ATC180424: Report of the Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs on the Donations of High-value Wildlife Species to Private Individuals by the North West Provincial Government Department of Rural, Environmental and Agricultural Development, dated 24 April 2018
REPORT OF THE PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE ON ENVIRONMENTAL AFFAIRS ON THE DONATIONS OF HIGH-VALUE WILDLIFE SPECIES TO PRIVATE INDIVIDUALS BY THE NORTH WEST PROVINCIAL GOVERNMENT DEPARTMENT OF RURAL, ENVIRONMENTAL AND AGRICULTURAL DEVELOPMENT, DATED 24 APRIL 2018.
The Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs having interacted with the North West Provincial Government Department of Rural, Environmental and Agricultural Department (READ) on the donations of high-value wildlife species to private individuals, reports as follows:
On 30th August 2016, the South African National Parks (SANParks) briefed the Portfolio Committee on the sharing of the national biodiversity asset of the country by local communities as well as on its land claims model. During the briefing, it emerged that the North West Provincial Government Department of READ had presented a report to the Portfolio Committee on Tourism and Rural Environment and Agricultural Department at the North West Provincial Legislature in 2016, on the donations of high-value game species to certain private individuals in the North West Province. The Provincial Legislature became involved due to the public outcry about these donations and the associated media interest, alleging that those animals were donated to certain politically connected individuals. For example, the Provincial Committee requested to meet with the MEC, Ms Manketse Tlhape after reports spiralled in the media that rare breeds of wildlife were donated to private farms, persons or friends alleged to be politically connected. The media statement issued by the North West Provincial Legislature on 25th October 2015 on the matter of the said wildlife donations vividly illustrates this fact.
Accordingly, the North West Provincial Legislature’s Portfolio Committee on Rural Environment and Agricultural Development resolved to allow MEC Manketse Tlhape and her senior management three working days to compile a detailed report to further clarify the responses that were provided to question regarding donations of wildlife purportedly awarded to private entities for a 10-year breeding programme. It was, therefore, in response to the public concerns raised and the value of those donations that the Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs (hereinafter the Portfolio Committee) in the South African Parliament resolved to request the aforementioned report from the North West Department of READ (hereinafter the Department). Consequently, the Portfolio Committee requested, in writing the Department to submit the report on the donations of high-value wildlife species to certain individuals and to appear before it in Parliament on 1st November 2016, to present the report. This is because the Portfolio Committee needed to accurately and fully understand the circumstances under which the donations occurred to ensure accountability and transparency in dealing with the public funds involved in the matter.
On 1st November 2016, the North West MEC, Ms Manketsi Tlhape and her Department failed to appear before the Portfolio Committee, despite having been given sufficient notice and notwithstanding the fact that an official in the MEC’s office confirmed receipt of the notice. It was in this regard that the Portfolio Committee unanimously resolved to utilise the necessary parliamentary processes to summon the MEC to appear before the Portfolio Committee to account for the manner in which they (she & her delegated officials) had disposed of those wildlife species, raised on public funds, which were appropriated by an Act of Parliament. This led the Portfolio Committee invoking section 56 of the Constitution, which empowers a Committee of the National Assembly to require any person or institution to report to it. This decision prompted the MEC to agree to appear before the Portfolio Committee on 29th November 2016, without any further action from the Portfolio Committee. However, as the capture and translocation of certain wildlife species (buffaloes, inter alia) involved in this project required the intervention of the national Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF), it became necessary for the Portfolio Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries to come on board in order to holistically assess the soundness of the project. Consequently, members of the Portfolio Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, attended some of the meetings of the Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs scheduled to further interrogate wildlife donations to SARGBH by the North West Department of READ.
- Briefing by the North West Provincial Government Department of Rural, Environmental and Agricultural Development (the Department)
On 29th November 2016 and on 24th January 2017, the MEC appeared before the Portfolio Committee to account for the donations of wildlife worth over R100 million from provincial parks and nature reserves to the South African Rare Game Breeders Association (SARGBA) and the black transformation partners in the second half of 2015. The Committee requested to be briefed on the following issues by the MEC and her Department in the presence of members of the Portfolio Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries:
- The circumstances under which the donations were made;
- Entity/person(s) that formulated the Game Donation Policy used and the date the Policy was adopted;
- Whether the Department had donated similar high-value species in the past and who were the recipients;
- The details of the species available in the various parks prior and after the donations, including their sex ratios;
- Whether there was any impact on the viability and the breeding potential of the remaining species;
- The capacity, human resources and land suitability of the individuals and/or company that received the animals;
- Details of the individuals who constituted South African Rare Game Breeders Holdings (SARGBH), the company that received the donations;
- Whether there was any impact on the viability of the breeding potential of the remaining population;
- Details of the births per species since the first donations (births of donated game);
- The old and new game donation policies, including the signed resolutions of the relevant authorities which adopted the respective policies;
- Correspondence (all letters and memos) between the Department and Provincial Treasury exchanged regarding compliance with the provisions of the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA);
- Any sale of animals, that is, post-donation transaction;
- All information pertaining to other organisations or persons who approached the Department expressing interest or requests for game donations and the responses of the Department; and
- All veterinary reports pertaining to this SARGBH Project.
