The Department of Mineral Resources briefed the Portfolio Committee on the Geoscience Amendment Bill [B12-2010] (the Bill). This Bill was referred back, by Cabinet, in February 2008 for further consultation with the stakeholders, which had since occurred. The Bill was also certified by the State Law Advisors, was then approved by Cabinet in December 2009, and was published for public comment on 12 March 2010. Numerous stakeholder comments were received. The Bill mandated the Council for Geoscience (CGS) as the custodians and curators of geotechnical information, as it was to be the national advisory authority on geohazards relating to infrastructure and development. It was also to compile a comprehensive geotechnical risk profile of the country, and to enforce mechanisms relating to development of dolomite comprised land and infrastructure. The Bill also aimed to provide for exploration and prospecting research in the petroleum and minerals sector.
Members asked whether the CGS, when it entered land, might not infringe the privacy rights of landowners, were concerned whether conflicts of interest might arise. Members also asked whether road structures as well as the ground would be investigated, and noted that CGS would be undertaking regional mapping, working with other municipal structures. Members questioned the nomination and appointment processes for the Board and the Chairperson, wondered if the Bill was correct in stipulating that the Minister “may” issue directives, and stressed that it would be important to set time frames. Members asked if the CGS would be charging any fee for its advisory services. They asked whether earthquakes were likely tin South Africa and what processes monitored this, asked for clarity on the Transvaal Museum collaboration. Members noted that many of the submissions had questioned whether the CGS was up to the mammoth tasks prescribed under this Bill and wondered, in particular, whether CGS was prepared for the risks of fraud and corruption relating to its projects. Questions were also asked about the legal standing of the Appeals Committee and whether the costs would cover the infrastructure development required.
Geoscience Amendment Bill [B12-2010] (the Bill): Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) briefing
Mr Andre Andreas, Director of Mineral Policy, National Department of Mineral Resources, briefed the Portfolio Committee on the Geoscience Amendment Bill [B12-2010] (the Bill). This Bill had been referred back by Cabinet, in February 2008, for consultation with the stakeholders and many consultations with the relevant stakeholders had since been done by the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR or the Department). The Bill had also been certified by the State Law Advisors and had then been approved by Cabinet in December 2009. The Bill was published in the Government Gazette on 12 March 2010.
Numerous comments had been received on the Bill. Inputs had been received, amongst others, from Wits University, the Department of Public Works, the Chamber of Mines, the South African Institute of Civil Engineering and the South African Institute for Engineering and Environmental Geologists.
He noted the various objectives of the Bill. He said that the Bill was to mandate the Council for Geoscience (CGS) as the custodians and curators of geotechnical information. This was to be the national advisory authority insofar as geohazards relating to infrastructure and development were concerned. He said that the Bill had also empowered the CGS, as custodian of all geotechnical data, to compile a comprehensive geotechnical risk profile of the country, and to enforce mechanisms relating to development of dolomite comprised land and infrastructure.
The Bill further aimed to provide for exploration and prospecting research in the petroleum and minerals sector.
Mr E Marais (DA) displayed concerns about the infringement of privacy rights of land owners, and asked about possible conflict that could arise.
Dr Thibedi Ramontja, Chief Executive Officer, Council for Geoscience (CGS) said that the Minister's directive regarding the CGS entering land was well noted, and was a always a challenging issue. However, it was imperative for the CGS to be empowered to go onto the land, to do the necessary research, as this was for the benefit of all who lived in the country. Obviously, there would be prior consultation with land owners. It was vital to develop good relationships between land owners and the CGS. He conceded that perhaps the Bill could be more prescriptive and contain a specific provision that the CGS must give landowners notice before entering their land. However, it was imperative that the CGS be empowered to undertake investigative work without any hindrance. There was a range of ways that could ensure that both parties could be satisfied to enable scientists to do their work.
Ms F Mathibela (ANC) wanted to know if the CGS, when investigating throughout the country, would focus on the ground and the roads. She emphasized that some of the roads were in a poor state as they had been built on dolomite.
Dr Ramontja noted that the CGS would be mapping the entire country, in terms of both geology and infrastructure development. It would also undertake regional mapping. It would work very closely with municipalities to identify high risk land. He said that Gautrain was an example where this cooperation had existed and many municipal structures would be keeping a close eye on it, especially in Centurion, where the train ran through land where dolomite was present. There would be sinkholes in the Centurion area but that the relevant structures were already hard at work to rectify any problems.
