Geoscience Amendment Bill [B12-2010]: Public hearings Day 1

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Mineral Resources and Energy

31 August 2010
Chairperson: Mr F Gona (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee held public hearings on the Geoscience Amendment Bill (the Bill). The South African Institute of Engineering Geologists (SAIEG), which was a voluntary association of about 200 engineers and environmental geologists, noted that it had been supported by the Council for Geoscience (CGS) for many years. SAIEG was appreciative that a definition for geohazards was now included in the Bill. It was concerned that the definition of the CGS, which sometimes referred to it as a “mandatory” advisory authority and sometimes as a “national” advisory authority, was inconsistent, and cautioned that making it mandatory may lead to clashes with other institutions. There were concerns about conflicts, arising from Clause 1(f), and Clause 4(e). SAIEG did not think that geoscience professionals could become regulators. Similarly, the CGS should not be allowed to be a player and referee at the same time, nor could it use information obtained in one capacity to compete with private institutions. SAIEG felt that the Board should have a representative from the geotechnical industry. It was concerned about the possible breach of confidentiality and possible conflicts with copyright legislation arising from Clause 4. It commented that the Bill sought to impose obligations on the CGS to evaluate geotechnical reports, that were not only far too onerous and unnecessary, but it doubted whether CGS had this capacity.

The Geological Society of South Africa (GSSA) noted that it represented 2 676 members of the earth sciences professions, and more than one third of geologists working in South Africa. It expressed seven main areas of concern. It was concerned that the mandate now set out for the CGS by the Bill would require a large expansion of skills and budget, on an ongoing basis. It referred to responses sent to it by the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) that indicated that the role of the CGS as technical watchdog was not clear. GSSA was concerned about the CGS’s capacity to include the petroleum sector. Clause 3 seemed to exclude representation on the Board of professional and academic expertise, since GSSA was no longer given the right to nominate candidates, although it had a direct interest in the functions of the CGS. It was not satisfied with the DMR’s response to comments on Clauses 2 and 3. It felt that the wording “undertake exploration and prospecting research was too loose.

The National Union of Mine Workers stressed its concerns about the ongoing loss of lives of South African miners, and urged that the mining industry must develop more advanced geophones technology capacity, for earlier warning of possible seismic events. NUM urged that this Bill must ensure that the CGS was well equipped to contribute to safety in mines. It must also work better with related stakeholders such as Mintek to develop technologies that could detect and give early signals of seismic events, which were a significant cause of fatalities in mines. Funding was key to ensuring that CGS met its objectives. CGS should also be constituted so that it could complement the State owned Mining Company.

Members concurred with the need to ensure that mining fatalities and accidents were reduced. They pointed out that deaths of miners also affected their families for whom they were breadwinners. They asked whether the technology suggested by NUM was available in South Africa, and whether CGS was itself doing underground investigations, and commented that they would have expected NUM also to comment on illegal mining.

Members asked what specialised services could be listed by SAIEG, and what areas of expertise it believed were lacking in the CGS at present. Members discussed the concerns around unfair competition, and sought clarity on the role of the CGS as a technical watchdog and the management board requirements.

Meeting report

Geoscience Amendment Bill [B12-2010]
South African Institute of Engineering Geologists (SAIEG) submission

Professor John Stiff, Vice-President, South African Institute of Engineering Geologists, tabled the concerns of the Institute (SAIEG) on the Geoscience Amendment Bill (the Bill). He noted that SAIEG was a voluntary organisation of about 200 engineers and environmental geologists. They worked in and served the geotechnical industry that was associated with urban planning, mining and civil engineering. Geotechnical investigations must be done before any infrastructure project was planned, in order to ensure safety. For many years, the Council for Geoscience (CGS) had provided a supporting role to the industry, by providing maps, data archives and products.

The SAIEG acknowledged the addition of a definition of geohazards in the Bill.

SAIEG felt that the definition of the CGS was inconsistent. On the one hand it was defined as a mandatory advisory authority, yet later was merely referred to as “a national advisory authority” with no reference to it being mandatory. To attempt to make it mandatory may lead to clashes with other advisory authorities and institutions.

In relation to Clause 1(f), SAIEG noted that there were dangers of conflict of professional responsibilities, since geoscience professionals should not become regulators in the field.

