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ENVIRONMENTAL AFFAIRS AND TOURISM PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
15 February 2005
SA NATIONAL PARKS AND SA WEATHER SERVICES ANNUAL REPORTS: BRIEFINGS
Chairperson: Ms E Thabethe (ANC)
Documents handed out:
South African National Parks PowerPoint presentation
2003 - 04 Annual Report available on SANParks website
South African Weather Services PowerPoint presentation
2003 – 2004 South African Weather Services Annual Report
Committee Revised Programme: 17 January 2005 - 15 March 2005
The Committee was firstly briefed by a delegation from South African National Parks. The main points dealt with major initiatives and events of SANParks over the year, the Poverty Relief Programme, major challenges, and financial issues. The Committee asked for more information on the land claims issues, poverty relief initiatives and infrastructure development. After discussion, the 2003 – 2004 Annual Report was adopted.
The Committee was then briefed by a delegation from the South African Weather Service. The briefing included an explanation of the Weather Service’s strategic direction, efforts at international liaison, increased visibility and accessibility and financial details and challenges. Discussion focussed on disaster management capability and climate change. The 2003 – 2004 Annual Report was then adopted.
The Chairperson opened the meeting by reviewing the Revised Committee Programme. She said that this programme was only tentative, as the Committee had not yet finalised the schedule of upcoming meetings. The delegation from South African National Parks (SANParks), led by CEO Mr David Mabunda, then briefed the Committee on the contents of the 2003 – 2004 Annual Report.
SA National Parks Briefing
Mr Mabunda began by saying that South Africa had successfully held the World Parks Congress meeting in 2003. One of the main points of discussion at that meeting had been community participation around the conservation areas, especially in previously disadvantaged communities.
Mr Mabunda said that in the 2003 – 2004 financial year, there had been a record number of visitors to Kruger National Park. This meant that SANParks had to face the challenge of balancing successful tourism with conservation. In 2003 - 2004, the Wild Card was introduced and proved popular, as about 70% of the visitors were local South Africans. SANParks had also been successful in dealing with invasive species in the parks, although this was a challenge that required constant and continued monitoring.
Mr Mabunda said that the Poverty Relief Programme outlined by the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism concentrated on upgrading tourism infrastructure and employed six thousand forty one people to work on a temporary basis. The programme was successful in transferring skills but was unable to employ people permanently.
SANParks was also involved in a high level of land claims. Mr Mabunda said that it would be difficult for SANParks to meet the financial requirement for settlement but that SANParks was committed to helping to resolve these issues. A task team will report within the month on progress in resolving land claims in nationally protected areas.
SANParks was looking for a management strategy to deal with elephant overpopulation and was searching for ways to involve the public in this.
Financial viability remained a huge challenge for SANParks as only three of the national parks generated a surplus. The purpose of the parks, however, was conservation, not financial gain. For this reason, SANParks needed to examine how to complement the efforts of other conservation agencies to preserve the natural areas. SANParks also faced the challenge of attracting black visitors to the park, and while there had been an increase, various strategies were in place to encourage more black visitors.
Mr Mabunda said that the previous Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism had made a commitment to put 8% of South Africa’s terrestrial surface under protection by 2010. To meet this target, SANParks entered into contractual agreements with private landowners and was accessing donor funding from sources such as the World Bank. The previous Minister had also announced adding marine protected areas to SANParks’ estate and these have now been established.
A treaty between South Africa and Namibia was signed establishing a transfrontier conservation area and progress had been made in developing the transfrontier park on the Mozambican border.
In 2003 – 2004, SANParks began to phase out artificial water points in the parks as a way to control the elephant population explosion. Ninety-six research projects were also carried out and are now kept at the Kruger Park Virtual Library. SANParks successfully implemented a new electronic system called Umsika, which integrated IT, human and financial resources and was meant to facilitate public access to the parks. The Go Wild marketing campaign was also successful in providing South Africans with better access. Over the year, tourist figures generally increased, but the number of overnight visitors decreased because the Wild Cards enabled people to visit more often as day visitors.
SANParks had outsourced restaurants and shops in all the parks as a way to generate revenue, but this commercialisation presented many challenges to SANParks. Financial problems were particularly common with the lodges that have been established, but this was slowly beginning to improve. The restaurants and shops have been more successful.
Mr Mabunda described the successful Wilderness Bush Bash, which exposed prominent black South Africans to the parks in the hope that they may be able to attract other black visitors.
Upgrades to park infrastructure had been continuously postponed due to financial constraints, meaning that infrastructure was in serious need of upgrades in order to provide adequate services to visitors. SANParks was looking at possible solutions to this problem in cooperation with South African Tourism.