The North West MEC, Ms Tlhaphe apologised to the members of the Portfolio Committee for her Department’s non-appearance before the Committee on 18th October 2016, stating that the invitation reached her office late. She provided the outline of the presentation and handed it over to Dr Mokaila, Head of Department (HOD) to present the Department’s response to the Committee under the following italicised thematic areas:
- Circumstances Under Which the Donations were made
The MEC and her team stated that the then North West Provincial Government Department and the North West Parks and Tourism Board received a request for wildlife donations from SARGBH on 6th November 2014. Upon receiving the request, the North West Provincial Executive Council (EXCO) requested the Department to conduct due diligence, which was done in March 2015. As a result, the EXCO granted approval for the donations of the requested game to SARGBH on 25th March 2015, thereby obliging the Department to implement the EXCO’s resolution, with the consequence that on the same day (25th March 2015) a Steering Committee was established with clear Terms of Reference. An announcement of the new vision for the North West Parks Board to ensure transformation of the Game Industry with the development of Wildlife Management Transformation was made during the 2015/16 Departmental Budget Vote Speech. The project was identified through SARGBH in the Kgetleng Local Municipality.
- Dynamics in Deciding the Numbers of Wildlife in the Donations
A later engagement with the staff of the Ecological Services of the North West Parks Board (NWPB) in May 2017, indeed confirmed that SARGBH approached the North West Provincial Department in November 2014 with the concept of a game breeding project to promote game transformation in the North West Province. Consequently, the Management of the Ecological Services was invited at the beginning of May 2015 to a presentation of the project concept at the SARGBH farms in Swartruggens, where members of the Department accompanied them. SARGBH made the initial request for 210 buffaloes, 210 sables, 210 roan antelopes and 630 nyalas. However, Mr Wilfred Seitlhamo, the then Acting Manager for Ecological Services was instructed by Mr Mack Magodielo, Chief Conservation Officer at the end of April 2015, to develop proposals for a donation package to the SARGBH Project, suggesting the following: 50 buffaloes, 20 sable antelopes and 10 nyalas. Unfortunately, these quotas fell short of meeting the sustainability requirements of the breeding project, and hence it was agreed that additional species and animals be made available. This led to the addition of 50 elands, 250 impalas, 100 blue wildebeest and 20 white rhinos on the 12th June 2015.
The Manager of Ecological Services conducted a habitat suitability assessment for the five game-receiving farms in June 2015, including Eiland (360.6 ha), Inyati (299.8 ha), Mooivallei (597.6 ha), Midfort (262.7 ha) and Ebisu (455.6 ha), constituting a cumulative area of 1977.3 ha. It is noteworthy that the Manager of Ecological Services wrote and submitted a habitat suitability report to this effect. Thereafter, the MEC called for a meeting with the senior management of the North West Parks Board in her office where the Head of Department, Dr Mokaila, Mr Mack Magodielo, Mr Eric Madamalala, and Mr Peter Leitner, the Regional Manager for the Madikwe Cluster were present. The MEC indicated that the quotas suggested were not sufficient for the project, and requested for 130 buffalos, 50 sable antelopes, 50 white rhinos and 15 nyalas. It was in this regard that the Manager of Ecological Services wrote a memorandum to his supervisor Mr Mack Magodielo and proposed that the removals be focused on populations with marginal performance and populations where there were poaching issues.
They then proposed the following removals for white rhinos: 20 from the Pilanesberg National Park, 10 from Mafikeng Game Reserve and 20 from Botsalano Game Reserve, whereas for the sable antelopes it was stated that all the 48 animals should be removed from Borakalalo National Park due to poaching threat and all the four from the Pilanesberg National Park due to the unviability of the population. Similarly, the population inviability was considered as the basis for removing all the three roan antelopes from the Kgaswane Mountain Reserve. Conversely, 30 buffaloes were to be removed from the Pilanesberg National Park, all the 35 from the Borakalalo National Park, 20 from the Mafikeng Game Reserve, all 10 from the Botsalano Game Reserve, and all 26 from the Molemane Eye Nature Reserve due to nutritional deficiencies, especially during the dry season when the need for supplementary feed arises. Finally, all the 32 nyalas in the Borakalalo National Park were recommended for removal, as the park falls outside the natural range of the species.
