weather.co.za submitted that weather hoaxes could not be fought by laws, but only with information. It was very hard to prosecute the originators of hoaxes. The solution was very simple: ensure a better distribution of information, and establish a better warning system about hoaxes. The Bill was not in line with international rules on hazards.
A Democratic Alliance Member asked where alternative sources of weather information were obtained, if weather.co.za issued weather warnings and if so, from where it obtained information, and if weather.co.za would find it more acceptable if Parliament created a specific offence for issuing a hoax warning.
Ocean Satellite Imaging Systems submitted that the proposed Section 30A1(a) and (c) would have far reaching consequences, including some that contravened other laws. Any forecast that specified dangerous conditions such as high seas or gale force winds could be construed as a weather warning. This would be tantamount to criminalising the dissemination of common or general knowledge. In many respects the proposed Section 30A would criminalise the provision of a warning based on freely available information. Criminalising the warning of mariners and other sea users would lead to a significant increase in danger to them especially to fishermen. The requirement that independent weather service providers seek permission from the Weather Service to issue a weather-related warning was uncompetitive and potentially monopolistic. A master of a vessel was legally bound to give warning of inclement weather, in terms of the Merchant Shipping Act 1951 as amended and the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea. People were responsible adults who were responsible for their own actions and for making correct decisions on the basis of a weather warning.
The Chairperson pointed out that the newspapers had misunderstood the situation. The Bill merely placed a limit on the fine or penalty. It was otherwise entirely up to the courts to decide what to do. He explained that the Bill's aim was to prevent false or misleading information and hoaxes. There was no necessity for authorisation. Dissemination of information was the issue. Services such as Ocean Satellite Imaging Systems had nothing to fear.
AfriForum opposed the Bill for the threat it posed to the safety of South African citizens; the unjustifiable violation of the rights of South Africans to freedom of expression and access to information; the responsible party (the Weather Service) not accepting liability for negligence; and the negative practical effect that the Bill might have on the environment. Afriforum also thought that the Bill amounted to an abuse of state power at the expense of South African citizens. AfriForum was committed to opposing hoaxes, since these violated the safety of the public and civil rights. However, the timing of warnings was critical and had implications for the people in the area affected. The Bill also implied in the proposed Section 27A (see Clause 10 of the Bill) that the Weather Service would not be accountable if it failed to do its job properly. AfriForum acknowledged that many issues and concerns had already been addressed.
The Chairperson said that yesterday's 'mea culpa' [my fault] acknowledgement by the Department of Environmental Affairs had smoothed the path for consensus. The Weather Service was a very valuable resource, but had bureaucratised its work in a way that it did not function the way it should and thereby obstructed the flow of information. When the Committee reviewed the Weather Service budget in May or June 2012 it would examine the issues of commercialisation. There were some services that should not be commercialised.
The South African National Editors Forum objected to the provisions for censorship of news relating to weather forecasting and news or information relating to the pollution of the atmosphere. In particular, it was alarmed at the provisions of the Bill for lengthy periods of imprisonment and excessive fines. It believed that the restrictions proposed in the Bill could constitute a breach of the Constitution. It recognised the intentions of the Bill to prevent harmful false weather forecasting, and favoured action against those who issued hoaxes, but the requirement for permission from the Weather Service for issuing weather warnings would seriously inhibit the media from publishing stories obtained from reputable sources other than the Weather Service such as international, academic or scientific institutions. Apart from the practical difficulties of obtaining such permission, the requirement constituted censorship. Apart from other objections, the Bill did not define 'severe weather', a failure that was likely to lead to much argument in the event of a dispute.
The Chairperson and the Forum disagreed amicably on the interpretation of Clause 12 in so far as it proposed penalties. What the Chairperson took as an upper limit, the Forum appeared to take as a mandatory sentence. The Chairperson assured the Forum that the Committee was also concerned about the wording of proposed Section 30A(1)(c). He asked the Department, which itself had received only two sets of comments, to provide the Forum with the Department's announcements. The Committee worked differently and pro-actively targeted stakeholders and sought out their views.