Mr V Magagula (ANC) noted that the Bill had stipulated that the Minister would appoint a Chairperson of the Board, in consultation with the Board. He sought clarity on that, since the Minister would first be appointing all Members of the Board, and then would be consulting with them to appoint a Chairperson.
Dr Ramontja noted that the Bill was not giving the Minister absolute power in this regard.
Mr Andreas added that perhaps the Bill should clarify that the Minister would be appointing the Chairperson in consultation with those Members who had already been elected to the Board.
Dr Ramontja noted that the Minister did not attend to any nominating, which was done by the Directors-General from the various departments.
The Chairperson noted that there was a substantial danger of a Board effectively electing itself. People across the sectors would be looking for like-minded people.
Mr Sisa Makabeni, State Law Advisor, Office of the Chief State Law Advisor, confirmed that the Minister did not have absolute power, as she must observe and be subject to the limitations of the Constitution. In addition, in order for a Minister to dissolve the board, she or he must have valid and justifiable reasons, as confirmed by the Court.
Mr Marais emphasised the importance of time frames for the nominating process.
Mr C Gololo (ANC) noted that the CGS would be playing an advisory role to the State. He sought clarity as to whether the CGS would be charging a fee to those who would be using its services.
Dr Ramontja said that the fee charged by the CGS would be very nominal, and would basically cover administrative costs and the time of the scientists. It was not intended to make a profit. This would not have a huge impact in terms of development. Currently, this was being done via the National Home Builders Registration Council (NHBRC).
Mr Gololo sought clarity on whether or not there had been many earthquakes in South Africa, and whether it was likely that many could occur in the future.
Dr Ramontja noted that South Africa experienced two types of earthquakes – natural, and those precipitated by mining activity. South Africa had some of the deepest mines in the world. Its most serious earthquake had occurred in the 1960s, in the Western Cape. The most critical aspects would be continuous monitoring and the development of risk maps. He noted that risk evaluation would be a guiding factor when new infrastructure was being developed.
Mr Gololo said that the CGS had a mammoth task ahead of it. He wondered if the CGS was prepared for proper prevention of fraud and corruption relating to CGS projects.
Mr Ramontja noted that corruption was always a problem. However, CGS was aware of the need for vigilance and CGS had already put into place many anti-corruption structures.
Mr Lucas also sought clarity regarding the Transvaal Museum issue.
Mr Ramontja noted that the Transvaal Museum was managed by the Department of Arts and Culture and that the CGS had a section in that museum. He added that he would discuss this issue and its progress with the CEO of that institution.
Committee members asked who was going to appoint the members of the Board.
A Member asked about the reference, at page 14, to the amendment of Section 23(7), which
stipulated that the Minister “may” issue a directive. This term was possibly open to different interpretations and the term was perhaps not appropriate.
Mr Makabeni said that the Minister had deliberately been given a discretionary power here.
Mr M Sonto (ANC) wanted to know whether the term “must” should not be used. He wanted to know if that particular section was giving the CGS the leeway to perform its mandate without legal impediments.
Mr Makabeni noted that it was general practice, in the drafting of legislation, to use the term 'may' instead of 'must' where a Minister had been given discretionary power.
Mr E Lucas (IFP) sought a brief outline of stakeholder inputs on the Bill.
Mr Sonto also raised this point, wanting to know whether any impediments had been raised specifically by the stakeholders.
Mr Fhatuwani Ramagwede, .Executive Manager, CGS, noted that most concerns from stakeholders revolved around whether or not CGS would be able to handle the mammoth tasks set for it. There had also been complaints regarding issues relating to site investigation and public safety.
Mr Sonto wanted to know if the CGS had been sensitized, through the stakeholders comment, to any loopholes.
Mr Sonto also sought clarity on the legal standing of the Appeals Committee.
Mr Sonto wanted to know if the costs, referred to on page 17 of the Bill, had included the infrastructure development that would be required.
The Chairperson questioned again whether, if CGS went on to land to conduct research, there would be any contravention of the landowner’s right to privacy.
Mr Andreas noted that the CGS could not simply enter any land without issuing a prior notification to the land owner. In addition, CGS would, if causing any damage, be liable to compensate the landowner.
The meeting was adjourned.
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