The packages identified by the senior conservation managers were highly skewed towards females, specifically reproductive ones. Similarly, only specific male animals were selected from the available stock, leaving the NWPB short of the new quotas required by the MEC. Therefore, the populations in the respective parks and reserves remaining after capture consisted mostly of male animals, thereby rendering their populations inviable; the only use of these animals could be for their tourist value, such as visible game drives or they could be used for hunting purposes. It further suffices to mention that the capturing of wildlife for the SARGBH Project started at the beginning of July 2015, where it became immediately clear from the onset that the NWPB would not be able to deliver on the new breeding stock request. This means that the approval of the donation of available breeding stock to SARGBH on 23rd June 2016, by the Chairperson of the NWPB occurred when the animals were already in SARGBH facilities for nearly a year.
The Department indicated that SARGBA signed Partnership and Shareholders Agreement with BEEE Partners and Shareholders and Employees Trust to form the SARGBH on 3rd July 2015. This comprised of 50 per cent SARGBA and 50 per cent BEEE Partners. In March 2016, through Project Steering Committee, a Monitoring and Evaluation Plan was approved to look at the issues of Transformation and Empowerment; Financial Sustainability; Breeding Success; Regulatory and Compliance; and Institutional Governance. During the 2015/16 audit by the Auditor-General, there were no findings for both the North West Parks Board and the Department to which the entity accounts.
- Game Donation Policy used and the date the policy was adopted
The Department stated that the old Game Donation Policy was used for the purposes of the donations. However, it was pointed out that the Policy was subjected to a review process for subsequent cases approved in 2015. However, the author of the said Policy maintained in both a verbal response and written submission that the old Game Donation Policy, which was developed in 2010, and was presented to the Conservation Subcommittee of the then North West Parks and Tourism Board was never officially approved. Therefore, the Department’s response that the SARGBH transaction was conducted under the old Policy was at best misleading, worst false.
- Whether the Department had donated similar high-value species in the past and who were the recipients
It was indicated that the Department had been implementing game donations to empower farmers since 1994, for example, in Bakgatla Lebatlane, a community game reserve received zebras, impalas, blue wildebeest and waterbuck; and Mojamoja Game Farm received 32 buffaloes from the North West Parks and Tourism Board. A later engagement with the Manager of Ecological Services of the NWPB confirmed that an agreement between the North West Parks and Tourism Board, Moja-Moja Game Breeders and Barolong Boo Ratlou Boo Mariba Traditional Community was signed on 2nd December 2013, and in April 2014. As a result, the buffaloes were captured and placed in boma in the Borakalalo National Park. The buffaloes were subsequently transferred to MojaMoja Breeding site towards the end of May 2014. It was further indicated that the Ecological Services of the NWPB also conducted ecological assessments on a number of black owned/community farms in the Dr Ruth Segomotsi Mompati District, as well as in the Kgetleng District. These assessments proposed stocking plans and other management proposals, which would be submitted to the District Council as part of its empowerment programme.
- Details of the species available in the various parks prior and after the donations
The Department made reference to a certain confidential wildlife census report that was compiled before and after the donation. The report detailed that 50 buffaloes, 20 sable antelopes and 10 nyalas were donated worth of R183 190 830. The Department employed a team of scientists to ensure the well-being of the animals and to record those animals that could be used for breeding purposes. However, the Manager of Ecological Services pointed out that annual game counts in protected areas in the North West Province were conducted on an annual basis, using methodologies based on scientifically accepted principles. The game counts were coordinated by his section (i.e., the Ecological Services Section of the Conservation Management Division of the NWPB). The Ecological Services Section compiled the final game count report, which reflects the population estimates for animals in the 15 parks/reserves in the North West Province.
