Deputy Speaker, hon Ministers, hon members, a shocking video of a pseudo rhino hunt in North West province was aired last night on television. It appears to show a number of individuals, including Thai national Chumlong Lemthongthai, who was convicted to 40 years in jail last Friday for various wildlife offences, present at the so-called hunt. The individual who was issued the permit, Nimit Wongprajan, did not fire the first shot which is required for a legal hunt. In fact, he did not fire a shot at all. The animal was shot about five times before it succumbed. Thereafter, the pseudo hunter, a coward, posed for photos with the rhino. There was no intention for the horn to be used as a trophy. The intention of all involved was to export that horn on the illegal market.
Pseudo hunts have been a significant problem in South Africa over the last four years. It is evident that regulatory loopholes and lack of enforcement have contributed to the spike in pseudo hunts. The Bill before us will, among other things, empower the Minister and issuing authorities to prescribe more stringent measures for the management of species, including rhinos, and for the management of individuals conducting activities that affect various species.
Currently, there are no provisions in the Biodiversity Act requiring the registration and recognition of professional hunters, outfitters and trainers. The Bill before us gives the Minister a legal mandate to prescribe a system for the registration and recognition of the professional hunters and other players in the hunting industry.
An excellent new amendment we present in this Bill today is a legal mandate for the issuing authority of licences and permits to defer a decision to issue a permit if the applicant is under investigation for contravening the Biodiversity Act in relation to a similar restricted activity.
Take, for example, the case of Dawie Groenewald, who faces over 1 700 charges for, among other things, racketeering, money laundering and dealing in rhino horn. He was, after being arrested, able to apply for new permits. The magistrate did initially prevent certain activities, but the period expired and the issuing authority did not have any legal basis on which not to issue new permits upon application, despite the investigation not having been concluded. The amendment in this Bill would prevent a similar situation in the future.
With the intention of improving our country's credibility and reputation at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, Cites, this Bill provides the scientific authority, already provided for under the existing Biodiversity Act, with a legal mandate to assist the department with the scientific work regarding the regulation of species to which an international agreement on international trade is applicable. If this country is to pursue an application for the trade in rhino horn in the future, this scientific authority will aid in improving the standing of South Africa at Cites.
During the processing of this Bill the department tried to sneak in new amendments on marine biodiversity, in particular empowering provisions intended to allow the Minister to regulate boat-based whale watching and white shark cage diving under the Biodiversity Act. I expressed various concerns about these inclusions. Firstly, these issues are currently regulated under the Marine Living Resources Act. That Act has been split by presidential proclamation, whereby the Minister of Environmental Affairs and the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries each have responsibilities under the Act. While the Ministers will argue there is no confusion over who is responsible for what, there are legal uncertainties. It would not have been good lawmaking to amend the Bill before us, while not simultaneously amending or repealing parts of the Marine Living Resources Act, MLRA.
Secondly, and linked to the prior point, the issue of regulatory authority is a matter before the court. These matters should be finalised in court before we amend legislation. I was therefore happy that my colleagues on the committee agreed to remove the proposed amendments. I have no problem with us revisiting these amendments in the future, but the department needs to be thorough with its drafting and there needs to be public consultation on these particular amendments.
In conclusion, let me express my anger that charges against five of the co- accused of Lemthongthai were withdrawn by the National Prosecution Authority, NPA. The video which I referenced at the start of my input today appears to show the involvement of the co-accused in a pseudo hunt, and by pseudo I mean illegal. I urge the NPA to revisit its decision and to reinstitute charges. Of course, we should celebrate the stiff sentence handed down by the court to Lemthongthai, but the illegal trade in rhino horn involves a number of different people at different stages of the chain. The NPA should therefore prosecute the co-accused and send the signal that no one shall be spared in the complex network of illegal trade in rhino horn.
As we pass this Bill, the executive's job is to implement it. This Bill will close a number of loopholes in wildlife management. What we require, though, is for officials in government, whether national or provincial, to act ethically. Legislation and regulations can easily be subverted if officials who provide permits for hunting, for example, do not implement the law correctly.
It is shocking that in the North West, where the video I referenced was filmed, not a single official has been held to account for the large number of permits for pseudo hunts that were issued. With this in mind, I wrote to the Public Protector on Friday and requested an investigation into the processing of permits in that province in 2010 and 2011 by the North West Department of Economic Development, Environment, Conservation and Tourism.
Everyone knows there is a problem in that provincial department. The national department even approached that department to suggest an intervention by national government. The provincial department declined. I suspect too many people in that department have too much to hide. The DA supports the passing of the National Environmental Management Laws First Amendment Bill today and hopes it will, among other things, contribute to reducing wildlife crimes in South Africa. I thank you. [Applause.]