Madam Speaker, Hon Premier, Hon members of the Legislature, Departmental officials and guests and visitors in the gallery, I greet you all.
I would like to begin, Madam Speaker, by acknowledging the good work, in general, that has been done in the three programmes of this department. The auditor general saw fit to give DEDEAT an unqualified audit opinion for the 2016/7 financial year, and considering the limits imposed upon all departments as a result of a shrinking fiscus and the dire economic doldrums we are in, I believe this is a commendable achievement.
Madam Speaker, there are always areas that require improvement at any given time, and I wish to highlight a few:
Firstly, I am concerned about the Coega Development Corporation’s repeated fruitless and wasteful expenditure. R22 million was incurred in the previous financial year, with a further R18 million incurred this year, bringing the total to R40,8 million. According to the Auditor General’s report, effective steps were not taken to prevent this expenditure, and even worse, the accounting authority did not exercise adequate oversight to prevent this non- compliance with legislation.
This is not acceptable practice, Madam Speaker. Keeping in mind that the Auditor General can only work with what is submitted to him or her, and further noting that accounting authorities should NOT under any circumstances find themselves in trouble with SARS, I have to wonder whether the problem is not far more deep-seated than meets the eye. I would suggest that an independent forensic audit of the entity would not be a wasted exercise. This should include a full disclosure of interests, as well as a full disclosure of tenders awarded through the supply chain management unit. If there is rot, it must be rooted out.
A second area of concern is the contradictory role of both the ECLB and the ECGBB. While these entities both received clean audits with no matters of emphasis, for which I commend them, my concern is based on the cost of both of drinking and gambling to the province. I am not so naïve as think we could ever stop either of them from happening, and I appreciate that both entities have been proactive in running awareness campaigns to try to mitigate the effects of addiction to both alcohol and gambling, but my concern is based on what these activities are actually costing the province. Liquor sales in the province top in excess of R3 billion rand, but what are the negative consequences of liquor costing our province?
Madam Speaker, how much do drinking and driving accidents, injuries and deaths, cost our police force, our traffic departments, our insurance companies and our hospitals and mortuaries? How much do children born with foetal alcohol syndrome cost our health department, our social development department and our education department? What does alcohol-related domestic violence and all its terrible consequences cost the province?
While we support these industries as being lucrative and contributory to our provincial fiscus, is this not perhaps a very costly illusion? At some point we need to do the sums so that we can make more informed decisions around the socio-economic benefits or costs of these entities. Another matter of concern around these entities is the element of non-compliance. Why pay for an annual liquor licence when it is easy to operate without one? Why are so many liquor stores, pubs and shebeens operating across the road from schools without any consequences?
Madam Speaker, the third area of concern is the minuscule budget allocated to our environmental affairs and tourism departments. Chai Jing, the renowned Chinese author, journalist and environmentalist, states and I quote, “Environmental protection and economic development are not in conflict. Environmental protection is not a burden but a source of innovation. It can increase competition, create jobs and lift the economy”. Close quote.
If one looks at the environmental affairs directorate’s performance over the past financial year, it does not impress, as they failed to monitor and quantify certain environmental indicators electronically. However, we are the only province that bothers to monitor these environmental indicators. Thus a national benchmark has been set which only applies to one province, which is unjust. Despite this, the department has done wonders in curbing rhino poaching far more successfully than all other provinces, and has achieved major successes in clamping down on cycad poaching. They have developed legislative tools, created jobs, issued licences, completed Environmental Impact Assessments and built capacity, with a budget that equates to less than 1,7% of the provincial fiscus. They are punching far above their weight, Madam Speaker.
If we want to grow our provincial economy without depending on financial support from government, what do we do?
Firstly, we must crack down completely on financial mismanagement in all spheres and all departments. Perpetrators must face consequences – not on paper, but in reality.
Secondly, we need to invest in our environment. We need to protect what belongs to this province and eradicate alien invasive species. This is a massive jobs driver. We must act against those that rape our environmental assets for self-enrichment. Sand mining, rhino and cycad poaching, and illegal take off of marine species such as perlemoen and many other endangered fish species, are degrading the province’s environmental integrity and this impacts negatively on our greatest potential source of income – that of domestic and international tourism.
I have said this before. We sit on a potential gold mine in the Eastern Cape, but there are factors at play that seem to be holding us back from tapping into the wealth that tourism can bring. These inhibiting factors include siloism – departments dancing to their own tune, instead of collaborating and driving a unified tourism agenda. The goal must be the province, and not the individual departments. We must have a single strategy to drive tourism.
Another factor that impacts negatively on the tourism industry is environmental degradation. Tourists want to see indigenous fauna and flora and if another province offers a better package, then they will opt for that destination instead of the Eastern Cape.
A further inhibiting factor is collapsed or poorly maintained road infrastructure that leads to provincial parks and reserves.
Unfortunately, the stark reality is that we do not have sufficient budget to address all these issues. But we must remember that positive spin-off of a successful tourism industry is worth a hundredfold more than what the upgrades to the infrastructure is worth. This is wise investment. And this is how we invest in people across the province.
Lastly, we need to invest in sustainable energy projects. These are cheaper than traditional energy resources and are a wonderful job creator. In Athlone near Cape Town, there is a waste-to-energy plant that was opened in January of this year. It cost R400 million to erect, but here’s the thing…it has created 80 direct jobs, and a few hundred indirect jobs. This biogas plant converts about 500 tonnes of household waste into renewable, clean energy daily. There is zero waste to landfill, and all waste products are converted into environmentally sensitive, high-quality products. This recycling economy is enormous and we haven’t even scratched the surface in the Eastern Cape.
It is time for us to think out of the box and figure out how we will advance if no funding at all is forthcoming from the national fiscus. New energy technologies and innovative, sustainable income streams are essential for success. The Democratic Alliance is championing these new technologies, with obvious success. We lead from the front.
I wish to close with the words of the legendary Ban Ki-Moon, who said and I quote, “Saving our planet, lifting people out of poverty, advancing economic growth… these are one and the same fight. We must connect the dots between climate change, water scarcity, energy shortages, global health, food security and women’s empowerment. Solutions to one problem must be solutions for all”. End quote.
The Democratic Alliance supports the report.