Environment and Nature Conservation Budget Speech Debate

The following is an extract from the speech delivered
by the DA Provincial Spokesperson on Environment and Nature Conservation in the
Northern Cape, Ismail Obaray, during the Environment and Nature Conservation Budget Vote
Debate today in the Northern Cape Provincial Legislature

SPEECH BY HON. Ismail Obaray (MPL), DA Provincial Spokesperson on Environment and Nature Conservation

DEBATE: Budget Vote 05 May 2015

NORTHERN CAPE PROVINCIAL LEGISLATURE

 

HONOURABLE SPEAKER,

HONOURABLE MEMBERS,

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN

The economy of the Northern Cape and our efforts to create new opportunities for the citizens of this province rely heavily on the sound management of our natural resources for both the current and many generations to come. This province has a lot of untapped unique economic opportunities. The vastness of our provinces, massive sunlight, heat and precious resources spread across the province presents wealth and prosperity right under our door-step. We are rich in minerals, with mining contributing nearly a quarter of the Gross Domestic Project.

 

You look at the prospects of renewable energy, hydropower, prospective projects such as the SKA and the Bloodhound in the Mier area all putting the province on the map and creating massive economic growth. However our environment is under significant pressure that results from a growing economy and a rapidly increasing population, as well as climate change and water scarcity.

 

According to the Environmental Performance Index we are ranked 128th out of 132 countries on the international level. The index notes, which is very concerning, deteriorating air and water quality, biodiversity and the functioning of ecosystems.

 

The importance of the department of Environment and Nature Conservation cannot be emphasized enough as this department plays a pivotal role in ensuring the future.

Environmental issues have a serious cross cutting effect on other departments especially Finance, Agriculture and Tourism. Imagine the Famous Namaqualand flowers that draws thousands of tourists to the area is no more, and the effect it will have on the economy. Or the water resources dry up, what effect it will have on agriculture.

 

This presents a challenge that unless a truly integrated approach to environmental management is entrenched across the provincial and local government spheres it is unlikely there will be any improvement in key environmental measurable including issues such as climate change, fauna and flora and the protection of wild life species.

 

Protection of the environment goes far beyond conservation. The maintenance of environmental quality, most particularly in the reduction of water, air and soil pollution, is critical for human and eco- system health.

The DA has the following concerns and we urge the department to address them as a matter of urgency.

  1. Allocation of financial resources

The total budget allocation of the department is slightly more than R131 million for the 2015/16 financial year from the provincial budget of R14 billion which is just 0.9%. These funds are equivalent to what your sister department (Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development) has allocated just for flood disaster relief. It is imperative that we as a collective in this house stand with this department and engage with Treasury to increase its allocation.

 

Allocating adequate financial resources for environmental management, education and awareness raising is critical in ensuring the success of the environmental policy initiatives of the province.

There is a need for more funding and this will require political will from the leadership of this department and members of this house.

  1. Personnel shortages

Some of the vacant posts require specialist skills, for which a specialist salary must be paid. So the department is currently caught in a paradox where it has an extremely low budget and a serious shortage of skilled professionals.

What effect does this have? In many instances the lack of capacity severely constrains provincial and national mandates to effectively manage the environmental challenges within the province. It is extremely difficult for the department to fulfill its functions and mandate without a full staff complement.  Currently, the department is operating with less than half its requirements.

 

For example in the Compliance and Enforcement unit there is a severe shortage of inspectors and officers and this cannot be accepted. This was evidenced with the slow action that was given to the Blue Crane massacre in Richmond in February this year.

  1. Climate change

The Northern Cape is characterized by a harsh climate with minimal rainfall and prolonged droughts. Our province is arid, our climate is accompanied by high evaporation due to the intense heat of the summer months. To date, for example, the strategic mandate of addressing, managing and mitigating the effects of climate change remains unfunded – even though climate change will certainly have an effect on the province as a whole. How will the department mitigate climate change issues with no funding? It is not enough just to have workshops and briefing session much more is needed.

The DA calls on the MEC to engage national through the MINMEC meetings to set-up conditional grants for Climate Change Management for provinces especially the Northern Cape. Only through the necessary political will and a concerted effort will we meet the mitigation and adaptation targets on climate change.

 

The provincial PCC was established in 2012 by the then MEC Honorable Sylvia Lucas but funding is still a problem to make the unit as well as others such as the Provincial Greenhouse Gas Inventory, the Provincial Carbon Reduction Strategy, the Provincial Integrated Coastal Management Plan and the Provincial Biodiversity Plans fully functional.

 

On Thursday I witnessed how the Sol Plaatje municipality who should be an example to the citizens allowed the burning of hundreds of tyres at the municipal dump causing a thick black smoke hanging in the air and this is a major concern as Kimberley has been identified as one of the highest air pollution cities. Waste management has important consequences for the environment. A sound regulatory environment, supported by adequate enforcement capability, is essential for the proper management of waste.

The department must:

  • Where possible, encourage waste-to-energy projects to use waste as a sustainable energy resource and slow the growth of landfills.
  • Ensure that all landfills are properly licensed and regularly inspected by enforcement officials.
  • Improve capacity at the municipal level to produce and implement local waste management plans.
  • Increase the number of enforcement officials responsible for compliance in the waste management sector across all spheres of government.
  • Ensure that the laws governing the environment and nature conservation is enforced and perpetrators are taken to book.

This department has managed to meet more of its targets than departments with larger allocations and more staff members do. It really has done more with less.

At the DA, we give credit where it is due and we also commit to fighting for a healthier environment not only for our future, but that of many generations to come.