Durban - Salaries and allowances for Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife board members have almost quadrupled at a time when the conservation agency is struggling to fill vacant posts and pay its burgeoning salary bill.
Figures in the latest annual report show Ezemvelo budgeted R4.8 million for the remuneration and allowance packages for 12 board members and three independent audit committee members - compared to R1.22 million in the previous financial year (2014).
A financial footnote to these figures states: “The increase in the emoluments from the prior year was due to the alignment of board salaries by the MEC (Mike Mabuyakhulu, MEC for Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs).”
The steep hike in board remuneration costs has raised several eyebrows at a time when Ezemvelo is still recovering from what acting chief executive David Mabunda has described as “a year of dark clouds”.
Last year, former chief executive Bandile Mkhize was suspended by Mabuyakhulu following a government task team report which led to several senior staff having to pay back approved salary hikes because of insufficient funds to pay for the increases.
The latest annual report is also littered with expressions of concern from senior staff about Ezemvelo’s apparent inability to fill numerous vacant posts. In his report, acting chief executive Mabunda noted that the marine patrols along the northern KwaZulu-Natal coastline were woefully inadequate.
This unit had shrunk from around 25 staff members in the late 1990s to just five members today.
Elsewhere in the report, senior managers of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park reported that “many critical posts were left vacant for the whole financial year”.
Ezemvelo’s rhino security report notes “there are critical manpower shortages (numbers and capacity) within rhino reserves”.
Overtime budgets were also inadequate and poachers were targeting specific reserves perceived to have inadequate staff capacity.
The Mercury sent a list of questions to Mabuyakhulu’s office last week. The MEC was asked whether the motivation to increase remuneration emanated from the board members, or whether it was the MEC who personally took the initiative to increase their packages to align with National Treasury guidelines. He was also asked whether such large increases could be justified at a time of financial constraints in Ezemvelo.
In response, his spokesman Bheko Madlala said: “Please note that the rate at which board members of public entities are paid is determined by National Treasury in line with specific guidelines such as the asset base of the entity.”
Comfort Ngidi, the chairman of the Ezemvelo board, was also invited to comment on the matter, but no response has been received from his office. Speaking at a recent media briefing, Ngidi made a point of noting that his salary from the board did not accrue to him personally – but to his legal firm, Ngidi and Company, on the basis that the firm needed to be remunerated for his time while conducting Ezemvelo business
He also noted that board salaries were determined by the MEC and national finance minister.