Disaster Management Volunteer Regulations: Departmental briefing

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Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs

31 August 2009
Chairperson: Mr S Tsenoli (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs gave a presentation on the proposed volunteer regulations framed in terms of the Disaster Management Act. He noted the legislative basis and requirements, and gave some background to the formation of these regulations. He noted that the regulations now before the Committee were the tenth draft, and that there had been an extensive process of consultation and redrafting prior to them being presented.

Members asked why the drafting process had taken so long and asked in particular what the contentious issues were that had necessitated so many drafts, the reasons for the long delay in bringing the draft to Parliament, and what submissions were received. Members asked how the Department would ensure that municipalities would offer insurance to volunteers against injury, and enquired who was to be responsible for disaster management and volunteers. The Committee asked for the meaning of the term volunteer, asked if the volunteers were to be offered stipends or salaries, asked for the definition of “out of pocket expenses” and enquired if there was not a danger of creating expectations of continued employment.  Members whether the process had involved the Municipalities’ labour unions, and whether traditional leaders had been consulted. They commented that certain of the regulations either were far too onerous, or did not make sense, in particular the way that the training requirements were worded and the insistence that volunteers must be permanent residents or citizens. The Committee also asked why these regulations had been brought before this Committee, as they were clearly already with the NCOP. They further questioned whether volunteers who were already registered would be required to re-register, whether volunteers from the community were included, and that the title of the regulations was misleading and should be changed.

Meeting report

Disaster Management Volunteer Regulations: Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (DCGTA or the Department) Briefing
Mr George Kilian, Acting Head, National Disaster Management System, Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs and Mr Stephan Louw, Legal Advisor, Department of  Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs. briefed the Committee on the Volunteer Regulations for Disaster Management. He noted that Section 58 of the Disaster Management Act No. 57 of 2002 allowed for regulations to be made, and Section 59 (4) provided that the regulations must be submitted to the National Council of Provinces (NCOP). He noted that the drafting of the regulations had taken longer than anticipated, having begun in 2005, but the final draft was only finished in mid-2008. He then tabled the proposed regulations.

Discussion
Mr A Williams (ANC) asked how the Department was going to ensure that municipalities would offer insurance to volunteers injured during disasters, because he saw this as a potentially problematic area.

Mr Williams asked whether, in the event of a legal strike taken by municipal employees, the volunteers would be considered as part of scarce labour working for the municipality and whether this might not also be problematic.

 Mr Kilian replied that this was indeed one of the contentious issues, so the Department had approached the Department of Labour, who advised that volunteers were not employees in the ordinary sense of the word and thus could not be taken as workers.

Mr Williams asked if allowing the volunteers to apply to the municipality for jobs after a certain period of time was not going to create the problem of an expectation of employment on the part of volunteers.

Mr Kilian replied that the idea that volunteers, after a period of time, could be given an opportunity to apply for jobs in the municipality, once they had acquired experience in a particular field, was a suggestion that was brought forward to minimise the chances of exploitation of volunteers, among other reasons.

Mr P Smith (IFP) asked how the Department was going to deal with the expectation of volunteer cores being part of a permanent establishment.

Mr Smith also asked if the presenter could outline the contentious issues that had caused the Department to take such a long time and do ten drafts of the regulations, which seemed to suggest that there must have been some serious competing interests.

Mr Kilian replied that insurance was of the contentious issues, especially pertaining to who should be responsible for this, whether it should be local government or national government. The issue was discussed many times and it was decided mean one less burden for the national government. The other contentious issue was the use of military terms; in particular some stake holders had objected to the use of the term “command structure”. In the end it was decided not to use the word “command”, but later it was agreed that the draft wording should revert to making a reference to a command structure. The other problematic issue was around the question of whether volunteers should be compensated when they were injured or not.

Mr Smith asked how then Department would ensure that municipalities enforced the regulations, because what they had before them was a system that operated on a municipal level but was regulated through a national system. He wanted to know what would make municipalities comply with the obviously onerous regulations, because they might well ask what was in it for them.  

Mr Smith also asked for the number of municipalities who were likely to want to establish volunteer cores, considering the fact that many municipalities were cash-strapped and that the creation of volunteer units would mean financing for aspects such as insurance.

Mr Kilian replied that the message that was distributed was that there should be structured volunteer units and many municipalities had already established volunteer cores and were just waiting anxiously to have the regulations approved. He added that this was particularly so with the bigger municipalities.

