18 May 2016
Note to Editors: The following debate was delivered by DA Alternate Spokesperson on Environment & Nature Conservation, Melinda Hattingh (MPL), during a sitting of the Northern Cape Provincial Legislature in Kimberley today.
Members of the House
It is largely agreed that climate change is the most urgent issue affecting the whole planet right now. In fact, climate change has been described as the defining human development issue of our generation and there exists an urgent need to mitigate its effects.
The DA welcomes the eventual movement on the Climate Risk and Vulnerability Assessment that is to inform the review of the department’s Climate Change Response Strategy. This strategy is long overdue.
However, even once the strategy is finally in place, it will have a limited impact. This is because of a funding shortfall for adaptation mechanisms and projects to deal with the impacts of climate change on community, industry and agriculture.
The ultimate cause of this significant funding shortfall is more about a lack of political will to put the environment first, than it is about financial mismanagement within this department, which last year received its second clean audit.
By making the provincial environment department a standalone institution, the ANC government has in effect short changed the environment. This is because the money wasted on facilitating an additional ministry and an additional administration unit, increasingly eats into the budget intended for environmental programmes.
For example, the almost R9 million which funds operations of the MEC’s office could be better used towards the appointment of specialist staff or funding of long term research to enable sound scientific decision making or even conducting the outstanding review of the “Northern Cape State of Environment Outlook”.
Hon. Speaker, so serious is this department’s current financial state that there is currently no budget available for any maintenance at the department’s five provincial parks. This means that anything that breaks cannot be fixed or replaced. Neither is there sufficient money for equipment and appliances for chalets, audio equipment, laundry equipment, transport vehicles and personnel for facility management.
We are told that Provincial Treasury intends working with the department to intensively look at improving conditions of the reserves so that they can be better marketed to enhance provincial revenue collections. But there are no concrete plans in this regard.
This is somewhat ironic, given that these very reserves recently received infrastructure upgrades to the value of R174 million. Once again, this administration has put the cart before the horse.
Only ten days ago, the carcass of the sixth poached rhino in the province was discovered. Yet still the department has made no effort to reprioritize funding towards rhino safety.
This is in spite of the department stating in its strategic plan that it is of the utmost importance that Provincial Nature Reserves are properly protected due to the substantial increase in rhino poaching and the stealing of scarce game.
It is clear that, under the current dispensation, the province has neither the financial nor human resources to adequately perform its conservation functions.
This has resulted in a very, very serious predicament for the Northern Cape indeed.
If our provincial nature reserves and biodiversity are not properly managed, the province runs the risk of having its mandate to manage protected areas terminated in terms of the National Environment Management: Protected Areas Act no. 57 of 2003.
Perhaps it is time that this department starts focusing less on job creation and more on the environment and nature conservation.
I say this against the backdrop that the department is spending almost as much money on job creation initiatives, as what it is spending on its core mandates of compliance and enforcement, as well as environmental quality management.
It is most definitely not this department’s main function to create as many green jobs as possible. Instead, the department is charged with leading a well managed transition to an “environmentally sustainable low carbon economy”.
In other words, the department needs to get existing sectors to develop greener alternatives. This is important because a prosperous and thriving green economy will generate the investment, innovation, skills and entrepreneurship needed to transform current products and services, ultimately developing cleaner technologies.
This will be far more impactful and sustainable than simply creating a few green jobs here and there that are ultimately funded by the almost bankrupt state.
In talking about cleaning up the environment, allow me also highlight my concerns regarding the department’s response to the issue of asbestos contamination of the Northern Cape environment.
Last year, during the department’s Budget Vote, the MEC indicated that special attention will be given to the asbestos crisis and that the department will establish a provincial task team to coordinate the remediation of secondary pollution. The MEC also said that with the assistance of the National Department of Environmental Affairs, a project was to be launched to remediate five hectares of land which was at the time still to be identified. The asbestos issue then went quiet.
Now we have again heard from the department that a business plan has been submitted to Treasury and the National Department of Environmental Affairs because they need R10 million a year for not less than 10 years to address the asbestos issue.
I am concerned that, like so many other programmes within this department, asbestos remediation will remain nothing more than pipedream. I sincerely hope that I am wrong.
In closing, I would like to welcome the progress made by the department in terms of the transformation of the wildlife industry in the province regarding the three games farms that it intends registering this financial year.
Redress in this sector is undeniably long overdue, as the racial dispossession of the past has left the Northern Cape with skewed patterns of ownership that exclude the majority of South Africans from land assets and rural economies.
In order to prevent the wildlife industry transformation from following in the footsteps of the failed land reform projects, I want to urge the department to ensure that it uses land reform models that have been proven to work.
I also want to remind the department that it should not forget to present its policy on the transformation of the wildlife industry, to the respective legislature committee.
I support this budget vote on condition that my concerns are noted.
Alternate Spokesperson on Environment & Nature Conservation
082 494 6648
Shelley de Wit
082 847 1387