Wavescape Surfing South Africa acknowledged the concessions already made, but submitted concerns that the Bill's proposed amendments might render some of its work illegal. Its free service drew data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Wavescape provided thrice-weekly specialised analyses to users. There was a need in a free and open society for such a particularly focused and free service for all South Africans. There should be more collaboration between the smaller, more specialist entities and the Weather Service. The information provided was interpreted to the particular needs of clients.
The Chairperson assured Wavescape that its business would not be affected by the Bill and urged the Weather Service to talk to its potential users and find ways of cooperating. The more genuine information that was made available to the public, the fewer losses there would be in future from adverse weather events.
Dr Lisa Ramsay, Researcher and Lecturer,
The Chairperson asked Dr Ramsay to provide specific information on instances where commercial constraints impacted on the availability of data for academic as distinct from commercial research. The legislation could be revised to provide for such a distinction. A Democratic Alliance Member called for a presentation from the Weather Service and debate on paying for data. He was concerned about charging for historical data, the collection of which had been funded by the taxpayer.
The two submissions scheduled were not heard due to the absence of the presenters. The public hearings were complete and the Department of Water and Environmental Affairs would now consider the suggested amendments and present an updated version of the South African Weather Services Bill to the Committee for further discussion. The Department was also tasked to look into past hoaxes and check if there was existing legislation to punish such offences.
The Chairperson said that, as the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) had already done by way of a press statement, it had yesterday in its input indicated clearly that some of the consequences that might emanate from Section 30A(1)(a) as proposed in Clause 12 of the Bill were not intended, and that what the Department sought to do was prevent false or misleading information and hoaxes, and that therefore the Department wished to see Clause 12 amended accordingly. He noted that many of those present had made submissions on Clause 12, and he asked them to bear in mind that the Department had already conceded the need for amendments to this Clause. Of course, those who were present to make oral submissions or make presentations could still say what they wanted to say. Today there were eight submissions.
Mr Randolf Jorberg, owner of weather.co.za, spoke from a private on-line business background of 14 years. He also said that he had experience of how weather service business worked internationally, although his experience was more in building internet businesses than in creating weather forecasts. He thought it strange that severe weather warnings might be seen as creating problems for the stability of a country. Over the past two weeks he had talked to people in the weather field and he understood the potential for problems.
'Are hoaxes really the problem?' he asked. The problem would not be solved by legislation. Hoaxes could not be fought by laws, but only with information. It was very hard to prosecute the originators of hoaxes since they took steps to conceal their contact details. The solution was very simple. This was to ensure a better distribution of information, and establish a better warning system about hoaxes. There was no way that prosecution of the issuing of severe weather warnings would help
The Bill in its current state would not lead to fair relations between South African Weather Service (SAWS) and private weather information providers. He pointed out that the
More and more features of the SAWS website were available only to paid subscribers, while SAWS must by law adhere to the World Meteorological Organisation Resolution 40 that urged members to strengthen their commitment to the free and unrestricted exchange of meteorological and related data and products.
The Bill did not define 'severe weather warning'. Also it had to be asked what would be considered 'false information'. There was no 100% accurate weather forecast. The insertion by way of Clause 11 of Section 28A was of great concern, as the Minister could change the legislation without going through Parliament. The offences Clause 12 and proposed Section 28A needed to be removed, and Parliament needed to rethink the current policy on 'one single voice' in regard to severe weather warnings.
Mr Jorberg also pointed out that many private weather information providers could not afford to be present at the hearings since they were in the field as a hobby.
The Chairperson thought that Mr Jorberg was going to the beach. While ties and jackets were not required, Parliament had a dress code and shorts, thongs, and T-shirts were unacceptable and showed disrespect to Parliament's procedures. Surely common sense dictated that anyone attending a meeting of great importance in order to influence the legislature would dress in a seemly manner.