SANParks was making an effort to reach out to communities to engage them in conservation by working with the Department of Education and the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry to educate schoolchildren and communities surrounding the parks whose activities affect park ecosystems. Other programmes had been developed for young people, such as the Junior Ranger Programme.
Mr Mabunda said that the finances of SANParks have fully complied with the PFMA. SANParks had seen an overall increase in income because they had included inventory and poverty relief income in the budget, but these increases were cancelled out by increased costs. SANParks faced a budgeting problem because new programmes were not accommodated in the MTF allocation. At the end of the period, the surplus was lower than the 2002 - 2003 year due to the cost of special programmes such as the World Parks Congress. SANParks had hoped that commercialisation in the parks would help to finance operating costs, but it became clear that commercialisation on its own would not suffice and that SANParks needed to balance that revenue with revenue from other sources. For example, SANParks asked the government to assist in funding conservation as an effort in the public good. Running the parks was a labour intensive operation with most of the expenditure going towards human resources, but SANParks was engaged in cost-cutting exercises as much as possible. In the 2003 – 2004 year, expenditures were higher than income, due in part to declining numbers of visitors to the parks but SANParks did report a small surplus of R8.5 million for 2003 - 2004.
Mr J Arendse (ANC) asked if those who were employed under the poverty relief programme received any assistance in finding other jobs following their employment with SANParks. He also asked if SANParks was planning to deal with land claims issues by giving land back, giving alternative land or providing a cash settlement, and what the demographics of the claimants were.
Mr D Oliphant (ANC) commented that the President had said that all land claims should be finalised by the end of this year. He asked if the Parks Board would be able to do so. In the human resource section of the report, there was a high level of terminations and he asked why this was so.
Ms M Ntuli (ANC) asked about the timeframe for finalising the land claims and whether there was any long-term strategy for generating revenue in the national parks that did not produce a financial surplus.
Mr M Moss (ANC) referred to a previous report on a plan to deal with the problem of the overpopulation of elephants in the parks and asked what the Portfolio Committee could do to speed up the implementation of that plan. He also commented on problems with private landowners in the parks, asking who paid their municipal services and why the landowners' permission was needed for visitors to those areas.
Mr M Ellis (DA) asked for more information on the progress of the four main transfrontier parks that had been developed, especially in the establishment of animals in these areas and on issues of poaching. He also wanted to know more about the relationship between the South African National Parks and similar departments in other countries. He noted that Provincial Parks were not operating as well as they should be and wanted to know what SANParks’ relationship was with the Provincial Parks and how SANParks dealt with their under-performance.
Ms Semple (DA) asked for more information on a successful land claim in the northern area of Kruger National Park and whether it provided a model for future land claims. She also asked what was done with the budgetary surplus, for more clarity on the Go Wild marketing campaign, and what had been done to address issues of safety and security in the parks.
Ms J Chalmers (ANC) asked how marine protected areas were managed and whether the marine protected area in Addo National Park had been declared. She asked whether mismanagement had been a cause of the financial trouble with the concessions and whether an intervention should be made.
Mr A Mokoena (ANC) asked to what extent the Department of Public Works was involved in infrastructure and maintenance in the parks. He also asked if SANParks had considered giving a concession to a developer with a long-term tollgate model investment plan to recoup costs.
The Chairperson asked what land had so far been acquired to add to conservation areas to achieve the goal of 8% under protection. She also asked why tourists were not being attracted to the parks.
Mr Mabunda began by discussing the poverty relief programme. The programme trained people in construction and gave certificates to small contractors, but people were usually unable to find other jobs. SANParks was not the respondent to land claims as claims were lodged against the State, with some involvement on the part of SANParks. The successful Makuleka land claim in Kruger National Park had involved the transfer of title of the land to the Makulekas. SANParks was engaged in the process as managers of the area in question and the Makulekas were responsible for tourism development. In this arrangement, challenges arose over a difference of opinion on what was possible in a conservation area in terms of land use and hunting. Those issues had been resolved but Mr Mabunda said that it would be impossible to replicate this agreement in other areas because of managerial and capacity difficulties. The Minister of Land Affairs was in favour of a transfer of title to the claimant communities. In this way, the communities would own title to the land but not be able to resettle. The claimant communities would have to be educated on what activities were possible on the land according to how it was zoned and SANParks would then lease back the land. The challenge for SANParks was in finding the resources to lease the land, but this was being worked on.
