ATC210511: Report of the Portfolio Committee on Environment, Forestry and Fisheries on an Oversight Visit To Kwazulu-Natal Province from 03 To 05 February 2021, Dated 11 May 2021

Environment, Forestry and Fisheries

Report of the Portfolio Committee on Environment, Forestry and Fisheries on an Oversight Visit To Kwazulu-Natal Province from 03 To 05 February 2021, Dated 11 May 2021

 

The Portfolio Committee on Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (hereinafter, the Committee), having conducted an oversight visit to KwaZulu-Natal Province, from 3 to 5 February 2021, reports as follows:

1.         Introduction

The Committee conducted an oversight visit to KwaZulu-Natal Province (KZN) in relation to the iSimangaliso Wetland Park in the Richards Bay and the Engen Refinery (Refinery) in Durban. The focus of the oversight was to oversee and gain insights into:

  • The aim of the visit to the iSimangaliso Wetland Park was to determine the impact brought about by the separation of the uMfolozi River from the St Lucia Estuary for a number of years, which resulted in imbalance in the estuarine ecosystem and compromised stakeholder relations. Secondly, the aim was to assess how the current opening of the mouth was bringing about positive restoration to both the estuarine ecosystem and stakeholder relations;
  • In relation to the Refinery, the visit was about determining progress in relation to the fire incident, which happened in December 2020, follow up on commitments made by the Refinery during an urgent meeting convened by the Committee after the incident as well as stakeholder engagement, including surrounding affected community.

 

2.         Terms of reference

The oversight activities of the Committee were informed by provisions of section 56 and section 24 of the Constitution. Section 56 of the Constitution provides that “The National Assembly or any of its committees may - (a) summon any person to appear before it to give evidence on oath or affirmation, or to produce documents; (b) require any person or institution to report to it; and (c) receive petitions, representations or submissions from any interested persons or institutions.” Section 24 of the Constitution which provides everyone with rights “to an environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being” was what also compelled the Committee to undertake the oversight visit to the identified areas.

The Committee adopted an oversight schedule that entailed briefing sessions with the institutions, site visits and stakeholder engagements.

 

3.         Objectives of the oversight visit to KwaZulu-Natal

The oversight visit to KZN specifically sought to:

3.1        Evaluate the current situation at the iSimangaliso Wetland Park after the opening of the river mouth flowing to the St Lucia Estuary;

3.2        Evaluate progress in the improvement of Park-Stakeholder relations, especially with surrounding communities after the opening of the river mouth;

3.3        Engage with the Refinery management about the fire incident and progress in relation to investigations of the incident; and

3.4        Engage with stakeholders surrounding the Refinery about challenges experienced, including those related to the fire incident.

 

4.         Composition of the Delegation

The Portfolio Committee delegation on the oversight visit to KZN was composed of the following members of Parliament (MPs) and support staff:

Hon Mr Xasa, FD: Chairperson, (MP), African National Congress (ANC)

Hon Mr Modise, PMP, (MP), ANC

Hon Ms Mchunu, TBV, (MP), ANC

Hon Ms Mbatha, SGN, (MP), ANC,

Hon Ms Gantsho, N, (MP), ANC

Hon Mr Holomisa, BH, (MP), United Democratic Movement (UDM)

Hon Mr Paulsen, MN, (MP), Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF)

Hon Mr Bryant, DW, (MP), Democratic Alliance (DA)

Ms Phillips, C, (MP), DA

Mr PP Mbele, Committee Secretary

Mr G Mankay, Committee Assistant

Ms T Mpapela, Content Adviser

Mr Nhlanhla Ginindza, Researcher

 

5.         COMMITTEE OVERSIGHT FINDINGS

5.1        iSimangaliso Wetland Park Authority

On 04 February 2021, the Committee visited the iSimangaliso Wetland Park (Park). The Chairperson of the Board, in her welcoming address, assured the Committee of the commitment in successfully executing the Park’s three-fold mandate of ensuring conservation of biodiversity, sustainable eco-tourism and community benefit.

The CEO of the Park, Mr Sibusiso Bukhosini briefed the Committee about the background information which had led to the separation of the uMfolozi River from the St Lucia Estuary and the negative impact thereof on the estuarine ecosystem. He also talked about the projects undertaken to restore the estuarine ecosystem which included the decision to open the river mouth, as well as the positive impact of this on the St Lucia Estuary.