Mr Jorbert said that he had never visited any country's parliament until attending the hearings the previous day and it was all very new to him. He offered to excuse himself, but the Chairperson asked Mr Jorbert to proceed and concentrate on the things that he would like to see amended.
Mr G Morgan (DA) asked where the alternative sources of weather information were obtained. Were these a combination of information from SAWS and international sites, or were these just international sites?
Mr Morgan asked if weather.co.za was actually in the habit of issuing weather warnings. If so, from where did it obtain such information?
The Chairperson told Mr Jorbert that he would tell him when he could answer.
Mr Jorbert replied that Storm Chasing South Africa, who could not attend the meeting, issued eye-witness based warnings, or warnings based on manual interpretation of data from various sources. This was something that SAWS did not do and was unable to do. No organisation would have the necessary resources. This could be done only by private hobbyists, who were doing something very valuable in that regard. Their work was comparable to that done by farmers, as Members had heard the previous day, who sent out messages via citizen's band (CB) radio [or in the case of licensed amateur radio operators through HAMNET].
General weather information services such as weather.co.za used a different approach. They used calculated weather forecasting algorithms based on different experience and properties, and might issue severe weather warnings based on these outcomes. At present weather.co.za did not have the capacity to supply these warnings. So weather.co.za was not currently in danger of being affected by the Bill.
Mr Morgan asked Mr Jorbert if he would find it more acceptable if Parliament created a specific offence for issuing a hoax warning. If so, were there any unforeseen consequences of which the legislature should be aware?
Mr Jorbert replied that including malicious intent in the Bill might be a problem. Neither SAWS nor anyone else would ever be able to create an entirely accurate weather forecast. It would be necessary to define intent to issue a hoax warning. However, he would welcome changes to the Bill such as Mr Morgan had suggested, but he felt that it would be very hard to trace and prosecute originators of hoax warnings as they hid their location and identity.
Ocean Satellite Imaging Systems (OSIS) oral submission
Mr Jean Arabonis, Meteorologist, Ocean Satellite Imaging Systems (OSIS), submitted that the proposed Section 30A. 1(a) and (c) would have far reaching consequences, including some that contravened other laws.
Further, the Bill provided no definition of what was deemed to be either a severe weather or air pollution warning. If the Bill used the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO)'s definition, only SAWS would be able to provide a forecast outside of calm weather that was legal. Any forecast that specified dangerous conditions such as high seas or gale force winds could be construed as a weather warning. This would be tantamount to criminalising the dissemination of common or general knowledge.
Most independent weather forecast organisations used the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Global Forecast System (GFS) data as the base for their forecasts. The model data was freely available on the internet by virtue of
Weather forecasts were available on the internet from many sites and organisations. Those outside
Criminalising the warning of mariners and other sea users, even on the basis of accurate and dependable data, would lead to a significant increase in danger to mariners, especially fishermen.
Neither the Act nor the Bill addressed the WMO requirement to recognise the interdependence of national meteorological or hydro-meteorological services and the commercial sector.
Though SAWS was undoubtedly aware of OSIS's existence, it had not consulted with any of the affected parties during the drafting phase of the Bill.
The requirement that independent weather service providers seek permission from SAWS to issue a weather-related warning was uncompetitive and potentially monopolistic.
A master of a vessel was legally bound to give warning of inclement weather, in terms of the Merchant Shipping Act 1951 (Act No. 57 of 1951) as amended and the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) requirements. Such would contravene the provisions of the Bill.
The WMO had a severe weather-warning page active since 2005. SAWS should contribute to this site, but was not listed as a contributor.
OSIS submitted that the proposed Section 30A, notably subsections (a) and (c) were harmful to the people of
Mr Arabonis explained that OSIS had been in business for some 12 or 13 years. Its main aim was marine forecasting. Its maritime clients were one of the major assets of the South African economy. It was a small company with three consultant meteorologists or oceanographers. He held an honours degree in oceanic and atmospheric sciences. OSIS made money from subscribers. It did not aim to engage with the public as such other than on a client to professional basis. So it did not run a website giving free information and warnings.