Mr Mabunda said that there were thirteen concessions, ten of which were operational and three which were as yet unallocated due to the unsuitability of the sites. Most of them had a black economic empowerment component of 20 - 50%, and two were entirely black-owned. The concessions had not been mismanaged, but the fluctuation of the Rand as well as shortfalls in marketing and a fluctuating international market had contributed to their financial difficulties. The assistance these concessions received from SANParks consisted of lowering and deferring certain fees and assisting in establishing key infrastructure.
Ms Mkutshulwa, the Head of Communications for SANParks said that some concession activities had been terminated at the end of the contract. It had become clear that there was more value to SANParks running certain activities rather than commercialising them.
Mr Mabunda said that in terms of the staff turnover, not all people listed as terminated had been dismissed, but that some had changed jobs or moved to other departments in the public service because of better salaries. Many new people were coming into the organisation to fill these positions.
Ms Mkutshulwa discussed the financial viability of the parks that did not generate a surplus. She said that some parks might never create a surplus because they had been set up as areas for conservation, not tourism. She also said that it was not possible to relocate elephants to deal with overpopulation because there were no suitable places.
Mr Mabunda said that the idea of concessioning infrastructure upgrades on a tollgate model would create a public outcry. People were already charged a daily conservation fee that was used in part for infrastructure development. The main problem with infrastructure lay in the accumulated historical deferment of maintenance. SANParks was asking that the MTF take the requirement for upgrades into consideration in the allocation of funding. Commercialisation could not be relied upon to generate the necessary revenue and tollgates would put the cost of visiting parks out of reach of many South Africans. The Department of Public Works was not directly involved in the parks and SANParks had its own public works infrastructure due to the distance of the parks from municipal areas. The Expanded Public Works Programme had allocated some funds to SANParks to provide some public works improvements.
The relationship with the managers of provincial parks was that of co-operative governance, but SANParks was only an advisory and consultative body. Two provinces have indicated that they would like a closer relationship with SANParks, possibly involving SANParks managing their properties. Safety in the parks was a concern but was under control.
Private landowners were important to expanding the National Parks estate. In terms of working towards the goal of 8% of land under protection, 66 000 hectares had already been transferred. Private landowners were allowed to have some say in the types of visitors they would like on their land based on the product they offer to visitors. Their involvement was key in preserving the ecosystem. The budgetary surplus was reinvested in the estate in the form of upgrading and refurbishment.
Ms Mkutshulwa said that profit from the Wild Card project was also reinvested into conservation and infrastructure.
M Mabunda said that in the transfrontier parks there was a joint management board to deal with the training of rangers, poaching, and diseases. There was no tourism infrastructure in Limpopo National Park but there was a tourism development plan in place and that SANParks could only advise the Mozambican Department of Tourism. There were unconfirmed rumours of squatters in Gonarizu, the Zimbabwean transfrontier park, but the next ministerial meeting would verify or dispel these rumours.
Ms Mkutshulwa said that until recently SANParks had only been managing terrestrial areas, not marine areas. The annual report did not include marine protected areas because at the time of reporting, these areas had just been announced as part of SANParks’ estate. In the past year, the issue of attracting black tourists had been mostly the task of the marketing department and the media, so encouraging black visitors was a target to be worked on in the future.
Mr Mabunda said that there might be opposition to the suggestion that the Department may have to introduce culling as a way to deal with elephant populations. The public had been consulted on this issue and the species management plan would soon be put up for 30 – 60 days public comment before a final draft is drawn up.
The Chairperson said that the Committee would be able to visit the parks in its oversight function and to engage with communities. The 2003 – 2004 South African National Parks Annual Report was adopted.
SA Weather Service briefing
Mr Jerry Langoasa gave the presentation from the South African Weather Service. He extended an invitation for Members to visit the Weather Service in order to understand more fully how it operated. He said that severe weather was the single most destructive natural hazard and that rural communities were more vulnerable than urban communities. For this reason, data collection was key. The Weather Service had extensive observation infrastructure, but much of it was very old, and the Service faced the problem of recapitalisation. The production side of the Weather Service was also very extensive, including long-term forecasts, disaster warning and services to the aviation and maritime industries. In the past, the organisation had been very insular, giving data only when it was requested instead of packaging and distributing information regularly. In 2003 – 2004, the organisation had developed key thrusts in order to change this and these included corporate governance, international liaison, research and development, commercial and service delivery and the mainstreaming of meteorological products.
Mr Langoasa described the corporate strategy that had been developed and utilised for the organisation, saying it had been mostly completed and had been key in giving the Weather Service a strategic direction in the short-to-medium term. He also outlined the data concerning staff, including the gender and racial profile. The organisation had to maintain an employee balance as many of the older more experienced employees were moving towards retirement and many young educated, but inexperienced young people were entering the field. A successful bursary programme was established to provide students with funding to complete their Honours studies in Meteorology before coming to work for the Weather Service.