Ms S Mdaka (ANC) asked for the meaning of the term volunteer, as this was not clear from the presentation. She asked if the volunteers were paid salaries or stipends.

Mr Kilian replied that this issue of salaries was also one that was contentious, and there were two main schools of thought. One advocated for compensation for volunteers and the other argued that if volunteers were then compensated for voluntary work, they then ceased to be volunteers. As a result, the Department had decided to go the route of paying out of pocket expenditure.

Ms S Mdaka (ANC) asked if the volunteers had contracts, and if they had, then for how long were these contracts valid. Slide 17 mentioned the termination of volunteer contracts.

Mr W Doman (DA) asked for the correct procedure the regulations had to take, particularly asking who the regulations were to be sent to the NCOP and what exactly was prescribed by the Constitution.

Nkosi M Nonkonyana (ANC) asked if the formalities in respect of the regulations had been complied with.

Mr Stephanus Louw, Legal Advisor, Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, replied that Section 59 of the Disaster Management Act dealt with the Regulation procedure. Section 59(4) stated that any regulations made by the Minister in terms of this Act must be referred to the NCOP, for the purpose of Section 146 (6) of the Constitution. He added that this Constitutional section dealt with conflict between national and provincial legislation, and that the Constitution further stated that any provincial Act could only prevail if that law had been approved by the NCOP.

The Chairperson asked if the reason for referring this matter to the NCOP was to overcome the possibility of any conflict in the legislation, and to ensure that the Regulations would prevail.

Mr Louw replied that indeed that was the intention.

Mr Smith remarked that this was the first time that this process had been followed.

Mr Louw agreed.

Mr Doman said that he had posed this particular question some time ago, and remembered that at the time there were considerable numbers of volunteers all over the country. He asked for the number of volunteers that were currently available now.

Mr Kilian replied that there was a substantial number of volunteers, and some of them had been volunteering even under the old legislation, in particular the Civil Protection Act, and for other volunteer units that had been in existence for some time. The sole aim of Section 58 was to bring formal structure to the various volunteer units.

Mr Doman asked who was expected to be dealing with disaster management and the volunteers on a fulltime basis at the municipality.

Mr Kilian replied that when many of the disaster management structures were put in place, and in respect of those already in place, it was expected that they would be managed  by disaster managers. This was the reason the regulations were referring to heads of disaster management and component leaders in municipality.

Mr Smith asked how much of the Act had been implemented, noting that it had now been in force for some time, and how much was still outstanding.

Mr Kilian replied that this was a difficult question to answer. However, most volunteers were working  under institutional structures. Most of the provinces were complying with the requirements, but two had yet to establish volunteer centres, although these two had  complied with the other requirement, such as establishing their forums and appointing people to act as heads of centers. He added that in the municipal sphere of government the implementation of the Act has not been that successful, with approximately 70% of the metropolitan municipalities having implemented the institutional requirements. The District municipalities were lagging behind, with only 67% having established institutional requirements. He added that other issues such as risk assessment, submission of plans in terms of the act and the training of people for disaster management still needed to be looked at..

Ms C Ditheshetelo (UCDP) asked why there was a three-year delay in the conclusion of the regulations.

Mr Kilian replied that in his presentation, when dealing with the background, he had highlighted that the consultation period was long, because the Department had tried to accommodate every stakeholder who was involved in the discussions. In addition to this, the Department had to publish the regulations for public comments, giving a period of three months so that everyone would have ample time to respond. After the public comment period, the whole process began again because comments were received from 13 stakeholders, which the Department then tried to incorporate into the regulations. This was then followed by consultations with the State Law Advisor, which also took time. The new administration had also delayed the process. The fact that ten drafts were prepared was yet another delaying factor.

Ms Ditheshetelo asked if smaller municipalities falling with a district were allowed to use volunteers’ units already established in that district. Many smaller municipalities, especially in the rural areas, did not have the capacity and the resources to fulfill the requirements laid down in the regulations.
           
Mr Kilian replied that the Act stated that the metropolitan and district municipalities could establish a unit of volunteers and the spirit of the Act required the district municipalities to co-ordinate the local municipalities within their area, so that they became part of the establishment of the unit of volunteers. So in essence, district municipalities were supposed to look after the smaller units.

Mr Williams asked for clarity relating to the components within the units of volunteers, suggesting that the way this was framed, in particular the line that read ‘and any other category that the municipality may deem to be necessary’, gave rise to the possibility of exploitation.