There had been a couple of bogus weather warnings. One had been a tropical cyclone warning for
With reference to Section 30A(1) as proposed in Clause 12, Section 4(3) of the South African Weather Service Act 2001 (Act No. 8 of 2001) already provided that only SAWS should issue a weather-related warning. The Bill was now introducing a jail sentence or fine for contravention of an existing provision.
At this point the Chairperson pointed out that the newspapers had misunderstood the situation. The Bill merely placed a limit on the fine or penalty. It was otherwise entirely up to the courts to decide what to do. There was nothing in this legislation that made it obligatory. He quoted an example of 'trash journalism' which said that the Bill contemplated a fine of R5 million.
Mr Arabonis replied that we still had a Bill that prohibited a private individual from issuing a weather warning by taking something that existed already (Section 4(3) of the Act) and attaching a punishment to it. Therefore the Act itself needed to be looked at, and the Bill, in amending the Act, should correct that Section 4.1(3). This Section came from Annexure 3 of the WMO Treaty; the important thing was the wording of the original treaty. He quoted Resolution 40 of the Treaty.
Mr Arabonis agreed that only the SAWS should issue warnings to the public, but stated that commercial or private service providers should be able, legally, to issue weather-related warnings to their clients.
Ocean Satellite Imaging Systems (OSIS) (continued)
OSIS had sought dialogue with SAWS but had been rudely rebuffed and had been accused of being 'journalists'. Quite frankly, Mr Arabonis did not know if that was a crime yet. OSIS was going to send the individual a copy of Making Friends and Influencing People. OSIS had been put in contact with the Head of Corporate Affairs, and then referred to someone else: OSIS was still following up this referral, after 10 days of effort.
Mr Arabonis wondered if OSIS must obtain permission for every warning that it issued to its clients, or if it could obtain a blanket permission. SAWS had not made this clear.
The Chairperson said that there would not be an authorisation process.
Mr Arabonis explained that 95% of internet weather service providers derived data from NOAA, whose data was freely available. 5%, including OSIS, were using data from
The Bill in its present form would be detrimental to South African mariners. It was completely at odds with the WMO Treaty. If there were to be clauses of this nature, perhaps it should be made illegal to issue a hoax weather warning. Such a provision would not affect OSIS, as it did not issue such hoax warnings, but Mr Arabonis was doubtful how such a provision could be implemented.
The Chairperson explained that the proposed legislation's aim was to prevent false or misleading information and hoaxes. There was no necessity for authorisation. Dissemination of information was the issue.
Services such as OSIS, using the information in the way that it did, had nothing to fear. The severe weather warnings definition would not be present in the final version of the Bill. However, how the final version of the Bill would be drafted was up to Parliament.
Mr Arabonis opposed a monopoly in any form.
The Chairperson would be happy to receive further written submissions, but no more oral submissions would be accepted.
Mr Morgan saw a similarity between OSIS's relationship with its clients and the closed network of HAMNET about which Members had heard the previous day. He commented that the Department had acknowledged that the Bill had been poorly drafted. It was necessary to ensure that the drafting resonated with the actual intent of the Department.
Ms D Tsotetsi (ANC) disagreed with Mr Arabonis. People could not always recognise a hoax such as a bomb threat and were liable to panic.
Mr Arabonis replied that a bomb threat was more of a terrorist threat. Bombs aroused exceptional fear. On the other hand a weather warning was a much slower process. People did geography at school and weather was a subject about which people knew to some extent.
The Chairperson sought to distinguish between a scam and a public safety issue as represented by a hoax by which even intelligent people could be mislead. It was necessary to prevent impersonation of authoritative sources such as SAWS, and this was not in the legislation but should be considered. He assured Mr Arabonis that no reasonable person was opposed to trying to stop hoaxes.
Mr Arabonis thought that impersonation was a civil matter covered by copyright legislation. He himself would prosecute anyone who put out a false warning on an OSIS letterhead.
The Chairperson said that the problem was people acting on such false information. Such could not be dealt with by a civil action.