A key part of the Weather Service was international liaison. The Weather Service had been involved in several international organisations, particularly as a member of the executive council of the Congress of the World Meteorological Organisation. SADC and NEPAD had also become key programmes in fostering liasing across borders, and the Weather Service was involved in providing technical equipment and expertise to other countries. The Weather Service had also created a commercial opportunity by deploying several automatic weather stations in countries in the sub-region and was part of the Voluntary Contribution Programme, which aided in providing technology to those unable to afford the equipment. A meeting between the CEO’s of various Weather Services in the SADC was also held and was important for strategic alignment and business planning. This meeting focused on ways to pool resources to buy relevant consumables, which were more affordable when bought in bulk. South Africa also hosted three successful meetings for the World Meteorological Organisation.
The Weather Service had also been quite involved in prediction research and development, particularly in the adoption and improvement of models to improve forecasting. South Africa was selected by the European Meteorological Satellite Organisation to be a test site for their latest satellite and have begun conducting very successful tests allowing African states access to the satellite information. The Weather Service was the Climate Data Bank custodian for the Climate Database and introduced new software to capture and transmit data more quickly as part of efforts to work towards more digitalisation.
The commercial side of the Weather Service was encouraged by a growth in its aviation client base. Technological developments being sold to other countries also brought in revenue, as well as a contract with a weather channel, Channel 57. They also provided a subscription and telephone service. Other revenue was drawn from the insurance sector, with attorneys asking for information in dealing with insurance claims.
In terms of mainstreaming and visibility, the Weather Service’s Knowledge Centre was accessible to the public. The Service has also been present at various exhibitions and held celebrations for World Meteorological Day. The Weather Service had gone fully online and had been identified as a training centre for Africa to train in the use of the Meteorological Satellite 8. Since transferring much of its activities to digital equipment, the Weather Service had been able to transfer its analogue equipment to countries in need, such as Mozambique. They also trained 122 Agricultural Extension Officers, putting a focus on seasonal weather forecasts in order to benefit vulnerable rural communities.
Mr Langoasa said that there was a shift from a R1.8 million loss in 2002 – 2003 to a surplus of R17 million in 2003 – 2004. He emphasised that irregular expenditures included a R6 million purchase of computers. A cash-flow crisis from 2002 had been resolved, with permission given to the Weather Service to enter into a finance lease agreement to pay off previous computer purchases. The Post-Engagement Medical Aid contribution had been a liability and had been based on an inaccurate model, but this was being corrected. A key area of improvement was a strengthening of the Weather Service’s financial systems. This included the appointment of Deloitte and Touche to assist with financial management and internal control weaknesses. In the process of moving offices, some paperwork detailing the transfer of employees from the Weather Bureau to the Weather Service was misplaced. This had been corrected and all employees had been given a new contract to match this new organisation. In terms of revenue, there had been an increase over the last three years in government grants and a large increase in revenue from the aviation sector. Expenditures have also increased, driven mostly by salaries, but recent gains in revenue have offset that expenditure somewhat.
The Chairperson asked if the matters of emphasis that Mr Langoasa referred to were related to the PFMA and the Auditor-General’s report.
Mr Langoasa said that the matters of emphasis spoke to the Weather Service’s financial statements for the year. He said that the audit was unqualified but that some of the matters were raised by the Auditor-General in his review of the Weather Service’s financial statements.
The Chairperson asked if the issues raised by the Auditor-General were being corrected. Mr Langoasa said that they were.
Ms Semple asked if the Weather Service would have been able to predict the December 2004 South Asian Tsunami.
Ms N Khunou (ANC) commented that she was glad to see female representation in the Weather Service. She asked what the relationship was between the Weather Services and disaster management in local government and whether the Weather Service worked with local government and communities to develop disaster contingency plans. She asked for some success stories concerning disaster management.
Mr Moss commented about climate change such as El Nino. He asked how far in the past the Weather Service kept data and how far into the future they could predict. He asked if the drought in the Western Cape had been detected and for clarification on whether there would be more or less insurance claims with increasingly severe weather.
Ms R Ndzanga (ANC) commented that many people in the rural areas had no access to weather reports, but needed to shelter their fire materials in rain or snow. She said that people used to be able to predict rain in rural areas, but that they can no longer accurately predict it due to climate change. She asked how people would be made aware of the forecast in order to prepare for severe weather.
Mr G Morgan (DA) asked of what quality the Weather Services’ climate data was and whether it was compatible with global climate change models. He also asked for elaboration on the Weather Services’ links with other meteorological institutions around the world in studying climate change.