- Whether there was any impact on the viability and the breeding potential of the remaining species
The Department conducted an investigation to evaluate the habitat and veld conditions in five prospective properties for the breeding and management of sable antelopes, buffaloes and rhinos. The scientists involved gave assurance on animal viability to ensure that species were not exposed to dangerous conditions that could threaten their survival and hence sustainability in their new environment. The Ecological Services Manager concurred that he conducted the habitat assessment in June 2015. The assessment was done for the species identified for the five properties, concern was expressed on the veld condition for some properties for specialist species such as sable and buffalo, as well as white rhino. He further noted that veld conditions in some camps were addressed by SARGBH during the past season/months and significant progress was made on this in certain camps. This was mostly done through reseeding of certain areas with favourable grass seed mixtures. However, certain areas still needed attention.
- Human resources capacity and security of receiving land/farms
The Department stated that SARGBH had presented to the Department an inspection report on their facilities. The report highlighted, amongst others, rights to ownership, skills development, conflict mediation, beneficiation and business model and eligible beneficiaries. The Department emphasised that the capacity for breeding high-value species was still in the hands of private farmers, and not in the hands of the government, indicating further that SARGBH breeders had a land capacity of 2 000 hectares, and this area was sufficient to allow wildlife to thrive. They also had ability to give the species supplementary feed and veterinary services. The supplementary feeding was in terms of having the financial resources to feed the stock during the drought period currently being experienced in South Africa. They also had trained veterinary staff and could additionally provide security for the donated animals.
- Details of individuals that constituted the SARGBH Company, as per the shareholder agreement
The individuals who constituted the SARGBH comprised of Mr M de Kock, Mr H de Kock, Mr A Boshoff and Mr H du Toit as well as BEEE beneficiaries, namely, Mr N Manyathi, Mr B Manamela, Mr R Makwela, Mr M Wolmarans and Mr M Manyeneng and 40 employees on the project. SARGBA and the BEEE partners both owned 50 per cent shares in the SARGBH.
- Details regarding the available species per park as per male or female prior to and after the donation
The Department stated that it managed populations of high-value species such as buffalo, white rhino, sable antelope and nyala in several of its parks in Madikwe, Pilanesberg, Mafikeng, Botsalano, Borakalalo, Molemane Eye and Kgaswane Mountain nature reserves. Buffaloes were present in all nature reserves. White rhino populations were originally present in all nature reserves, but were removed from Borakalalo and Molemane Eye nature reserves due to poaching pressure. Sable antelopes were present in Pilanesberg, Borakalalo and Kgaswane Mountain nature reserves, while nyalas were only found in the Borakalalo Nature Reserve. After translocation, the buffaloes remaining in Molemane Eye and Borakalalo were 11 and 18 males, three male and one female sable antelopes in Borakalalo and eight sexless nyalas in the same game reserve. Presently, white rhinos had not been relocated and buffaloes had not been moved from Pilanesberg, Mafikeng or Botsalano, as planned in the project.
- Whether there was any impact on the viability of the breeding potential of the remaining population
The Department mentioned that the nyalas did not do well in the North West, as their natural range is the northeastern lowveld. Therefore, the objective was to translocate the remaining eight sexless nyalas in Borakalalo to their naturally suitable habitat. Although the remaining sable antelopes in Borakalalo were a viable species, they were under threat from poachers. With regard to the remaining male buffaloes in Molemane Eye, the animals had to be given supplementary feed due to drought-induced low levels of nitrogen. The buffaloes in Borakalalo were viable, although they were under threat from poaching due to their high value, thereby raising the need for a relevant intervention. The Department further indicated that translocation of animals did not have a negative impact on the viability of the breeding potential of all remaining animals, which is not true (as indicated in the response of the Manager of Ecological Services).
- Details of deaths and births experienced per species
The Department conceded that there were indeed deaths as a result of injuries that the animals suffered such as broken jaws during translocation or even during the capture of wild animals. The veterinary surgeon’s report was presented, in this regard. In relation to the details of births per species since the donation, six sable antelopes, three buffaloes and five nyalas were born in the SARGBH facilities.
- Game donation policy and the signed resolutions of the relevant authorities, which adopted the policies
The Department presented the purpose and provisions used for all donations, the guidelines for project implementation, screening of applicants, criteria used and limitations contained in Annexure 3, which was submitted to the Committee. The Department indicated that a new Game Donation Policy was developed and approved by the accounting authority in the absence of a Board. However, the old Policy was used for the SARGBH transaction because the decision had been made before the new Game Donation Policy was developed. Notwithstanding, the said Policy was never formally approved as the North West Provincial Government’s official position on wildlife donations from its provincial game reserves.
- First Quarter and Second Quarter Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) Report
The Department indicated the presence of such a report, which detailed the strategic objectives, governance mechanism, regulatory compliance, breeding success, transformation and empowerment, and requisite financial statements. In addition, the Report highlighted key achievements and challenges for the two quarters under consideration.
