Geoscience Amendment Bill[B12 2010] : overview and deliberations

NCOP Economic and Business Development

02 November 2010
Chairperson: Mr F Adams (ANC, Western Cape)
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Meeting Summary

The Council for Geoscience tabled and gave a presentation on the Geoscience Amendment Bill (the Bill), noting that it intended to make the necessary changes to the Geoscience Act No 100 of 1993, to address the challenges and changes in the operational environment. It noted that although many other countries that concentrated on mining activities had adopted best practices recording geohazards, this was not yet in operation in South Africa. South Africa had major problems around dolomitic land, and therefore proposed that the Council for Geoscience (CGS) should be the custodian and curator of geotechnical information, and that it must be the national advisory authority regarding geohazards related to infrastructure and development. CGS would be permitted to undertake exploration and prospecting research in the mineral sector, and to put mechanisms in place to address problems which were associated with infrastructure development on dolomitic land. 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. It stressed that this information would be made available to developers and investors. Various stakeholders had been consulted. The State Law Advisors had certified the Bill. It was passed by the Portfolio Committee on Mining.

Members asked whether some of the incidents illustrated in the presentation had been caused by mining or by natural occurrences, and whether studies in geology could pick up faults before they occurred. Members were generally appreciative of the reasons behind the Bill but also questioned whether the new requirements would not place further barriers in the way of development, and enquired whether the Bill had attracted any adverse comment from environmental advisers. Members were also concerned where the additional funding would be found, pointing out that CGS had been under-funded in the past. A DA Member was critical of the past work of the Council. Another DA Member indicated that he was concerned about the provisions in the Bill for the proposed structure of the board, and did not think that the Minister should be attending to Board appointments, and also queried whether there was input from private companies. Members also enquired about the role of the appeal committee. The Bill would be formally considered in the following week.


Meeting report

Geoscience Amendment Bill [B12 2010]: Council for Geoscience briefing
Mr Thibedi Ramontja, Chief Executive Officer, Council for Geoscience, presented an overview of the Geoscience Amendment Bill. He outlined the background to the amendments; the objectives of the bill; and the consultation process. The Geoscience Act No 100 of 1993 (the principal Act) took effect on 1 November 1993. However, challenges and changes in the operational environment of the CGS prompted the Geoscience Amendment Bill (the Bill) to be drawn to try to address the problems. The major challenges included infrastructure development especially in dolomitic land, and the need to increase investment into the mineral industry through proactive research. The Cabinet had referred the first draft of the Bill back for further consultation with relevant stakeholders, in February 2008. The redrafted Bill was then certified by the State Law Advisors and was approved by Cabinet in December 2009.

The Bill highlighted various objectives which should be undertaken by CGS. It stated that CGS should be the custodian and curator of geotechnical information, and that it must be the national advisory authority regarding geohazards related to infrastructure and development. It allowed CGS to undertake exploration and prospecting research in the mineral sector, and to put mechanisms in place to address problems which were associated with infrastructure development on dolomitic land.
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.

Mr Ramontja set out the stakeholders who had been consulted in regard to the Bill, who included the Department of Human Settlements, Department of Public Works, the City of Tshwane, the National Home Builders Registration Council (NHBRC), the South African Local Government Association (SALGA), the South African Institute of Civil Engineering (SAICE), Ekhuruleni, the Department of Water and Environmental Affairs (DWEA), the
South African Institute for Engineering and Environmental Geologists, and the Geological Society of South Africa (GSSA).

The Bill had been adopted by the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Mining in September 2010.

He stressed that the CGS believed that these important amendments would serve the best interests of the country, by having a geological institution that would respond to the challenges of the country.

Discussion
Mr B Mnguni (ANC, Free State) thanked Mr Ramontja for the presentation. He believed that local authorities as well as developers should be held to account for not consulting geologists to ensure safe construction, prior to building. He partly blamed the government for not having strict rules in place for developers to ensure that human settlements were being safely constructed.

Mr A Lees (DA, Kwazulu-Natal) agreed that the pictures that were shown in the presentation were disturbing. He asked if those incidents were caused by mining activity or by other occurrences. He asked if studies in geology could pick up faults before they occurred.

Mr Mosa Mabuza, Acting Deputy Director General: Mineral Policy and Promotion, Department of Mineral Resources, said that the presentation reflected the reality of how people and communities could be affected by geohazards. South Africa had been concentrating on mining for over 100 years, but still did not have sufficient information and data on exploration of mining, despite the fact that this was becoming international best practice, and most major mining countries had established policies of this kind. The policy was not based on emotions, but showed what might be at risk or at stake. He acknowledged that not much technology had been implied in South African geology. The CGS therefore had a critical role to play in gathering information. The issue of prospecting was related to the precompetitive area of the value chain of prospecting. It was not the intention of CGS to be the referee and the player. CGS would largely play a role in information gathering because the precompetitive areas were mostly unexplored in South Africa. He stressed that CGS would not compete with mining companies, but the information that it gathered would be used as a tool for attracting investment. He added that sinkholes were caused by dolomitic terrain and no mining was needed before these sinkholes would occur. Many provinces were affected by dolomite and CGS wanted to monitor those occurrences.