The Chairperson asked what caused the severe weather changes in Cape Town. She also asked about the costs for maintenance of radar equipment and why the poverty relief fund was used in Umtata in setting up new radar equipment.
Mr Langoasa said that in regards to advance warning for events such as the tsunami, it was key to have appropriate observation systems to be able to forecast in advance and issue warnings. He said that the Weather Service’s shift from a government agency to a corporation was in response to the government’s inability to keep up with the ageing infrastructure upgrades necessary for carrying out observation and was meant as an alternative way to fund recapitalisation. The Weather Service planned to include improvements to advanced warning systems.
The Weather Service was actively working on equal representation. Mr Langoasa said that disaster management was one of the key drivers of collaboration between organisations, but that it was difficult to manage. There was a national Disaster Management Committee that included the Weather Service and the Department of Water Affairs under the leadership of the Department of Provincial and Local Government. After fires in KwaZulu-Natal, a key report was brought to Cabinet towards the end of 2003, which informed Cabinet of disaster management challenges, and resulted in more funding. The Weather Service played a key role in providing technical information for this report. The Weather Service was also involved in producing the Fire Index Report and had links with municipalities through the Disaster Management Committee. In a disaster situation, the Weather Service issued warnings to the municipalities, but had no control over these municipal offices, which may or may not respond well. Mr Langoasa mentioned some of the disaster warning success stories.
Mr Langoasa briefly described the El Nino phenomenon and its impact on rainfall patterns in the Southern Hemisphere. Modelling capability drove how far in advance the Weather Service became aware of El Nino conditions. These models ran every day and were able to forecast El Nino conditions and inform seasonal forecasts. In an area where there was a higher propensity for extreme weather events, there was an impact on insurance claims. As the Weather Service predicted an increased frequency of extreme weather events, Mr Langoasa said that there would be a great increase in claims in the short term. Weather information could also be used for risk management for cricket games and music festivals.
Communication in the rural areas was a huge challenge, requiring the Weather Service to depend on alternative and multiple methods of communication. These included providing information at the offices, over the telephone, Internet, radio, community newspapers and through cell phone technology. There was a programme through NEPAD aimed at disaster mitigation by providing satellite radios to rural areas, which the Weather Service looked into. The Weather Service had also been taking action to recognise indigenous knowledge. A booklet had been created which included stories and folktales from communities around the country that will be available at the end of this year. Mr Langoasa said that it might be useful to look into more extensive anthropological studies on indigenous observations and forecasting.
Mr Langoasa said that the Weather Service was limited to forecasting three to four months, or a season, in advance, and that beyond this timeframe the forecast became unreliable. He said that in terms of climate change, there was a station in the Western Cape that had recorded temperatures since 1818. Through this station, it was possible to see a gradual increase in temperature. Information from this and other such stations was collected and forwarded to the World Meteorological Organisation where the information was processed and compiled. In the continent as a whole there was a scarcity of data due to the high cost of consumables and running the infrastructure. Because of this, the contribution of the South African Weather Service was key in assembling data. With the help of Norwegian funding, the Weather Service had been converting this old data to metric measurements and archived paper data into an electronic database.
Mr Langoasa addressed the question of the weather variations in Cape Town, saying that it was due in part to topography and the influence of microsystems and wind patterns. These were very difficult to forecast. Mr Langoasa said that the Weather Service’s radar system operated on a seasonal basis and asked Ms Nkambula to elaborate on the costs of maintaining it.
Ms Nkambula, the Senior Manager of Metsys, said that the radar was very expensive and that it was switched off from March to June, at which time maintenance was performed. She said that it could be switched on at any time if there was a weather system that needed to be monitored. The maintenance costs indicated in the Annual Report referred to the operational maintenance. In Umtata, the radar system donated by the Water Research Commission was installed in a vulnerable area. The radar was installed to deliver weather services to this area to the benefit of the community and that members of the community were part of the installation process. Community members were trained in weather observation at five new automatic weather stations in order to create jobs and allow the community to run and maintain the system.
Ms Kelobonye said that R1.2 million was used from the poverty relief fund for that project.
Ms C Zikalala (IFP) asked for elaboration on the marine weather services and whether severe weather affected fishing.
Mr Langoasa said that the marine weather service was very small, made up of four individuals, but covered most of the Southern Hemisphere waters. The focus of the service had been to assist the Safety of Life at Sea Convention by issuing warnings and providing information to salvage companies and its only revenue was from insurance claims. He was unable to speak to the effect of weather on fishing as the Weather Service had not done any research to determine the impact.
The 2003 – 2004 South African Weather Service Annual Report was adopted.
The meeting was adjourned.
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