Mr Kilian replied that the words “ as may be deemed necessary” were inserted because the list proposed was not exhaustive. This was the usual way to ensure that no one was left out.

Mr Williams asked if in the whole process Labour had been consulted. He foresaw the problem of volunteers expecting to be employed and paid.

Mr Kilian replied that he had already indicated that Labour had been brought on board at one stage in the process.

The Chairperson remarked that both should clarify which component of Labour they were referring to. He thought that Mr Williams was referring to trade unions.

Mr Williams confirmed that he was referring to consultation the trade unions in the municipalities.

Mr Kilian replied that the drafters spoke with the officials of the Department of Labour, but had not consulted the trade unions.

Nkosi Nonkonyana commented that it was quite clear that extensive consultation had occurred over this important issue. However, he asked whether traditional leadership from the rural areas had participated in the workshops, and the various stages of consultations.

Mr Kilian replied that the Department did have representatives of the traditional leaders’ component at most of the workshops and meetings, even though this was not reflected in the volunteer regulations. The purpose of traditional leaders was discussed at one particular stage of the deliberations.

Ms Mdaka asked for clarity on what the Department termed out of pocket expenditures

Mr Kilian replied that out of pocket expenses was akin to the type of reimbursement that government officials would be paid if they had paid for something out of their money for government business. These expenses went no further than the kilometers traveled by the volunteer from home to where he was required, and the purchase by the volunteer of his or her lunch.

Ms M Wenger (DA) asked for clarification whether the district or the local municipality would be responsible for the insurance. She reminded Members that the smaller municipalities had less money and resources as compared to the metropolitan ones.

Nkosi M Nonkonyana (ANC) noted that the issues they had discussed had not been reflected in the regulations. He said that the regulations did not make mention of the person who would be regarded as the leader by the indigenous people, nor the fact that in general the community helped in times of distress and disaster. In some cases a community member might risk his or her own life to help others. This system implied that nobody could help before being on the roster.

Other Members also asked for clarification on whether the community in general was allowed to assist in times of disaster, or whether people had to wait for the registered volunteers to arrive.

Mr Kilian replied that when the Act was promulgated it gave the municipalities an option to establish a unit of volunteers. The municipalities, in that process, had to consult with everyone, including the traditional leaders in the area, as it would be irresponsible not to do so. In his opinion, traditional leaders should be consulted, although the Department had failed to do this specifically. He added that the regulations did not preclude anyone from helping when disaster struck, but the Act sought to regulate certain type of volunteers.

The Committee agreed that in that case the title of the proposed regulations had to change, as it was currently misleading and suggested that all forms of volunteers were covered.

Mr Smith referred the presenter to Section 9, which dealt with training of volunteers. He was of the opinion that the framing of the section was so bad that it sounded ridiculous. He could not understand why provision was made that all volunteers had first to be trained. For instance, a medical doctor who wanted to volunteer should surely not be required to undergo training, and a person who had a driver’s licence did not need to be trained again to drive. In addition, he questioned why Section 5(1) required that a person must be a resident or citizen before being able to qualify as a volunteer. This did not make sense, and there was no purpose in insisting upon it. In addition, for medical purposes, a volunteer had to fill out a form. He was not sure who would decide that the volunteer was medically fit. He found the regulations far too onerous.

The Chairperson agreed and said that the requirement for citizenship or permanent residency would render institutions such as Doctors Without Borders ineffective. In times of disaster, the more people and ideas that could be offered, the better.

Mr Kilian replied that the Regulations were not envisaging that a medical doctor would need to be re-trained, nor that a driver to have to retake a driving test. This provision catered for the situation where training might be necessary. He agreed that perhaps the wording of the regulation should change. He added that the issue of citizenship or residency need not be a problem and it could easily be taken out. This had been included because it was undesirable that volunteers migrate from one province to another; there was a procedure to be followed in this case.

Mr Smith asked if there was a transitional process that allowed existing volunteers to be integrated into the new system or whether they needed to re-apply.

Mr Kilian replied that they had to apply again.

Mr Smith asked if there was a fundamental reason why the regulations had been brought before the Committee or if this was done as a matter of good practice, so that the Portfolio Committee could be kept abreast of the matter. It was clear that the regulations were already at the NCOP.

Mr Kilian replied that this had been done as the Department had been asked to make a presentation to this Committee.

The meeting was adjourned.

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