- Correspondence between the Department and the Provincial Treasury on PFMA compliance
The Department drew the attention of the members of the Committee to Annexes 7 and 8 documents in its submission that contained the details of such interaction between the Department and the Provincial Treasury.
- Animal sales after the game donation transaction
The Department stated that in addition to the application received from SARGBH, it received applications from the following applicants:
- Sunshine Game Breeding Programme for buffaloes, roan and sable antelopes;
- Eagle Quest Game Farm (EQGF) for sable antelopes and white rhinos; and
- Baphiring Traditional Community for sable antelopes, blue wildebeests, impalas, kudus, blesboks and waterbucks.
- Normal protocol used in effecting donations
After the game counts, the Ecological Management Committee (EMC), which consists of a park manager and Ecological Services Regional manager, evaluates the results in terms of other factors, including stocking levels, income generation, hunting and donations, among others. The EMC recommends a quota for removals via introductions to other parks/reserves, hunting and/or donations. The recommendations of the EMC are consolidated and discussed at the Game Removals and Introductions Committee (GRIC) meeting, which brings together regional managers, Manager of Ecological Services and Chief Financial Officer. The meeting discusses the quotas in terms of possible transfers between parks, other objectives, such as provincial and national conservation projects, donation, community projects, income targets, breeding projects and so forth. A final recommendation with reference to possible community/transformation projects is then made to the Chief Conservation Officer.
The quotas are further presented to the Executive Management Committee, then to the Conservation Subcommittee and finally to the Board of Directors from where it is passed on to the MEC of the Department for sign off. A call for proposals is publicly advertised and project proposals are received and reviewed by GRIC, and where necessary additional information is obtained, such as ecological feasibility studies and business plans, inter alia.
- Discussions by the Committee
The Committee raised the following questions and issues to the Department:
- Did the Department seek legal opinion before proceeding with the contract agreement, considering that the contract agreement was an unsolicited bid?
- The Department presented that donations were made to a community in previous years, however, this was contrary to Annexure 14 of the report, which listed the donations made in past years to foreign countries such as Botswana, Denmark and Switzerland. For example, between 1997-2014, 121 animals had been donated locally and 99 animals had been donated overseas, whereas in 2015 a massive number of 262 animals was authorised for donation.
- Furthermore, an explanation was sought on why 130 buffaloes and 50 white rhinos had been donated to Mr Mike de Kock and other members of SARGBH;
- The Department should provide the details of the relevant experiences, qualifications and expertise of the BEEE partners involved as well as how the shareholding of SARGBH was done, the criteria for donation and the veterinary report used to make donations.
- The Department was asked about the identity of the Chairperson of SARGBH, as the relevant annexure carried the signature of an unidentified person.
- What other aspects of transformation were taking place, apart from the donation of animals? Did the donations take place on only one farm or were there other farms? The Committee also wanted to know whether training was provided to the BEEE partners and whether the donations were a profit-sharing initiative. The Department was also asked to point out the benefits that it would receive in the later years from the donations effected.
- The Department did not advertise for this contract, meaning that the project favoured a particular group and did not take transformation issues into account, for example, only males benefited; there were no indications that women and youth as well as the marginalised in our society (e.g., the disabled) benefited. Females, youth and the marginalised people should have benefited from the donated game species, considering that the animals in question were a public asset. It is in this regard that the Committee wanted to know the criteria used by the Department to determine game donation to the concerned beneficiaries.
- The Committee wanted to know the size of the farms that received the game donations, and the kind of animals that SARGBH had on its farm before receiving donations and whether the Department could account for each of the animals donated in order to ascertain whether the game donations were not used to enrich a few individuals.
- What was the status of the animals donated so far? The Committee was informed that some of the donated animals died during the translocation and whether the animals donated to private farms would ever be returned to the Department.
- Questions were raised about the capacity of the Department to stock the animals donated, in addition to whether the Game Donation Policy clarified the number and value of game species that could be donated in a single project.
- Did the Department have any framework for donations and was this framework followed in the game donation process?
- Did the Department have the capacity to check if the desired private farm had a suitable habitat to nurture the donated game? Had they received other requests for game donations at the time SARGBH made its request, and could they presently donate game to other parties who make such requests now?
- The Committee wondered whether SARGBH farms were predominantly white-owned private game farms or some of the BEEE/transformation partners also owned game farms.