The Chairperson assured Mr Arabonis that OSIS would still be doing its work after the legislation had been passed.
AfriForum oral submission
Mr Julius Kleynhans, Head: Environmental Affairs, AfriForum, submitted that Afriforum opposed the Bill for various reasons, including:
the threat it posed to the safety of South African citizens;
the unjustifiable violation of the rights of South Africans to freedom of expression and access to information;
the responsible party (SAWS) not accepting liability for negligence; and
the negative practical effect that the Bill might have on the environment.
AfriForum also thought that the Bill amounted to an abuse of state power at the expense of South African citizens.
Recent flooding events in Limpopo and
It had also been brought to AfriForum's attention that a caller had phoned one of the talk radio stations on the day of the flooding with a warning that Hoedspruit might get flooded that day. Another caller then accused him of inciting panic and said that it was a criminal offence. Mr Kleynhans emphasised that AfriForum was committed to opposing hoaxes, since these violated the safety of the public and civil rights. However, hypothetically, if an early warning could not be issued, and the affected area had been highly populated, the results could have been catastrophic.
Mr Kleynhans pointed out that the timing of warnings was critical and had implications for the people in the area affected.
The Bill also implied in the proposed Section 27A (see Clause 10 of the Bill) that the SAWS would not be accountable if it failed to do its job properly.
Mr Kleynhans acknowledged that many issues and concerns had already been addressed.
The Chairperson said that yesterday's 'mea culpa' [my fault] acknowledgement by the Department of Environmental Affairs had smoothed the path of consensus.
Mr Kleynhans said that it was good that he had attended yesterday.
The Chairperson believed that it was beneficial that the SAWS was present and listening to the views of stakeholders, since the Weather Service was a very valuable resource, but had bureaucratised its work in a way that it did not function the way it should and thereby obstructed the flow of information. The more assertive the SAWS became, the better, in order to promote the flow of information.
'Our dissemination of information is atrocious in this country.' It was because we bureaucratised it. It was necessary to encourage members of the public to be responsible citizens and the only way to do that was to equip them.
When the Committee reviewed SAWS' budget in May or June 2012 it would examine the issues of commercialisation. He had no problem with commercialisation, but there were some services that should not be commercialised. If Mr Kleynhans wanted to pass on information to the Committee about concerns around the flow of weather information to citizens, rather than to business men, so that they could organise their lives safely, he should do so, and the Committee would take that up with SAWS. The cost of such flow of weather information should be borne by the taxpayer.
Mr Kleynhans agreed and said that AfriForum also worked as a civil rights organisation. Its members were whistle-blowers.
Mr Kleynhans felt assured by what he had heard in the hearings.
There were no Members' questions.
South African National Editors Forum (Sanef) oral submission
Mr Raymond Louw, Editorial Consultant, South African National Editors Forum (Sanef), thanked the Chairperson for indicating that the Committee would amend the Bill and thereby addressing many of his concerns. This was extremely welcome indeed. However, he wanted to go through his submission in order to place it on record, because there had been some deficiencies, as the Chairperson had indicated earlier, including deficiencies in the drafting of the Bill because of lack of consultation with any of the media organisations.
Sanef objected to the contents of certain proposed amendments contained in the Bill because of the provisions for censorship of news relating to weather forecasting and news or information relating to the pollution of the atmosphere. In particular, Sanef was alarmed at the provisions of the Bill for lengthy periods of imprisonment and excessive fines that could be imposed.
Sanef believed that the restrictions proposed in the Bill could constitute a breach of the Constitution.
Sanef recognised the intentions of the Bill to prevent harmful false weather forecasting, and favoured action against those who issued hoaxes, but feared that the proposals would seriously inhibit the media from carrying out their functions of informing the public accurately on these issues.
The requirement for permission from SAWS for issuing weather warnings would seriously inhibit the media from publishing stories obtained from reputable sources other than SAWS such as international, academic or scientific institutions. Apart from the practical difficulties of obtaining such permission, the requirement constituted censorship, and would be in breach of the Constitution.
