The Department of Ecommic Development, Environment, Conversation and Tourism had commissioned an independent investigation following the issuing of hunting and translocation/export permits to Mrs. Fletcher, who is also referred to as Mrs. Van der Merwe; the capture of nine elephants on 13 March 2013 and the translocation of four to the Eastern Cape; the capture of four and destruction of two of some of them by officials of the department.
In addition to these four key areas, the investigation also included the activities committed or conducted by some officials of the department, their conduct as well as that of the Fletchers.
Over and above this investigation, the department also referred the matter to Office of the Premier’s Misconduct Unit to look broadly into the issues of permitting within the department.
The independent investigation which has been completed has recommended:
1. A full investigation by the Department into the Fletchers’ conduct for the pre-and-post permit-issuing activities in Sandhurst in Tosca (including the missing elephant);
2. Custodianship of legislative and legal compliance- monitoring of Conservation and Environmental Legislation, Regulations and Policies by the department’s Legal Unit;
3. Proactive biodiversity monitoring by Regional offices;
4. A directive to be issued by the Head of Department to all the Regional Offices instructing them to desist from executing official decisions or functions on the strength of informal, verbal or telephonic conversations or instruction which may have legal, regulatory, reputational or financial implications to the department but in writing and failure to do so would result in disciplinary action;
5. Immediate review of delegations in terms of National Environmental Management Act and the location of permit- issuing of big protected species, including elephants, in the Provincial Head Office;
6. Immediate review and/ or development of line-function-specific policies and guidelines (including the segregation of duties document);
7. Further probing of the elephant-destruction incident and the role played by DEDECT official therein, including those that conducted inspections and elephant searches;
8. Taking of immediate corrective disciplinary steps against DEDECT officials; and
9 . Possible precautionary suspension and taking of disciplinary action against some officials.
We have acted swiftly on the report by implementing all the recommendations and putting some of the officials on precautionary suspension pending the finalisation of the other investigation by the misconduct unit which also implicates the said officials.
Officials who are found to have transgressed the Norms and Standards as well as the Legislative framework governing the department will be brought to book through the disciplinary process.
We are withdrawing the permit issued for export of Elephants to the Eastern Cape and centralising the issuing of permits to a committee that will be mandated to issue all environmental related permits.
Following recent rhino poaching incidents whereby 16 rhinos were poached between 21 May to 3 June 2013 that bring us to 42 rhinos poached since the beginning of this year, we are intensifying our efforts to involve communities in the fight against poaching through people and parks programme and call on members of the public with information that might assist us in ongoing investigations to curb the scourge that is targeting our heritage.