Environment & Conservation Budget vote

Patricia O’Neill-Coutts MPL

Northern Cape Provincial Legislature

Hon. Speaker, Hon. Premier, Hon. MEC’s, Hon. Members, Guests in the gallery

The Northern Cape Department of Environment and Conservation is performing better than most provincial departments when it comes to financial management. This department received an unqualified audit report with matters in the past financial year. This department has also not shied away from Auditor-General and committee recommendations. In this respect, we acknowledge your dedication towards achieving sound financial management.

We cannot, however, ignore the fact that 47% of targets were not met in the past financial year. The Auditor-General stated that the achievement of certain targets was influenced by external factors, not within the control of the department. In this regard, we understand the challenges of this department. But, no matter the rhyme or reason, the Democratic Alliance cannot tolerate a situation whereby responsibilities towards protecting and conserving our environment, are forsaken.

Hon. Speaker, the DA believes that at least two key matters relating to this department, require attention.

Firstly, is the matter of the high wage bill. As much as 71% of this department’s budget is spent on personnel expenditure. This is in spite of the fact that the department still has an extremely high vacancy rate of 59%. In light of this predicament, we propose that the department again reviews its organogram. This department cannot bear the costs of a top heavy structure, nor can it afford to accommodate even one unnecessary post. Instead, every single post must be strategic of nature, and translate directly into growing the specialised skills base of this critical department. We implore the department to ensure that, in this regard, you are beyond reproach. This is very important, as you must be able to justify your high wage bill if you intend on lobbying for additional funding.

This brings me to my second point, namely seeing the high wage bill against the backdrop of a low budgetary allocation.

Hon. Speaker, this department continues to receive less than 1% of the provincial allocation, making it the smallest departmental allocation in the province. This department also receives no conditional grants and is burdened with a number of very important unfunded mandates.

Hon. Speaker, budgetary constraints undoubtedly make this department’s job that much harder. But the DA also gets the feeling that this department is too inclined to just sit back and hope for money. And in doing so, it is rescinding its environmental responsibilities due to a false belief that the budget allocation puts certain targets out of reach.

In contrast, the DA agrees with Paul Hawken, who said, “The future belongs to those who understand that doing more with less is compassionate, prosperous, and enduring, and thus more intelligent, even competitive.”

Hon. Speaker, the DA is of the opinion that more innovation and creative thinking could save this department from itself. To this effect, the DA proposes the following:

  1. Firstly, starting with its five newly renovated reserves, which the department itself has admitted it doesn’t have the financial resources to sustain, this department should explore opportunities though which it can enter into Public Private Partnerships.  PPP’s are a way of bringing in private sector expertise, business efficiency and money, at a time when government money and resources are low. Amongst other things, PPP’s can be used for waste management, protected area management and even eco-tourism. Ultimately, they can address service shortcomings and simultaneously maintain the fiscal prudence required to make this department’s limited resources work harder.
  2. Secondly, we would like to propose that a significant percentage of the funding going towards the Northern Cape Department of Economic Development and Tourism, instead be channelled into the Northern Cape ecosystem. Hon. Speaker, approximately R150 million has already been spent on the single mega tourism event, the Maloof Money Cup. This is almost R50 million more than the entire annual budget of the Environment and Conservation Department. The apparent rationale behind this excessive spending is that in years to come, the millions of rands worth of marketing achieved from the Maloof, would benefit tourism in the province. However, the when, the where and the how much of Maloof’s payoffs, remain vague and, in turn, highly questionable. The DA is thus of the opinion that money spent on events such as these, would serve a much more worthy purpose, if it was instead invested in the environment, in turn giving eco-tourism a true chance at succeeding.

We’ve got to be very careful that we don’t try to turn ourselves into a mini-Johannesburg or Cape Town, because we will always be in the class of wanna-be’s and has-been, because we are working against the forces of nature and the natural forces will eventually win.

Hon. Speaker, provincial government needs to hurry up in making important decisions that are in the best interests of protecting our natural world. This is important because the environment not only provides the basis for life but also because it is in fact the basis for economic activity.

In this regard, we urgently need pioneering and financial solutions to guarantee the following:

  1. A number of planning documents must be urgently completed. These include the development of the Provincial Integrated Coastal Management Plan, the Provincial Biodiversity Plan, the Provincial Carbon Reduction Strategy and the Provincial Greenhouse Gas inventory. An updated Northern Cape State of the Environment Outlook Report must also be compiled to reflect on issues of air quality, water quality, biodiversity, and eco-system health, waste management, energy and other related topics. These are important to planning processes because they serve to clarify the causes of environmental change and recommend how best to respond to these changes.
  2. At the same time, the Provincial Climate Change Response Strategy and the Provincial Air Quality Management Plans must be fully implemented. Climate change has the potential to reduce food production and the availability of potable water. At the same time, in the Northern Cape, vulnerable communities reside on land close to pollution sources. The implementation of these strategies is therefore important, as they serve to sustain the health of both our environment and our people.
  3. The provincial government, in collaboration with this department, must set its sights on activating the green economy by preparing and submitting business plans to Provincial Treasury with the intention of unlocking funding for green economy projects. In this regard, the renewable energy strategy must also be finalised. This is the province of sunshine and clear skies and we need to urgently outline possibilities for investment into the locations best suited for harnessing solar power to generate electricity.
  4. Furthermore, at least 10 additional enforcement and compliance officers must be appointed in the department. There have been reports of cattle-rustling routes in the province being used to smuggle wild lions and other predators out of Botswana to supply a growing demand for lion-bone potions in the Far East. Capacitating the department’s enforcement unit is therefore important if the department is to clamp down on the Northern Cape’s role in international animal trafficking, that is threatening to wipe out some of the planet’s most iconic species.  At the same time, the employment of additional enforcement officers has the potential to increase the revenue generated by this department, by way of doubling the number of fines issued.

Hon. Speaker, this department lacks the passion and creativity to deal with its challenges. It also fails to assume ownership of the Northern Cape environment, as can be seen from its silence on serious matters affecting the people of this province, such as asbestos contamination and fracking. At the same time, the environmental sector doesn’t rank highly on the agenda of the Northern Cape government.  Given the above, the DA doesn’t believe that this budget will guarantee the protection and conservation of our environment. As such, the DA cannot accept Budget Vote 12.

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