 

The CEO also briefed the Committee about stakeholder relations, particularly between the Park and surrounding communities, and how developmental projects undertaken by the Park, which benefit the local communities, have led to improved relations with stakeholders. The CEO further addressed other challenges facing the Park, including ageing infrastructure which has led to reduction in revenue collection.

5.2        Engagement with stakeholders

The Chairperson of the Committee gave an opportunity to available community representatives to make observations, and all the present stakeholders which ranged from small fishers’ representatives to local community members, all confirmed improved relations with the Park and appreciated the opening of the river mouth.

 

5.3        Site visit to St Lucia Estuary

After the presentations, the Committee visited the St Lucia Estuary to see the exact point of the river mouth. The Committee was also shown where the sand was dumped during the operation of opening the river mouth, as well as clogged mud which is now a challenge facing the Estuary. The Committee was also briefed about crocodiles in the Estuary which came from the Zambesi River as well as multiple fish species.

5.4        Site visit to the Crocodile Centre

The Committee proceeded to the St Lucia crocodile centre which houses different crocodiles and other reptiles, including one crocodile from Botswana which hauled three people from there. The Committee was briefed about the need for breeding crocodiles to balance their population. Members identified areas within the Centre which must be renovated urgently, and whether such renovations will not have a negative impact on tourists visiting the Centre.

 

5.5        Boat ride to St Lucia Wetland

The Committee took a boat ride to St Lucia Wetland to see the restoration of the ecosystem, which was out of balance, and now improving with the opening of the river mouth. The Committee was able to see a crocodile and a bloat of hippopotamus during the ride.

 

5.6        Committee observations

In response to the presentation by the CEO of the Park, members of the Committee made the following observations:

5.6.1     Members appreciated the improved relations between the Park and surrounding communities and further encouraged the Board and Management to ensure that communities benefit from all Park activities.

5.6.2     Members advised the Park to augment its funds by seeking additional funding from available global environmental funds and local funders like DBSA.

5.6.3     Members were concerned about what they termed “parasitic relation” between the Park and the Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, wherein Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife employees are assisting the Park, while Ezemvelo is heavily indebted and in financial difficulties.

5.6.4     Members, while appreciating the efforts of the Park, were concerned about the unqualified audit outcome with findings that the Wetland Park Authority obtained, and implored the Park to work towards clean audit outcomes.

 

5.7        Engen Refinery

The Committee, on 05 February 2021 visited Engen Refinery in Durban. In outlining the purpose of the visit, the Chairperson referred to previous engagement with the Refinery in December 2020 after the fire incident. The CEO of the Refinery recapped on the presentations done to the Committee on 08 December 2020, and further gave a briefing on the status of investigations and the shutting down of the units to ensure safety of the Refinery. The CEO, while conveying the Refinery’s commitment to prevent future occurrences, also addressed the issue of improving stakeholder relations with surrounding communities and addressing community complaints regarding air pollution and the fire incident. The CEO also detailed a list of corporate social investment initiatives by the Refinery aimed at making a difference in the surrounding communities.

 

5.7.1     Bus tour around the site of the fire incident

The Committee was taken on a bus tour around the Refinery and the point of the fire incident to see the extent of damage.

 

5.7.2     Engagement with stakeholders and community representatives

After the bus tour, the Committee proceeded to engage with stakeholders at Fairvale High School. The idea of engaging with stakeholders was to gauge relations between them and the Refinery, and address other challenges experienced by stakeholders. The Chairperson of the Committee started the meeting by briefing the stakeholders about the outcomes of the earlier session with the Refinery management and what transpired. Thereafter, stakeholders were given an opportunity to address the Committee and the following issues were raised:

 

5.7.2.1  Stakeholders voiced their appreciation to the Committee about making time to engage and interact with the community and conveyed a wish that the Refinery could also show such commitment to engage with stakeholders. Stakeholders also vowed to shut down the Refinery if their issues are not addressed as a matter of urgency and within acceptable timelines.

5.7.2.2  Stakeholders voiced their dissatisfaction with unresponsiveness of local government departments about addressing non-compliance with environmental safety protocols by the Refinery. Community representatives reported of identified pollution hotspots around the Refinery, and the failure of responsible government departments to address the matter with the Refinery even after being made aware by local environmental activists, which has contributed to negative relations with local government departments.