Apart from other objections, the Bill did not define 'severe weather', a failure that was likely to lead to much argument in the event of a dispute with the SAWS or in court.
The penalties proposed by the Bill were excessively harsh, and there were similarities with the 'excessive penalties contained in the Protection of State Information Bill'. They should be rejected for the same reason.
Sanef was disappointed that it was not consulted before now on the Bill. It apologised for the delay in submission. It only became aware of the Bill in the last few days.
The Chairperson said that only two entities, SAWS included, had responded to the Department's call for comments in May and June 2011.
Mr Louw said that the journalists who reported on Parliament had not notified Sanef. His organisation would have to take up this lapse internally.
[Note to Editor: Mr Louw told me personally that it was through the Parliamentary Monitoring Group (PMG) website that he found out about the Bill]
The Chairperson and Mr Louw disagreed amicably on the interpretation of Clause 12 in so far as it proposed penalties. What the Chairperson took as an upper limit, Mr Louw appeared to take as a mandatory sentence. Mr Louw preferred to leave it to the press ombudsman and not get into the semantics.
The Chairperson assured Mr Louw that the Committee was also concerned about the wording of proposed Section 30A(1)(c). He asked the Department to provide Mr Louw with the Department's announcements on the consultation process. This Committee operated differently, and did not just advertise and wait for submissions, but also pro-actively targeted stakeholders and sought out their views.
There were no Members' questions.
Wavescape Surfing South Africa presentation
Mr Steve Pike, Surf Forecaster, Consultant to Surfing Events, and Founder of wavescape.co.za, acknowledged the concessions already made, but submitted his concerns that the Bill's proposed amendments might render some of his work illegal. His free service drew data from NOAA) in the United States of America (USA). This information was graphically and textually displayed on wavescape.co.za, which had 25 000 users. Based on the data, he provided thrice-weekly analyses of the conditions for our users to make informed decisions about their marine and coastal activity, from surfing in its various forms to fishing, sailing, swimming and going to the beach generally. His users depended on this information because it was highly specialised, with no other mandate other than to interpret the unique conditions created by different swell heights and the energy in the wave as informed by period. This pure, almost one-dimensional focus provided a unique service that was beneficial to a wide and broader spectrum of coastal users, not just surfers.
There was a need in a free and open society for a person such as himself to provide his particularly focused and free service for all South Africans.
Mr Pike felt that there should be more collaboration between the smaller, more specialist entities, such as himself, and the Weather Service.
He pointed out that the information that he provided was interpreted to the particular needs of clients.
Mr Pike commented that his service lacked resources comparable to those of SAWS. Notwithstanding its origins in providing information to the military, the NOAA service offered almost entirely free and open source information in the public domain. SAWS should take note of this and take it to heart. More efficient communication was required. Often journalists struggled to interpret warnings.
Mr Pike said that his own language was flowery, metaphoric, almost purple at times, in the way that he worded his weather alerts and surf reports. This added interest and, in a way, accuracy. He quoted one of his own forecasts for KwaZulu-Natal, a forecast which, in expectation of particular surfing conditions referred to 'carnage'.
The Chairperson assured Mr Pike that his business would not be affected by the Bill and urged the SAWS to talk to its potential users and find ways of cooperating. The more genuine information that was made available to the public, the fewer losses there would be in future from adverse weather events.
Mr Morgan said that legislators must guard against Mr Pike's kind of colourful language falling victim to inappropriate quotes out of context with resulting confusion to people who were not familiar with the language of surfers. There was no reason, however, to stop Mr Pike from performing what was effectively a niche service.
The Chairperson said that the Committee's intention with the drafting would be to deal with the evil of people being evil. It was deliberately misleading information that the Bill sought to prevent, rather than the kind of language that Mr Pike used. Legislators should make their intentions very clear in Hansard, in order to assist the courts in interpreting the legislation.
The Chairperson assured Mr Pike that he had the Committee's blessing to engage with the SAWS on seeking more cooperation.