- The Committee asked for the reasons that led the Department to change the date of the signed agreement from August to February 2016 and whether the agreement should be disregarded, as the Department’s presentation and the signed agreement showed contradicting figures of game donations. There was also a serious concern about the Department’s presentation, which stated that SARGBH had 2 000 hectares of land to stock the donated animals. This was likely to cause overstocking, particularly as Annexure One indicated that SARGBH had received double the number of animals that it originally had on its farm.
- An explanation was sought on the timelines for the signing of the donation agreement, as the Department received the proposal on 6th November 2014, and the EXCO shortly approved the SARGBA proposal on 25th March 2015. The Committee wondered whether the process of approving the SARGBH proposal followed due diligence, as certain crucial determinations by the Department (and hence the North West Parks Board) needed to be concluded prior to the approval of the proposal, and also noting the long December break in-between.
- Responses by the North West Provincial Government Department
- The Department responded that it had a regulatory monitoring plan that was used to monitor the project’s strategic objectives, which ranged from institutional governance issues, regulatory compliance matters, breeding success and health of the animals, financial costs incurred and transformation empowerment. In addition, the Department had a tool that monitored the animals and the timeframes (six months or one year), had an indicator for genetic purity and strength, signs of disease, births recorded and signs of stress.
- The Department requested the Committee to allow it to submit a written response with the figures on mortality during the movement of animals.
- The project was a breeding programme, and all the animals selected for breeding in the project were marked and could be identified to provide population figures of animals on site (e.g., on the farm). It was stated further that the Department had facilities within the country to check habitat suitability, whereas it relied on checks made by the receiving country (in case of foreign destinations) and a team of South African scientists would often visit such foreign countries to authenticate the information submitted on habitat suitability.
- There was a follow-up question on the habitat suitability report and whether it covered the issue of overcrowding that was raised earlier?
- It was responded that a breeding facility did not rely on natural feeding, but a lot of artificial feeding would be used to supplement the feeding during the breeding programme.
- The Department noted that it had not responded adequately to the question, which dealt with the number of animals taken into each farm and the number of animals present on the farm initially (at the time of donations), and hence undertook to submit a written response.
- The Committee stressed that it was following the line of response from the Department on the question of overcrowding, taking into account the number of animals the receiving farms had initially and following the number of animals donated by the Department. Consequently, the Department indicated that the habitat was looked at on the basis of supplementary intensive feeding, not the size of the farm. Notwithstanding, the Department’s response did not answer the core question on habitat suitability of the receiving farm. This prompted the Committee to ask for a further clarity.
- In clarifying the issue, the Department stated that Annexure 16 addressed the matter of habitat suitability of the receiving farms, and not the provincial farms. It referred to a Table within the Annexure that described the size of different private farms used for breeding of different species. However, the Committee noted that the habitat suitability presented in Annexure 16 was not for any of the receiving farms.
- The Department acknowledged that it had not followed ethical principles or considerations in moving game from the provincial nature reserves to zoos in the past, and had learnt a valuable lesson in the process. It was reported that the Department was committed to making improvements on ethical procedures, noting that game donation initiatives had not come with any monitoring requirements in the past, and hence game donations had not added value to the North West Parks Board (NWPB). The Department indicated that the quantum leap in game donations identified in the SARGBH Project was a partnership between NWPB and SARGBH, and this step had been undertaken to improve the population of game species owned by NWPB by making a significant investment. A particular reference was made to section 4.6 of the contract agreement, which reads as follows: “On expiration of this agreement half the initial breeding stock of each of species donated shall be returned to NWPB or be donated to other BEE beneficiaries at the discretion of NWPB, based on the game donation policy”.
- It was affirmed by the Department that no immediate game donation could be made to any applicant, taking into account the quantum leap in game donation by NWPB to SARGBH. However, for future donations, section 4.6 of the contract agreement has empowered NWPB to donate game to other farms because the initial stock would be evaluated after five years and the 50-per cent stock returned could be donated to other farms.
- The Department asserted that NWPB was not interested in returning game that had been intensively bred back to the wild because this game would become vulnerable to predators. As a result, all intensively bred games would be used in future empowerment projects, and SARGBH would become an important partner in such projects. The Department further stated that no rhinos were removed from the wild in the recent SARGBH donation.
- Regarding the contradiction in the dates, the contract was signed retrospectively in 2015 because the new Board had been going through a process of adjustment, necessitated by the fact that the Department had gone through a major reformation that led to the repealing of the North West Parks and Tourism Board (NWPTB), resulting in the establishment of two new entities, namely, the North West Parks Board (NWPB) and the North West Tourism Board (NWTB). The discussion on the agreement had taken place under the NWPTB, but when the MEC had appointed the new Board, the successors had gone through a new process and had decided to continue with the contract based on the date that they had signed the contract with the parties concerned.