SAIEG also noted concerns relating to Clause 3 and the composition of the Management Board, submitting that the board should have representation from the geotechnical industry, particularly as the board was now being expected to exercise responsibilities over this function.

SAIEG outlined concerns in regard to Clause 4(c), around the possible breach of confidentiality. Owners of information databanks could prescribe to what extent they were prepared to release information. This, as well as possible conflicts with the copyright legislation, must be addressed.

SAIEG expressed that Clause 4(eA) required an evaluation of geotechnical reports in respect of geohazards. Prof Stiff outlined that vast numbers of reports were produced annually and were bound to the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA) Codes of Practice, were engineering in nature and could not be evaluated by geoscientists alone. There were concerns that the present composition of the CGS would not permit it to study the reports, would lead to extensive delays and could compromise the whole system. Whilst SAIEG submitted that some reports must be evaluated, a blanket requirement to evaluate all should not be required. He cited a number of relevant documents (see attached presentation).

Concerns were also expressed over the wording of Clause 4(g), which required the CGS to conduct investigations and render specialised services to public and private institutions. This would effectively place the CGS in competition with the private sector, using State subsidized resources. SAIEG suggested that these resources would be better used for research, and cooperation in education. Another concern arising from this clause was that the CGS would be able to use data taken from professionals operating in the sector at no charge, and use it to compete with the same professionals. By allowing it to operate as a provider of services in an area that it had regulated, CGS was being turned into both player and referee.

Geological Society of South Africa (GSSA) submission
Dr Paul Nex, President, Geological Society of South Africa, gave a background to the Geological Society of South Africa (GSSA), which was a voluntary not-for-profit association, which would promote and advance the earth sciences and professionals working in this area. It currently represented 2 676 members, of whom 512 were students, and thus represented more than one third of geologists working in South Africa. The GSSA had received a copy of the Bill from the Chamber of Mines, although it was not directly consulted on the Bill.

GSSA had seven main areas of concern. He pointed out that GSSA was actively involved in drafting of the South African Mineral Codes, as well as international reporting standards for mineral reserves.

The GSSA had seven main areas of concern. Firstly, it was concerned that the expansion of skills and budget required for the CGS to achieve its objectives required ongoing commitments to finance and expertise. Secondly, the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) response to the existence of the CGS as a technical watchdog was unclear, and there may have been some misunderstanding about its role. Thirdly, GSSA was concerned about the CGS’s capacity to include the petroleum sector.

GSSA was concerned about Clause 3, which now specifically seemed to exclude representation of professional and academic expertise, by dropping the right of the GSSA to nominate candidates. Whilst GSSA agreed that CGS should be the nation’s primary custodian of geological information, it also pointed out that the end users of the information would primarily consist of geologists who were members of GSSA, and that this organisation therefore had a real interest in nominating a representative on to the Board. It did not find the response of the DMR to be satisfactory.

GSSA also commented that the response of DMR on clauses 2 and 3 was not considered sufficiently conclusive.

In regard to the Objects of the Bill, the GSSA was not happy about the terminology of “undertake exploration and prospecting research”, which it thought was too loose.

GSSA compared the mechanisms that this Bill sought to put in place with the Board that existed in the British Geological Survey, and outlined the membership of that latter Board. It was suggested that this might be a good example.

National Union of Mine Workers of South African (NUM) submission
Mr Sibusiso Mimi, Researcher, National Union of Mine Workers, tabled the submission of the Union (NUM). He stressed that the mining sector in South Africa had been facing unique health and safety related problems. NUM continued to actively engage stakeholders on the best acceptable models to address these challenges, and had resolved, through the Mine Health and Safety Council (MHSC) to force the mining industry to develop more advanced geophones technology capacity, for earlier warning of possible seismic events. The NUM thus appealed that the CGS Bill must ensure that the Council was well equipped to contribute to safety in mines. It must also be a position to work with related stakeholders such as Mintek to develop technologies that could detect and give early signals of seismic events, as these were the main cause of fatalities in mines.

He submitted that funding of the CGS was key to ensuring that it could meet its objectives. As already stated, the mining industry must be mandated to develop systems to detect seismic activity. The CGS should be constituted so that it complemented the State-owned Mining Company, to strengthen the role of the State in exploration, which was not necessarily to be conducted by CGS. CGS should also improve its relationships with the MHSC and Mintek. This should also be reflected in the Bill.

