set targets on job creation under Aquaculture, then what was the purpose of including it there?
Ms Winkler said she had asked a question regarding the timeline for the backup power supply. She also asked how many of the 109 stations were not giving reliable data.
DG Tshabalala said they would get back to Ms Winkler on the issue of timelines, because it was not the Department procuring backups for the priority areas; it was the SAWS. When they were presenting their performance, they could respond on the matter.
Out of the 109 monitoring stations, 25 were transmitting reliable data, and while the rest were operational, they did not have reliable data. These stations were at various levels of the country which they were trying to address as far as load-shedding was concerned. As a mitigating measure, they had partnered with the private sector, which had provided 64 stations from which they were getting reliable data.
Ms Middleton responded to Mr Paulsen on the Aquaculture Bill, saying that it did have targets but not specifically on job creation. The programme's focus was to develop South Africa's aquaculture sector, which in terms of international comparison was very small. The emphasis was therefore on increasing production volume and tonnage. The indirect spinoff would be job creation. An increasing focus of the programme was on food for nutrition and security.
Ms Winkler sought clarity on how many air quality monitoring stations were functioning after collaboration with the private sector.
Ms Tshabalala said there were 89 air quality monitoring stations transmitting reliable data after collaborating with the private sector.
Department update on state of nurseries
Ms Nodada reported that the Department owned seven state nurseries distributed geographically in the North West Province, Free State, Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal, Northern Cape and Western Cape. The nurseries had a combined total area of 18.1 hectares, with a potential of about 880 000 plants per annum, and currently, they are producing 289 167 plants per annum. The nurseries had a staff complement of 49, with 34 posts filled and 15 vacant.
The nurseries were not producing optimally at present for reasons such as the lack of proper and adequate operating procedures, dilapidated infrastructure, the fading of nursery practice skills over time, lack of personnel, and the lack of security and fencing. To improve production levels, they were instituting several measures. The first was developing a policy and standard operating procedures to ensure uniformity in all nurseries, which was underway and would be finalised by the end of March next year. This would address the species to be propagated in the nurseries as part of the greening programme. The second was to increase the staff capacity -- permanent and EPWP workers -- to enhance production levels. They expected to fill the vacant posts by the end of the current financial year. A total of 186 EPWP workers had been employed at all the nurseries, 85 of whom were in the nurseries earmarked for refurbishment in line with the 2023/24 APP targets. A refurbishment plan had been developed following site visits to all nurseries by the new management team. The plan had been approved and was being implemented, and based on the plan, the APP targets had been crafted. In terms of security, a process had been initiated through collaboration with facilities management, but in the meantime, monitors had been employed for access control into the nurseries.
In general, there had been an increase in plant stock in terms of quantity and the quality of trees, and the nurseries were now contributing to the greening programme.
Ms Weber was concerned that the Department had set a target of planting 10 million trees way back in 2019, and by 2023 only 289 000 trees were produced per year. She wanted to know whether tenders for security and infrastructure needed to be issued, and, if they were, what the budget was for them. Had the Department sat down and deliberated over the skills needed, as there was quite a demand for forestry training for the nurseries? She noted that there was quite a discrepancy in the number of permanent staff being allocated to look after the nurseries. She asked that the Department look at how many trees a permanent employee could be responsible for. On the issue of vacancies yet to be filled, she said that the Department needed to look at the balance when they allocated permanent staff members in Limpopo.
Mr Bryant said that the target should not need to be reduced because the Department was unable to deliver. Those targets had been set at a time when they were considered to be achievable, and it was clearly an issue of application and overall competency in the Department that was delaying these processes. It was good to get the report on the nurseries because if the challenges were addressed properly, they should certainly see a further roll-out of projects. The issue with nurseries seemed more complicated than had been reported. He asked whether other contributing factors had led to the delays in planting the trees. Was the Department currently working with some of the competent local municipal nurseries, like the one in Cape Town?
Ms Gantsho asked who was responsible for maintaining the dilapidated infrastructure.
Ms Nodada said that the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure (DPWI) was responsible for maintaining the dilapidated infrastructure. They were working closely with them to try and ensure that they provided them with the assistance required to enable the Department to achieve their targets.
When the Department originally set out the target for the green programme, they had been looking at the ability of the nurseries to contribute, but at the same time, they had realised that the nurseries would not be able to provide them with all the trees they would need. They also had projects where they had been able to borrow trees from other nurseries through tenders. They also collaborated with other stakeholders who contributed to purchasing and planting those trees in partnership with other municipal nurseries. The Department had also started working with some industry players in Mpumalanga and the North West. She had noted the point on the Cape Town nursery, and they would follow up on the suggestion.
She said the Department had set aside a budget for security and fencing so that they could refurbish those areas. However, with the cuts they were experiencing, there might be a need to reprioritise and see how to best ensure they did not lose out on the places they had set for the nurseries to be functional.
Responding to the issue of discrepancies in the number of nurseries versus the production and staff allocated, the Department had looked into that as they were reorganising their structure to make sure that they were able to allocate staff appropriately. It was also important to mention that about 55% of the staff that were allocated in those nurseries, especially in the QwaQwa nursery, were between the ages of 50 and 60, so even though there was staff, they were a bit old and production was not quite as quick as it would be if they had younger people. They were augmenting the staff with the youth they were getting from EPWP so that the older members could take retirement. They were hoping that they could bring younger people into the system who were able to increase production as much as possible. She noted that the Department needed to look at that balance and monitor it closely.
DG Tshabalala referred to the Department's bursaries, and said they did not have assessments across the whole organisation, so when they offered bursaries, there were targeted areas where they would focus on developing more in terms of skills. The various branches would request this.
She agreed that one of the challenges they were having with production was that a majority of the staff were elderly people who were about to retire. As these staff retired, they were trying to bring in new blood and younger staff members to ensure they were dealing with the issue of increasing production and productivity.
Ms Weber asked whether there were any nurseries in Mpumalanga and if not, why.
Ms Nodada said that historically, there had never been any nurseries in Mpumalanga that the Department owned. They had what they referred to as "holding nurseries." Historically, they had also managed Limpopo and Mpumalanga as one unit. They had a nursery in Limpopo which was able to service both provinces. In the future, when they had more capacity in terms of people and funding, it was something that could be looked at.
Ms Winkler asked why the number of air quality monitoring stations had reduced from 130 to 109.
Mr Bryant said that he had sent through the details of the Cape Town nursery at Newlands to the secretariat. He was sure that the officials there would be happy to assist the Department with a tour or any other assistance if needed. He was happy to connect the Department to the officials at the Cape Town nursery.
He asked whether DDG Nodada felt more confident going forward to the next period that those targets for the nurseries were going to be achievable, or if they were still a little bit high and out of reach.
Ms Nodada replied that she was confident that with the plans they had put in place, they would be able to turn things around and start to achieve those targets, and with the collaborations they had initiated within the industry they could ensure that they had decent nurseries that were able to function in future.
The Chairperson suggested that the Committee should perhaps visit the nursery in Newlands during their planned visit to Hout Bay.
Ms Tshabalala responded to Ms Winkler on the reduced number of monitoring stations, and said that the 109 were operational, while the remaining stations were out of action due to theft. Some of the operational stations did not have reliable data.
The meeting was adjourned.
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