Dr Lisa Ramsay, Researcher and Lecturer, University of KwaZulu-Natal oral submission
Dr Lisa Ramsay, Researcher and Lecturer, University of KwaZulu-Natal, specialising in meteorology, air pollution and environmental health. She was present to represent a group of atmospheric scientists based in Durban who were concerned about the effects of the proposed amendments on academic research. She acknowledged that many of the pertinent points had already been discussed.
The first concern around air pollution warnings had largely been resolved.
However, she still wished to express concern about severe weather warnings. If such warnings were to be limited, it was suggested that the term 'severe weather' and 'warning' be clearly defined. Mr Morgan had the previous day raised the issue of the distinction between 'severe' and 'extreme' weather. She also appreciated Mr Morgan's noting a distinction between public warnings and warnings to smaller networks and groups, such as academic meetings.
Various research groups and private companies fulfilled forecasting requirements that were not sufficiently addressed by SAWS, such as the capacity to issue real time warnings of tornadoes or dangerously high levels of ultraviolet (UV) radiation.
Schedules 1 and 2 of the Act, and the amendments, listed SAWS as the only institution that conducted the activities listed, but in reality the atmospheric science network was much broader and more collaborative than suggested.
Although Dr Ramsay and her colleagues firmly believed that members of the South African public should have access to weather warnings by any institution, acting in good faith, perhaps a compromise would be to maintain a distinction between a warning and an official warning on severe weather events; as such any institution could issue a severe weather warning as long as it was made in an unofficial capacity. This would also deal with the issue of impersonators. It would not matter if your warning was incorrect or misleading, or false or a hoax, you would be prosecuted for impersonating SAWS.
The next concern was access to data, the issue touched upon the previous day by Mr François Botha, National Director, HAMNET. Weather data was a basic input for various climate and air quality models. The Bill formalised the shift away from a public service to a more commercial model for SAWS. Dr Ramsay and her colleagues were concerned that the commercialisation of weather data could stifle research and innovation. It certainly would limit opportunities for academic research where funding was often a concern, particularly with student research.
Early last year, Dr Ramsay had advised a student to change a research topic after being quoted more than R5 000 for the rainfall data set required to assess rainfall cyclicity in northern KwaZulu-Natal, an important analysis in the context of climate change in the region. No country, and certainly not South Africa, could afford to inhibit research and innovation in the field of climate science.
Perhaps provision could be made under Schedule 1 to provide the commercial data packages that were described in Schedule 2 to academic researchers at no extra cost.
On a more technical note, focusing on air quality data, these limitations on access to air quality data would conflict with SAWS requirements under the National Framework for Air Quality Management. SAWS needed to ensure that unprocessed air quality data were made freely available and easily accessible to the public and researchers as required by the Framework. The Bill in its current form failed to acknowledge this obligation. Perhaps something further could be included under Schedule 1.
Dr Ramsay expressed concerns about the proposed Section 30A(1)(c) (see Clause 12 of the Bill). This had been brought up the previous day and largely resolved, but Dr Ramsay wanted her perspective incorporated when the Bill was revised. This proposed Section 30A(1)(c) limited academic critique of SAWS data collection methodology, processing or analysis. Scientific knowledge developed through cycles of theorising, critique, reassessment, and re-theorising. While critique of SAWS might be detrimental to a scientific image per se, such critique was a natural and necessary mechanism for encouraging innovation within the scientific model. Academics could be prosecuted for any criticism that might be financial detrimental to SAWS. This point overlapped with the previous day's debate, so Dr Ramsay concluded her oral submission here, but pointed out that the Committee might have received more submissions from academics had the period for comments not been over the festive season.
The Chairperson said that every year the Committee engaged with SAWS on commercialisation. He asked Dr Ramsay to provide specific information on instances where commercial constraints impacted on the availability of data for academic as distinct from commercial research. He felt sure that the legislation could be revised to provide for such a distinction in order to meet Dr Ramsay's concerns.