He presented a “fatalities per classification” graph. Between January and July 2010, 74 mineworkers had died while on duty. Of this figure, between 32% and 43% were due to “fall of ground” incidents. In July alone, 13 mineworkers died, 8 of them through fall of ground. This was an improvement on statistics for 2009, when 106 mineworkers died during the same periods. Although there was a decline in duty deaths, those that occurred still illustrated the need for further safety. CGS was central to safety in mines. All available expertise had to be utilized to ensure the safety of mineworkers.

Ms N Mathibela (ANC) noted that in most instances the CGS was not only conducting mapping, but that it was actually doing underground investigations itself. She asked Professor Stiff if he thought that was not satisfactory.

Professor Stiff responded that his concerns were limited to those on a geotechnical side, and he had not addressed that issue in the presentation.

Mr E Marais (DA) said that the SAIEG submission continually referred to rendering of specialised services. He wanted to know if there was a way that a specific list could be derived from the SAIEG.

Professor Stiff noted that these were difficult to define and that it was best to identify them by means of examples.

The Chairperson wanted to know which areas of expertise the SAIEG thought the CGS did not possess at present.

Professor Stiff responded that the entire geotechnical industry did not just deal with geoscientific work, but that there was also a very strong engineering aspect to it as well. He was not sure the CGS was equipped to deal with such a mandate.

Mr E Lucas (IFP) sought clarity on the competition concerns to which SAIEG had referred.
Professor Stiff noted that the SAIEG was not concerned about competition on the whole, as it was good for the industry. He was, however, concerned about unfair competition should the CGS be placed in a position to compete with others, by using specialist information gained through its functions.

Adv H Schmidt (DA) said that the GSSA had referred to a letter sent to it by the DMR, but the Committee had not had sight of that letter. He sought clarity on the concern of GSSA about the role of the CGS as a technical watchdog.

Mr Lucas sought clarity on how the GSSA had been sustaining itself.

Mr Lucas was also concerned about lack of information, and he agreed that information systems had to be put in place, and information control was also important.

Ms Mathibela sought clarity from the GSSA on the issue of management boards and the issue of geologists and professionals in the industry.

Dr Nex said that the Management Board requirements did not specify that there should be a certain number of geologists, nor did they set out what should be the level of qualifications and experience. He believed that a professional, who must be a geologist, should be a person who had both a university degree and university lecturing experience.

Mr C Gololo (ANC) commended all the presentations. However, he would have expected the NUM to mention what it expected the CGS to do to try and curb the problem of illegal mining. He agreed that the number of lives lost, and the larger number of those affected by the loss, were of concern. People were, however, also dying when they entered mines illegally.

Mr Mimi noted that NUM's main concern was the ongoing death of its members in the mines. He thought the CGS could assist, and stressed that there should be better coordination between existing stakeholders and the CGS. Further investigations into the issues would indeed be appreciated. He had not specifically mentioned illegal mining, as he thought that it would have been dealt with on the previous day.

Mr Marais agreed that the CGS should work with stakeholders to promote greater safety technology in the mines.

Mr M Sonto (ANC) also displayed concern for mine deaths.

The Chairperson noted that NUM had mentioned a need for geophonic technology. He wanted to know if that type of technology was readily available in South Africa, or if it needed to be outsourced.

Mr Mimi noted that the CGS should be empowered, through this Bill, to force the mining sector to invest in proper safety technology, including the provision of geophonic technology. This was imperative for the sensing of seismic activity. Although he was not sure if the technology was available in South Africa, it was certain that the existing technology was definitely not effective. He confirmed that there were losses not only of miners, but losses to their families for whom they were breadwinners.

The Chairperson questioned issues of funding. He noted that the legislation made provision that funding could be made available to NUM, and that one of the methods to obtain funding was via parliamentary appropriations. He made reference to levies imposed on mining companies and wanted to know if there had not been sufficient funding for NUM through that method. He asked if NUM had any other suggestions regarding the acquisition of funding.

Mr Mimi appealed to the Committee for funding. He also added that the CGS should find more ways to acquire more funding.

The meeting was adjourned.


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