Mr Lees highlighted a number of problems with the Bill. He found the proposed structure of the board problematic, and did not agree that the Minister should appoint members to the Board. He was worried that there did not appear to be any input into this Bill from private companies.

Mr Lees said CGS could not act as the mandatory custodian and curator of geotechnical data on a national scale, and also compete with the private sector regarding prospecting.

Mr Lees asked where the additional funding would come from, noting that CGS had been under funded in the past.

Mr K Sinclair (COPE, Northern Cape) asked about the procedural issue of tagging. He understood that businesses operated in an overregulated society and asked whether this Bill would not be a hurdle that would unduly jeopardise development. He asked how this Bill would relate to issues regarding environmental impact assessment.

Mr D Gamede (ANC, Kwazulu-Natal) asked if environmentalists were consulted about the Bill, and what their comments had been.

Mr Mabuza said that the Bill was not implying that CGS should start from scratch, but hoped that it would build on what already had been achieved. He noted that it would address issues such as the flaws some years ago that had resulted in the N14 having to be diverted, due to a lack of geoscience consultation. Funding of CGS could be determined by how “important” this function was for the country. The main focus was not on funding at this stage, but on the importance of geoscience to the country. A proper funding model would be looked at once Parliament and the Department of Mineral Resources agreed on its importance to the country. The CGS played an important role in the rehabilitation of the environment to address the effects of mining. The role of CGS was to propose mitigating factors where development was to take place. The Department would support technical geoscience work in regard to development. Geohazards were serious and affected all provinces, development, and the livelihoods of people.

Mr Ramontja added that the problems and hazards were real, because of the amount of development that took place on dolomitic land. The Bill would address all the challenges of dolomites and sinkholes. The issue of prospecting would play a critical role in the pre-competitive area in the Moratium Triangle, as reflected in the presentation. The availability of this data usually attracted investment. That was the reason why so many other countries focussed on making information available, and this also reflected the critical role of geoscience. He added that many environmentalists had been consulted during this process and no objections were received.

Mr Gamede asked how the Appeals Committee would deal with cases that came before it

Mr Ramontja acknowledged that there would always be disputes and the Appeals Committee would attend to those concerns.

Mr Sinclair asked about the procedural issue of tagging.

Ms E van Lingen (DA, Eastern Cape) was concerned that CGS had not been effective since 1993 and it seemed that this legislation might help it to work better. She asked why only State owned companies were consulted. Although Mr Mabuza had said that the State would not take over, she pointed out that the management and board representatives were all State departments.

Ms van Lingen requested the location and database of all sensitive areas.

Mr Mabuza responded that in fact the CGS had achieved quite a lot since 1993. He conceded that perhaps the work that was done might not have been sufficient, and therefore the entity was trying to mainstream its function.

Mr Sinclair said that South Africa should not be putting too much red tape in the way of business, which might hinder developments from taking place. He noted the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) as one the biggest challenges for developers and asked about the relationship between EIA and geosciences. He expressed his concern on the processes and effort developers had to go through before developing. He asked if geoscience would actually be an instrument that could help prevent incidents such as the reservoir in Kuruman having to be rebuilt, when a sinkhole developed.

Mr Mabuza explained that it was not the intention of CGS to prolong any of the processes prior to development, but rather to set and follow procedures that could assist in development. CGS already had substantial information on geosciences and geohazards in South Africa at its disposal, and therefore it did not think that these requirements would cause undue delays.

Mr Lees was not happy about the issue of prospecting. He asked what stopped CGS from moving upwards in the value chain of prospecting in terms of the Law. He had no problem with the motivation for the amendments, but commented that there were many competing priorities for funding. He enquired where the money would come from to fund these programmes.

Mr Mabuza said that this was really a question of having to work more efficiently. The work done and information gathered would benefit the whole country.

Mr Ramontja added that CGS had substantial information already available on geosciences and anybody was welcome to visit CGS to get more information. The Bill sought to help all people investing in housing and development.

Mr B Mnguni (ANC, Free State) thought that the Bill would be helpful in ensuring that information was gathered that would help South Africa now and in the future. He also asked if the country had the technology to explore for oil on its coastline.

Mr Mabuza responded that many companies came to explore for oil along South Africa’s coastline but there was no certainty as to whether there were sufficient natural resources. South Africa had applied to have its sea borders extended and this would open up greater opportunities for oil exploration.

Mr Gumede requested the Committee to accept the invitation by CGS to visit its centre.

Ms van Lingen asked the Chairperson if he was aware of the objections to the Bill raised by her and Mr Lees.

The Chairperson asked members to raise all objections the following week when the Committee would meet to finalise the adoption of the Bill.

The meeting was adjourned

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