5.7.2.3  Stakeholders informed the Committee about hazardous chemicals, which are being emitted by the Refinery, leading to prevalence of ill-health issues as the majority of community members are suffering from asthma, cancer, and other health issues, as well as death of fish and birds in the nearby Nature Reserve. Community representatives also reported about constant high levels of noise pollution from Refinery trucks.

5.7.2.4  Stakeholders felt that the Refinery is law unto itself, and always hide under their National Key Point Status when evading engaging with communities.

5.7.2.5  Stakeholders also informed the Committee that the fire incident caused an enormous physical and psychological harm to the surrounding communities, and that a small child was severely burnt in one of the damaged apartments during the incident. Stakeholders voiced their dissatisfaction with the way the Refinery handled the matter of residents at Block 10 whose houses were damaged during the fire incident. Stakeholders reported being aggrieved by lack of communication and engagement by the Refinery after the incident.

5.7.2.6  Stakeholders expressed their anger regarding accusations by the Refinery that the communities wanted to institute legal suits against the Refinery.

5.7.2.7  Stakeholders informed the Committee that the presence of the Refinery in their community does not benefit the community as neither the local qualified community members are employed due to use of labour brokers by the Refinery, nor local community businesses are given any opportunity to provide services at the Refinery. Stakeholders were also of the view that incidents within the Refinery are due to employment of unqualified personnel from outside the surrounding communities.

5.7.2.8  Stakeholders requested the Committee, to compel the Engen Refinery to take heed of community needs, engage directly with communities, be held accountable for psychological trauma caused by the fire incident, and must arrange for psychological counselling for the community affected by the fire incident, which they hoped would also be a precursor to improved relations.

 

5.8        Committee observations

5.8.1     Engen (and the Refinery)

5.8.1.1  Members were concerned about the preliminary report providing that the fire incident was due to failure of a vendor supplied equipment, as they felt the Refinery was absolving itself from blame and as such wanted more information about the vendor and current contract obligations with the vendor.

5.8.1.2  Members were concerned about reports from environmental activists who were of the view that the Refinery did not adhere to regular maintenance protocols for its machinery and equipment.

5.8.1.3  Members voiced concern about lack of good relations between stakeholders and the Refinery or the Engen.

5.8.1.4  Members felt that the Refinery was not concerned about physical and psychological trauma suffered by the surrounding community because of the fire incident, as the

5.8.1.5  Members were also concerned about the disparity between the report by the Refinery and the stakeholders report.

6.         RECOMMENDATIONS

Having interacted with the iSimangaliso Wetland Park Authority and the adjacent communities to the Park; having also interacted with the Management of Engen and the Refinery in the South Durban Basin on the massive explosion at the Refinery; and having further engaged the stakeholders and affected community members, the Committee recommends as follows:

 

6.1        iSimangaliso Wetland Park Authority

6.1.1     Members requested more information on the funding of the restoration project tasked to open the mouth, as well as details of scientists who were part of the project.

6.1.2     Members requested clarity about funds spent on development and refurbishment of offices instead of redirecting those funds towards other programmes within the Park.

6.1.3     Members requested information about employment equity targets of the Park, as they were concerned about the low number of persons with disabilities benefitting from the Park’s economic activities.

6.1.4     The Committee requests the iSimangaliso Wetland Park Authority to provide it with a copy of the agreement that it signed with the Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife for the Committee to satisfy itself with the details of the said agreement.

6.2        Engen (and the Refinery)

6.2.1     Members requested maintenance, inspection and service-related information of all equipment and machinery for six months prior to the fire incident.

6.2.2     Members wanted to be provided with timelines for completion of investigation with regards to the fire incident.

6.2.3     Members also requested to be briefed about an incident which occurred on 03 December 2020, a day before the fire incident, where it was reported that there was a low power (dip) on that day.

6.2.4     Members wanted to know whether any employee was injured on the day of the fire incident.

6.2.5     Members wanted commitment for long-term plans to ensure safety of both the employees and the surrounding communities.

6.3        Community and Stakeholders around the Refinery

6.3.1     Community representatives should contact local government authorities about the 30 per cent preferential benefit for local suppliers and request that the Refinery be compelled to adhere to stipulated community benefit-sharing arrangements.

6.3.2     Members advised the community representatives to contact both the provincial and national departments responsible for environmental affairs to address air pollution issues at the Refinery. They should keep proper records of such interaction for future reference.

6.3.3     Members advised the community to write to the National Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, and send a copy to the Committee about their issues with the Refinery.

 

Report to be considered.

 

 

 

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