Briefing by Minister & Department on budget


09 February 1998
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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report

9 February 1998

The Minister of Environmental Affairs was not able to attend the meeting. The department's Acting Director-General, Dr. Hanekom, expressed pleasure at the developing relationship between the department and the committee. The department, in recognition of the committee's request, was working on developing a resource room with departmental documents and information, including digital format resources.

Dr. Tania Abrahamse, the Deputy Director General, briefed the committee on the transformation process the department is undertaking. The department needed to change its institutions to match the new political and social realities. Key pressures for transformation were from the constitutional principles, the Department's own policies, best encapsulated in their white papers, the new regulations emerging from the Public Service, demand from the public, and the new budgetary planning system.

The challenge the department faced was to use both the forces for and against change in a productive way to ensure real and effective transformation. The aims of the process have been agreed upon:
to create a vision and mission in line with white paper policies;
to set principles, goals and objectives in line with the constitution and the white papers;
to reach clarity on which goals can be achieved directly by the department, which are provincial, which are in the functional spheres of other departments, and which are simply not possible given capacity;
to identify the structure, skills and budget to best fulfil these goals,
to align parastatals using departmental funding to these goals and principles;
to develop human resources development plan;
to develop the environmental action plans;
and to create performance indicators.

Some of the structures that have been set in place include a Minmeet monthly meeting between the Minister, the Director general and his deputies. Other structures are the transformation unit which is comprised of democratically-elected representatives within the department, who will monitor and communicate with the department on transformation issues. A Strategic Planning and Integration Unit has been created to develop strategies to achieve various changes.

An issue was raised by Ms. Chalmers (ANC) around the division of roles between departments, and between national and provincial institutions. Ms. Chalmers expressed concern that environmental affairs are/could be made non-functional second to economic affairs. Ms. Abrahamse stated that a review was being undertaken around the role of various institutions. She added that National department could not dictate to the provinces how they do there work, but could recommend a generic model. Of crucial importance on this issue is not who should, but who can in terms of capacity. A capacity building project has been agreed with the provinces.

Ms. Benjamin (African National Congress) noted that the problems that led to restructuring being necessary, in terms of social and cultural representative, need to be mentioned in order to access the restructuring process. In close relation to this was the availability of specialists from a wider range of tertiary educational institutions.

Mr. Le Roux (National Party) asked the department about pressures to downsize or grow. Ms. Abrahamse stated that there was no budget to grow. However, the size of the department was not indicative of the function, or the skill level of the staff. Her feeling was that the department would stay the same size, if not get smaller, but that the level of staff would rise. However, the goals and core business of the department would determine the changes.

Mr. Williams (National Party) raised concern about the lack of concern and activity at local government level. Ms Abrahamse answered by saying that in many local authorities, especially the metro regions, local government was leading the field, through the planning activities. She added that the department was working on section 21 issues, and would pass on the information.

Ms. Van Wyk asked whether it was the core business of the department to enforce and protect the history, culture, and general aesthetics of development, in particular through regulations of the built form. Ms Abrahamse said yes, and that it was a part of the Environmental Management Plans being developed.

Dr. Hanekom presented the Department's objectives for the year. A key objective was to create a greater emphasis on the right to a clean and healthy environment. The final draft of the environmental white paper on Environmental Management was ready and being submitted to the Minister for signatures. The NES&Ap needed to clarify what can and can not be done by the department. The legal and institutional audit has been started, and needs to be completed. The relationship with the Portfolio Committee needed to be strengthened. Clarity was to be developed between other departments, in particular Minerals and Energy, and Water Affairs and Forestry around roles and functions. In this regard a comprehensive memo of understanding is being reached. Budgetary reform, enhanced public communication, improved pollution and waste management, clarity on responsibility of local government, more active Environmental Impact Management and taking a key role in the SDI were the other major objectives of the Department.



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