PARLIAMENT’S Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs has slammed the donation by the North West Province of wild animals worth over R100 million to private farmers, and has demanded that its Agriculture MEC, Manketsi Tlhape, personally pay for the repatriation of any animals already relocated.The portfolio committee chair, Mohlopi Mapulane, described the transaction as “illegal from the beginning”. He ordered the project to be suspended immediately and all those complicit in the transaction investigated.He said it was undertaken “with obvious disregard for good conservation principles”.The donation to the South African Rare Game Breeders Association (SARGBA) came to light in 2015 following an expose by Carte Blanche and allegations that the animals were being given to “persons or friends alleged to be politically connected”.This alerted Parliament’s Environmental Portfolio Committee, which requested a report and Tlhape’s appearance. She was asked to address:• the circumstances under which the donations were made;• the policy used and the date the policy was adopted;• whether the department had donated similar high-value species in the past, and who were the recipients;• details of the species available in the parks before and after the donation;• whether there was any impact on the viability and the breeding potential of the remaining species;• the capacity, human resources and land of the individuals and/or company that received the animals; and• details of the individuals who constitute SARGBA.Despite being given ample notice, Tlhape simply failed to turn up, offering no apology and causing the committee “shock and dismay” at her violation of parliamentary protocol.According to the chairperson of the portfolio committee at the time, Mapulane, the committee had received no correspondence from the North West department or even an apology.He said Tlhape had been invited in writing two weeks perviously, but no reply was received.“The committee views this non-attendance as a slap in the face for the oversight role of Parliament,” he said.“Accountability by elected public representatives and public officials is not a luxurious option but an imperative in a constitutional democracy such as ours.”He said that disregarding a parliamentary summons to appear and account is an offence under South African law.It was not a good idea to annoy the portfolio committee — it invoked Section 56 of the Constitution, requiring Tlhape to present herself forthwith and explain the transaction. She complied in November last year.This week, the committee, after deliberation, accepted her apology for her no-show, but not her explanation of the game transfer.Its detailed report indicates a litany of evasions, poor conservation practices, questionable transactions and Tlhape as the deal’s driving force.The transaction involved the transfer from state parks of 130 buffalo, 50 sable antelope, 50 white rhino and 15 nyala to the farm of SARGBA, a private association comprising individuals who own 50%, and BEEE beneficiaries who own the other 50%.The committee requested details about the expertise of the BEEE partners and whether they were to be trained in game management.The transfers were being done from the Pilanesberg and Borakalalo national parks as well as the Mafeking, Botsalano, Kgaswane and Molemane Eye nature reserves, and the donation was highly skewed towards female animals.This provoked the committee to suggest that this had left the populations in the state reserves inviable, with males usable for only hunting or tourist viewing. It was also revealed that 60 animals died in the relocation process.The portfolio committee concluded that the entire project appeared to have been hurried “for reasons unknown to the committee”, was illegal — having been undertaken under a donations policy that was not ratified in law — and it disregarded conservation principles.It held Tlhape personally responsible and called for the reversal of the entire project.It demanded the cost for repatriation from her personally — Conservation Action Trust.• Don Pinnock is an environmental journalist.