Chris Ndaliso
Senior journalist
5 minute read
2 Jun 2022
06:31

Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife board slammed for ‘meddling in operations’

Chris Ndaliso

Former Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife (EKZNW) board members are alleged to have interfered in administrative operations, resulting in the deteriorating state of the entity.

Former Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife (EKZNW) board members are alleged to have interfered in administrative operations, resulting in the deteriorating state of the entity.

This was revealed in a damning report by an anti-rhino poaching task team which was set up by the KwaZulu-Natal executive council in September 2016 to investigate the deteriorating state of the entity.

The probe has found that members of the board, which had since been dissolved, put their own interests above those of the organisation’s.

The report, which The Witness has seen, revealed that former board members lacked experience in conservation.

According to the report, which was submitted to Premier Sihle Zikalala’s office last week, Ezemvelo CEO and managers at various levels told the task team that certain board members frequently meddled in the entity’s operational activities and interfered with the work of the CEO and the management.

“The CEO reported to the task team that those members of the board lacked sufficient understanding of conservation matters. Obviously, a board that is vested in giving strategic direction to the organisation as a whole should contain the necessary expertise in cutting edge international best practices so as to direct and guide the organisation appropriately,” says the report.

In the past, the report stated, the board contained conservation activists and persons with a deep commitment to conservation.

The remuneration they received was minimal and incidental.

“The statutory requirement of “interest in conservation” should be interpreted, in the view of the task team, to ensure all appointees to the board have a deep interest and a detailed knowledge and expertise of the complexities of conservation issues,” says the report.

According to its contents, the CEO indicated that the working relationship between him and the board was poor, causing adverse consequences to the well-being of the organisation.

“One of the complaints of the CEO, echoed by various levels of management, was that certain board members became involved in the day-to-day management of the organisation and directly interfered with the work of the CEO and management. Ezemvelo, an organisation whose predecessor, the Natal Parks Board, was acknowledged as a world leader in conservation, has become a shadow of its former self.”

The task team felt that no due diligence was made when the old board was appointed to ensure the smooth running of the ailing Ezemvelo.

At the time of drafting the report, the task team said it was advised that the meddling continued.

“A startling example of the board exceeding its mandate was its involvement in a potential agreement between a private entity to outsource nature conservation in the KZN reserves to the private entity. Had that not been prevented, the board would have abdicated its statutory obligations to protect and manage protected areas within the province, to a private company with vested financial interests. This process got as far as agreements being signed, but fortunately it was stopped urgently.

“In current parlance, this agreement would have led to ‘State Capture’ in that the State’s responsibilities would have been ceded to a private organisation for financial gain,” read the report.

Board members also had vested interests in employment issues, which apparently went as far as attempting to fill scarce ranger posts with military veterans who had little or no conservation experience or qualifications.

“This unhealthy state of affairs, in our view, did not only weaken the organisation, but it indirectly caused a breakdown in senior leadership morale thus adversely affecting all programmes including the anti-rhino poaching initiatives. There were reports from the ground that procurement processes were not open and transparent and neither did they conform to legislative prescripts. In our view, these procurement processes in the organisation should be the subject of further scrutiny.”

The task team recommended that board members must not become involved in operational issues, and that statutory requirement of “interest in conservation” must be demonstrated by any aspiring board member before appointment.

DA’s spokesperson on economic development and tourism in KZN, Heinz de Boer, said the report and its findings should be Zikalala’s priority.

“The report spells out how some Ezemvelo board members were seemingly more interested in securing lucrative contracts and appointing military veterans to the wildlife entity than they were in saving rhinos. General meddling in EKZNW’s day-to-day affairs and a lack of understanding of conservation matters also plagued the former board,” he said.

Consequently, de Boer said, ranger posts remained unfilled while poachers stripped parks of animals. “KZN run provincial government has failed to act and mitigate the scourge of rhino poaching and continues to duck and dive from any kind of accountability,” he said.

IFP’s Blessed Gwala said it was not a surprise that the report was kept away from the KZN Legislature as this was a way of avoiding embarrassment by those in charge. 

KZN Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs spokesperson, Angel Sibisi, said the substance of the report’s recommendations had been receiving attention but was limited by budgetary constraints.

“The past two years have been dominated by Covid-19 with the consequent drastic reduction in income. This is in addition to budgetary cuts due to national fiscal consolidation. Nevertheless, Provincial Treasury provided additional funds of R51 million, most of which was directed to infrastructure (roads, fencing and facilities) and a small amount towards field ranger training, refurbishment of field ranger accommodation and additional flying hours,” said Sibisi.

She said a new board would be appointed this week.

Provincial government spokesperson Lennox Mabaso could not be reached for comment.