- The Committee were of the view that a successor did not need to sign any other agreement, except to nullify the former agreement, so there was no need to backdate the signing date from 2016 to 2015. In this regard, the Department held that the entity was undergoing transition, but recalled that on 25 March 2015, the Department already had an EXCO resolution that the project must be implemented based on the conditions stated, although the shareholders had some transitional issues. Because of the commitment to continue with the project, the project had commenced, while planning and implementation continued simultaneously.
- In relation to the legal opinion sought, the NWPB had obtained legal opinion from the internal legal officers, but had not sought external legal opinion. Furthermore, in terms of the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA), the Department was required to adhere to section 54, which concerns the disposal of significant assets. Accordingly, the accounting officer was required to inform the Provincial Treasury, which the accounting officer duly complied with in the matter of animal donations to SARGBH. In fact, the transaction had been interpreted as such by the internal legal team of NWPB.
- With regard to the relevant experience of SARGBH, the beneficiaries had relevant business experience, farming and technical expertise. The Department further noted that different applicants had made requests for game about the same time as SARGBH.
- On the participation of women, youth, disabled individuals and previously disadvantaged people, the Department admitted that NWPB had not fully complied with the BEE equity targets, stressing that white farmers still dominated the agricultural sector and wildlife or game farming industry.
- On whether the Department was satisfied that the transaction had followed government prescripts in terms of PFMA, the Department conceded that it had not fully complied with government prescripts, but they had learnt some useful lessons along the way, including from the engagements with the Portfolio Committee.
- Observations and findings by the Committee
The Portfolio Committee noted the following:
- The Portfolio Committee accepted the apology of the MEC on behalf of the Department for not appearing before it on 1st November 2016, although the Committee did not entirely agree with the explanation provided that an official in her office did not notify her about the request for her to appear before the Committee to account for the SARGBH Project, particularly as the Committee Secretary had confirmed the receipt of the Committee’s request with an official in the MEC’s Office well ahead of the scheduled date for her appearance before the Committee.
- The Committee considered it irrational that the Department recommended emptying some of its parks/reserves of certain species due to poaching threats when they could not ensure the security of those same species in SARGBH facilities. It is unacceptable that the SARGBH Project was being seen as an avenue for the Department to absolve itself of the responsibilities for protecting those species, which was tantamount to ‘not on my hands’ attitude.
- It did not make sense for the Department to argue that the SARGBH donation was done to facilitate transformation when the donation actually benefited the previously advantaged white game farmers, comprising Mr M de Kock, Mr H de Kock, Mr A Boshoff and Mr H du Toit.
- The Department did not comply with the prescripts of PFMA, particularly the Expression of Interest, as stated in the Preferential Procurement Policy Framework Management Act (Act No 5 of 2000). The Act explicitly states what should be done when deviations such as unsolicited bids arise.
- The Committee noted the explanation regarding the use of the old Game Donation Policy by the Department as an attempt to mislead the Committee as both the date for the approval of the policy and the authority that sanctioned the approval of the said Policy were indeterminate, or non-existent.
- The Department’s response on overstocking was flawed because even when breeding animals on an area of 1700 hectares, only 106 animals could be sustainably catered for.
- The numbers of game donated in this transaction were very high and conservation principles were not followed; the retention of only male buffaloes at Molemane Eye Nature Reserve and Borakalalo was against conservation principles.
- There is a mismatch between the date on which the animals were captured for transfer into SARGBH facilities and the date on which the Chairperson of the NWPB approved the project. The Department appeared to be under some form of compulsion from the onset, considering the manner in which the quotas for the animals were determined.
- The MEC conceded that the project had not been carried out with due diligence, and the Department had made some errors. For instance, it had not initiated an ‘expression of interest,’ particularly when it had escalated the number of game donations to SARGBH. The Department further affirmed that it had learnt a useful lesson and was willing to do due diligence on the project, based on the Committee’s advice.
- There does not seem to exist records that the Department advised the EXCO that the old Policy was inconsistent with the NWPB mandate. Notwithstanding, the EXCO’s approval of the SARGBH game donation proposal did not make the transaction right; and the handling of the project did not comply with conservation principles.
- There was a signature supposedly of the Chairperson of SARGBA on an official document without the name of the individual, and neither the Department nor the North West Parks Board raised any concern.
