Good afternoon, Chairperson, hon Minister, hon members, director-general and your team, and ladies and gentlemen. I would like to quote from the film, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen:
Fate rarely calls upon us at a time of our choosing.
The budget prioritises South Africa's many needs within the constraints of limited resources. This is obvious. What is not obvious is why our environment is continuously underprioritised by this government. President Zuma said the word "environment" exactly once in his state of the nation address, hon Mthembu, and in reference to a different Ministry.
Our natural infrastructure is the infrastructure upon which our country is built, yet this department is plagued by political doublespeak: talk versus budget.
We welcome Cabinet-approved budget cuts on subsistence and travel, but not the Minister's violation of this by sending a delegation of 18 to Nairobi. Our parliamentary Questions in this regard still remain unanswered.
We encourage all efforts to implement measures to redress the imbalances of the past, and so we are disappointed that negligent political oversight allowed 20 years to pass before general workers in SANParks were included in the medical aid policy, costing the department R155 million this year. Enforcement and compliance are essential responsibilities, but budget cuts have reduced the department's already low strategic target for environmental authorisation inspections from 135 to 115.
A budget to increase the capacity of the department responsible for considering environmental impact assessments is needed. The DA always advocates for lean government administration, but employing and training more people would reduce opportunities for corruption and speed up business development, the perfect enabling environment for job creation.
We call upon the hon Molewa to take her rightful place as the competent authority for mining licences. As a custodian of the environment, it is baffling how she can be junior to the Minister responsible for mining on issues directly affecting the environment.
During and out of committee I have interacted with many of the department's team, and I am encouraged by their competence and genuine commitment to this cause. However, I am not confident that this budget gives them the resources they need to fully deliver on their mandate.
We need to adopt a coherent macro spatial planning approach that considers the carrying capacity of land and clusters of land use. We also need to move toward implementing a natural accounting system. Both strategies would improve environmental planning, guide business planning, and lay a foundation for the transition to a green economy and greener jobs.
We believe that this department has had great success. An example of this is the Working on Fire programme, and we greet those representatives in the gallery today, but more must be done.
Hon Minister, despite the genuine concerns and the efforts to end the slaughter of our rhino and the poaching of their horn, we are losing the war. Moreover, despite hundreds of millions of rands contributed by South Africans, another thousand rhino will be slain this year. The pro- versus anti-trade debate is polarising this country and detracting from what should be our main focus: saving the rhino. It is illegal to trade in rhino horn - qha! [that's it!] No matter what proposals are made for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species in 2016, these do not release us from our responsibility for taking radical action now.
We need to communicate an unambiguous position that South Africa will not tolerate a tacit invasion - a quiet war on our natural resources. Are we not a sovereign, democratic nation founded on the supremacy of the rule of law? Are we not proud of what we have? Or, instead, are we happy to see foreign syndicates overpower our Defence Force, our game rangers and our police? Diplomacy is important, but there is no place for timid acquiescence now. The National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure, Natjoints, is ineffective. It either needs an overhaul, or should be replaced with a more effective structure. We have to share intelligence, formulate a single strategy, and co-ordinate the efforts of all stakeholders if we are going to win the war for the natural kingdom.
The gap between the number of arrests and the number of convictions is too wide and, worryingly, supports suggestions that corruption is at play. We call on the department to take a zero tolerance approach to poaching, and for minimum sentences to be increased to 10 years for level 1 poachers.
We call for more funding to stop the carnage. R100 million, as mentioned today, is less than the single international donation received last year, hon Minister. Private owners are spending about R200 million per year of their own money and risking their lives for these animals daily. We are in a state of war, hon Minister, and we are losing because your department is failing to make a real, tangible difference.
In 2010, despite all the naysayers, we successfully pulled off the Soccer World Cup event - because we had a united message, the resources and the political will. We need to do that again, but this time with a focus on our rhino. Get that right and we can tackle the rest of wildlife crime. We need our President, hon Ministers and, indeed, all South Africans to say with one voice: "Don't touch me on my rhino!"