Dr Ramsay said that it was a new issue.
The Chairperson was concerned with agencies' commercialisation of their activities so as not to be so dependent on funds appropriated for them by Parliament. There was a need to set limits and close loopholes. It was unacceptable that genuine research that could help South Africa should be subject to the restrictions that Dr Ramsay had recently encountered.
The Chairperson said that proposed Section 30A.1(a) and (b) (Clause 12 of the Bill) was to be limited only to intention. There was need for the Committee to debate further: there was no need to make a distinction between public and private dissemination of warnings in regard to prohibiting intentionally false or misleading information or hoaxes; such a distinction could create an unfortunate loophole.
Mr Morgan said that the Committee intended to focus on the text before it, but Dr Ramsay had done well to go beyond the text on the table and say that that there was some issues that needed attention in the schedules, which defined SAWS' commercial and public aspects. He would welcome a presentation from SAWS and debate on paying for data. He was concerned about charging for historical data, the collection of which had been funded by the taxpayer. SAWS had told him that charges for such data were essentially administration fees for lifting data from the system; however, he asserted, fees could be prohibitive, and wanted a debate.
The Chairperson said that Parliament was the only legislature, and this legislation was complex. He asked SAWS to give its detailed input to the Committee on all aspects of commercialisation. There was need for a fine balance. This was a serious issue that the Committee would address this year.
Mr Morgan agreed. He noted that no one had submitted comments on the Bill's proposal to allow the Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, after publication in the Government Gazette, to move different SAWS products between public and commercial. It was probably a Clause that the Committee should review. He felt that the legislature should have an input, before gazetting.
The Chairperson noted Mr Morgan's point. It was a good suggestion.
Dr S Huang (ANC) appreciated Dr Ramsay's submission.
The Chairperson said that the Committee would ensure that proposed Section 30A(1) (a) and (c) were reworded to be more in line with the Bill's intentions.
Two submissions remained - those from the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) Institute for Soil, Climate and Water and from Earthlife Africa.
The Chairperson reserved the mornings of 14 and 15 February, when the President's State of the Nation Address (SONA) would be debated in the National Assembly in the afternoon, for the Committee's deliberations on the hearings. He trusted that Mr Peter Lukey, Chief Director: Air Quality Management, Department of Environmental Affairs, would have met with Dr Lorraine Lotter, Executive Director, Chemical and Allied Industries Association (CAIA), as requested the previous day. The legislation should spell out clearly the implications for data collection on air quality of any limits on access.
The Chairperson adjourned the meeting until 14h00.
The Chairperson announced that the Committee was scheduled to hear two presentations in the afternoon session. However, neither presenter had arrived. That concluded the public hearings on the South African Weather Services Amendment Bill. The Department of Water and Environmental Affairs now had to work on the technical issues raised. A document had been compiled on the summary of the amendments to the Bill which had been put forward. The Department was also asked to see what hoaxes had already been spread in the country. He had a feeling that there was already legislation to criminalise the deliberate spreading of hoax warnings. He thought that he had dealt with some legislation in this regard from the time he was involved with the Department of Justice.
The Chairperson said that the Committee would meet the following day to discuss the extent of rhinocerous poaching. He quipped that government should consider the free distribution of viagra to discourage men from using rhino horn products as an aphrodisiac.
Mr G Morgan (DA) said that a tight procedure should be followed so that the Bill could be tabled in Parliament before being published in the Government Gazette.
The Chairperson agreed that the necessary preparatory work needed to be done. The Committee would meet in February to go through the amendments to the Bill.
The meeting was adjourned.
- Dr Lisa Ramsay, Researcher and Lecturer, University of KwaZulu-Natal presentation
- Dr Lisa Ramsay, Researcher and Lecturer, University of KwaZulu-Natal submission
- weather.co.za presentation
- weather.co.za submission
- Ocean Satellite Imaging Systems (OSIS) submission
- ARC-Institute presentation
- AfriForum submission
- We don't have attendance info for this committee meeting
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