- The massive quantum leap donation of high-value wildlife to SARGBH has effectively prevented the Department and hence the NWPB from donating animals to any new potential beneficiaries, how promising their proposals could be.
- The role played by the MEC is questionable and of great concern indeed as she pushed the numbers of the animals higher up (130 buffaloes, 50 sable antelopes, 50 white rhinos and 15 nyalas), more than the numbers of the wildlife species (50 buffaloes, 20 sable antelopes and 10 nyalas) determined by the then Acting Manager of Ecological Services, Mr Wilfred Seitlhamo.
- That the Department misled the Portfolio Committee and Parliament that the SARGBH donation was sanctioned by a valid Game Donation Policy when the Department was aware that it had not formally adopted a policy in this regard.
- Committee Resolutions
The Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs having deliberated on the donations of high-value wildlife species to private individuals by the North West Provincial Government Department of Rural, Environmental and Agricultural Development (i.e. the Department), resolves as follows:
- That there is prima facie evidence that North West Department of Rural, Environment and Agricultural Development (READ) did not handle the donations of the high-value wildlife animals in accordance with the requirements of the PFMA and thus the Committee directs the MEC and the Department of READ to reverse the SARGBH donation project with immediate effect and to ensure that no further donation to SARGBH take place;
- The relevant authorities need to be consulted on the vulnerability of the animals which have been removed from the natural, wild habitat for breeding and the need to find them suitable habitat within the provincial reserves;
- The prima facie anomalies are severe enough to warrant that the Auditor General and National Treasury must take necessary steps in terms of the PFMA to investigate the SARGBH game donation project for possible financial irregularities, which investigation could result in a finding –
- That the costs of the reversal of the SARGBH project be recovered from the MEC, the Accounting Officer or any persons or entity that might have contributed in these transaction or that may inappropriately have benefited.
- That the Auditor General and the National Treasury should report back to the Committee on all actions taken with regard to recommended PFMA informed measures within the next three (3) months;
- That the National Department of Environmental Affairs should finalise its Game Donation Policy that is currently underway in the next three months in order to enable orderly transfer and/or donation of public wildlife species from statutorily (National and Provincial) protected areas to communities and private persons/entities throughout the Republic;
- That the Legal Services of Parliament present a legal opinion to the Committee within 30 days of the adoption of this report on the steps that can be taken against any persons who, in accounting to the Committee, appears to have misled the Committee with regard to claims that the SARGBH donations were executed using a valid Game Donation Policy well knowing that the Department had not formally adopted a policy, in this regard;
- That the Committee should seek further guidance on the referral of the wildlife donations in question to the relevant law enforcement agency for further investigation, considering the amount of public funds involved;
- That the Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs, in conjunction with the Select Committee on Land and Mineral Resources in the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) should conduct an oversight visit to the North West province to ensure the implementation of the above resolutions; and
- That the NCOP, through its Select Committee on Land and Mineral Resources, be requested to assist in the monitoring of the implementation of the above resolutions, including requesting regular reports and taking whatever appropriate actions, in conjunction with the Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs.
Overall, both the conception and implementation of the game donation project was not properly done despite the high value of the wildlife species involved in that transaction. These two processes appeared to have been hurried for some reasons unknown to the Committee. Of much concern was the inability of the North West Provincial Department of Rural, Environmental and Agricultural Development to halt the donations of wildlife at a time when the public media and even the North West Provincial Legislature’s Portfolio Committee on Tourism and Rural Environment and Agricultural Development became concerned about the execution of the project. Worse still, after having identified several anomalies with the relevant policy that was supposed to underpin the conception and implementation of the project; the lack of strict adherence to the PFMA requirements and associated legislation; and obvious disregard of good conservation principles during the two engagements with the MEC and her Department, there was no conclusive assurance that further transfer of wildlife would be stopped. It would therefore be appropriate for the Committee to determine the rationale that underpins this game donation project. It is important to note that although 50 per cent of the animals involved in the project would revert back to the NWPB seemingly after five years, those animals would never be wild as at the start of their transfer to the SARGBH. It is therefore logical for the Committee to seek legal advice, with the aim of referring this matter to law enforcement agencies for further investigation to establish criminal liability where necessary, based on the value of the wildlife species involved.
Report to be considered.
 South African Government (2015) North West Legislature seeks more clarity on donations of wild life [Internet]. Available from <http://www.gov.za/speeches/north-west-legislature%E2%80%99s-committee-agriculture-seek-more-clarity-donations-wild-life-25-oct> (Accessed on 19th July 2017).
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