by Ismail Obaray MPL – DA Spokesperson of Environment & Nature Conservation
Date: 27 June 2017
Note to editors: The following speech was delivered in the Northern Cape Provincial Legislature today by the Democratic Alliance’s Provincial Spokesperson on Environment and Nature Conservation, Ismail Obaray MPL, during the debate on the budget of the Northern Cape Department of Environment and Nature Conservation.
The budget allocation for the Northern Cape Department of Environment and Nature Conservation remains very disappointing. This department continues to receive less than one percent of the total provincial budget.
The fact that the former MEC of this department has since become the Premier of this province has meant nothing for the improved protection and conservation of our natural heritage. This is despite our hopes that the Hon. Lucas would, as the leader of this province, put up a fight to either increase Environment’s share of the budget allocation or have this department amalgamated with a bigger department, like Tourism for example, in order to maximize limited resources and increase efficiencies.
Hon. Speaker, in other provinces, Environment & Nature Conservation is not left out in the cold as a standalone department, so why is this the case in the Northern Cape?
By making the under-resourced Department of Environment & Nature Conservation fend for itself, the provincial government has in effect short changed the environment. Money wasted on duplications of administration functions could be better spent on the climate change response strategy or on facilitating the transformation of the wildlife industry.
Hon. Speaker, the continued sidelining of this department is leading to increased levels of despondency from once-enthusiastic environment officials.
And in effect, provincial government’s obvious lack of commitment towards our environment has filtered down into the administration, culminating in a tragic lack of ownership of our natural resources.
The internationally renowned flamingos of Kamfers dam are a case in point – they have become little more than a joke to this department.
These majestic pink birds are phenomenal creatures, with significant tourism potential, yet it is as if they are being discriminated against as a symbolic relic of our apartheid past.
Hon. Speaker, a paradigm shift within both the provincial government and this department is urgently required if “life as we know it” is to be sustained.
Our environment, and all its precious and innocent creatures, black, white, brown, grey and even pink, are in danger and should all receive equal protection.
More needs to be done to extend our protected areas and more needs to be done to increase conservation of these areas.
This brings me to my concerns regarding the management of our provincial nature reserves.
Hon. Speaker, targets for both day and overnight visitors to our reserves have progressively decreased.
The department says it is merely trying to be more realistic in its projections. But in reality, the department simply does not have the funds to maintain reserve facilities.
This means that the recent multimillion upgrades to our resorts may, in the next couple of years, become null and void if this matter is not urgently addressed.
This department previously indicated that Treasury was not in favour of the department establishing a trading entity to manage its five resorts due to the general poor performance of state-owned entities across the country. Yet, this department has still failed to come up with an alternative proposal. And in the meantime, our brand new reserve facilities are slowly going to wrack and ruin.
Hon. Speaker, this department seems to be unwilling to consider joining up with strategic partners to ensure the effective and profitable management of our reserves. And in turn, mergers are put on ice. Yet, in the same breath, the department is willing to engage strategic partners to take over guardianship of the state’s last living rhinos in the Northern Cape.
The DA cannot help but wonder why this is?
Is this perhaps because of land and hunting related negotiations between the Northern Cape government and Zupta allies at the expense of arrangements that could benefit our own people?
We can only wonder.
Hon. Speaker, the transformation of the wildlife industry in the Northern Cape remains long overdue and must be achieved for the benefit of previously disadvantaged individuals, especially those who have occupied labourer jobs on game farms.
In this regard, I want to raise my concerns with the department’s sudden about turn on targeted beneficiaries.
The HOD of this Department previously indicated that attempts to transform the wildlife industry in as far back as 2007 saw the department assist 14 Communal Property Associations with fencing, infrastructure and game. However, all 14 of those projects collapsed due to infighting within CPAs, as well as theft.
The department subsequently decided that instead of looking at developing whole communities, it would take a different approach and rather look at empowering individuals.
Now, however, the department has again changed its tune and presented the oversight committee with a list of CPA’s to be assisted in this regard.
Hon. Speaker, it is clear that this department doesn’t really have a clear strategy on how to embark on the process of transformation and hence, is more susceptible to political agendas than it is to well-developed plans.
The transformation of the wildlife industry is not a “quick fix” towards much needed change. It is a process and must be implemented as such.
It also needs to be implemented as a joint project, in conjunction with Environment, Agriculture and Land Reform. Working in silos will only serve to further hinder transformation, especially when considering that this meagerly funded department has a shortfall of R9,8 million per year for skills development for the transformation programme.
Last but not least, this department needs to incorporate specific indicators pertaining to the Transformation of the Wildlife Industry into its APP. Until then, such transformation will remain nothing more than a pipedream.
In closing, Hon. Speaker, the DA wishes to state that while we do have concerns regarding a lack strategic planning within this department, we do acknowledge that this department is trying hard under very difficult circumstances.
The DA cannot, however, support a budget which is made up of the crumbs of the provincial allocation, and which does not do justice to our environment.
This, Hon. Speaker, is no mistake of this under-resourced and under-capacitated department, but is rather the fault of the greater provincial government which, year after year, fails to prioritize the protection and conservation of our natural resources.
Until such time as a more bold and focused stance is taken by the Northern Cape towards matters of the environment, the DA will not support this budget vote.
Ismail Obaray MPL
DA Spokesperson of Environment & Nature Conservation
082 380 2128
Shelley De Witt
082 847 1387