Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife is saddened by the latest article published in the Weekend Witness on Saturday 28 June 2014 titled “Premier’s R 1, 5 million bush bash – Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife uses conservation funds for fancy party in the Berg for VIPs”. We consider the article’s tone and leaning sensational and the inaccuracies reported defamatory of the good name of both our new cabinet as well as Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife.
However, we believe that in highlighting the points below we will be able to redress this matter. For the record we highlight the following to correct wrong perceptions that might have been created.
The reference to a “Bush Bash” is entirely inaccurate, This phrase indicates the journalist’s misplaced belief and / or bias that this two day event was a celebratory one (“party”), implying recreation as opposed to the true professional nature of the occasion.
A similar objection is noted to the use of the words “lavish cabinet sitting”. There was nothing lavish about the event whereby the cabinet booked for a conference and partook in the normal dining and refreshments associated with such.
It should be noted that the Legislature booked for 120 people to stay over for a two day session, whilst the Premier booked the conference centre for a planning session with cabinet. Both Legislature and the Premier’s office paid as would any guest that needs such services.
The R1.5 million we spent at Didima was an allocated maintenance expenditure long since earmarked for resort facilities management. This consolidated expenditure was brought forward to cater specifically for the understandable importance we attached to the occasion. This is not the first time that budget was consolidated and brought forward to cater for high profile events.
As a state-owned entity, Ezemvelo views the prioritization of the maintenance prior to the arrival of the dignitaries as an investment so that resorts like Didima become a destination of choice for high profile events. This furthers our conservation agenda through ecotourism. In this context, the fact that the money was sourced from the proceeds of our Annual Wildlife Auction is entirely regular and acceptable.
The essential reasoning behind this expenditure needs little explanation beyond the acceptable emphasis that any organization like ours would earmark to enhance facilities for such prestigious occasion.
The article’s tone suggests this money we invested in Didima Lodge lies outside our mandate. This exhibits a fundamental misunderstanding of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife’s legislated, overall conservation mandate and its stakeholder centric strategy. As such, Cabinet and Legislature are viewed as key stakeholders.
Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife’s legislated mandate revolves around three core pillars: (a) Biodiversity Conservation (b) Ecotourism and (c) Partnerships. The R1.5 million expenditure detailed in this article falls solidly within those pillars.
In using language such as “forking out R1.5 million” not only implies a misallocation of funds, but that these funds were surplus to our conservation mandate. In light of above statement nothing could be further from the truth!
The article’s detailed listing of those items we acquired for this event would support our routine maintenance for Didima Lodge, i.e. Décor; TV sets; Irons; Baths Towels, Mats and Linen and Crockery and Cutlery.
Didima is a 3-Star tourism lodge and considered one of our flagships. Ezemvelo’s expenditure on items such as curtaining and lounge sets must be seen as an investment necessary to maintain the 3-Star rating.
Our promotional expenditure on T-Shirts, stickers and gifts should be understood as an entirely acceptable means of enhancing Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife’s conservation brand; both on a corporate level as well as promoting our organization’s Anti-Rhino poaching effort.
The article’s reference to the haste in which we went about spending this money is mischievous. As Dr. George Hughes, the former CEO of Ezemvelo, noted in the article a “brush up … would not have been excessive”. We entirely agree.
Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife considers good corporate governance as a key success factor and as such has established an independent hotline (0800 212126) where any concerns can be reported anonymously. It is therefore unfortunate that this “whistleblower” went directly to the press.