Transport Laws and Related Matters Amendment "e-Toll" Bill [B30-2012]: deliberations and adoption

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Transport

20 November 2012
Chairperson: Ms N Bhengu (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Chairperson started the meeting by clarifying the misinformation caused by incorrect reports by the media about the advertising for public consultation on the Bill and the time frames. She said that contrary to what was reported by The Star newspaper, the Committee had complied with all the statutory processes and had paid out an amount of R171 000 to seven newspaper houses for advertisements about public consultation on the Bill. It was important for the media to report in a way which could assist the public in understanding the processes of Parliament and also not to mix issues and confuse the public and respond emotionally as if the Committee was not doing its work. There had been no rushing of the process as all processes and rules were followed according to the Rules of Parliament and not in terms of what COSATU wanted.

In the discussions that followed, Members asked questions on the use of the e-tag, the publicity of e-toll tariffs, the use of billboards and the role of the
South African National Roads Agency (SANRAL).

The Amendment Bill was agreed upon but the contentious issue was how to insert the amendments proposed by the Committee into the Bill and have it passed before Parliament went into recess on 23 November. This necessitated the adjournment of the meeting for a consultation amongst the Chairperson, the ANC Chief Whip and Deputy Chief Whip. After the consultation, the Committee received the suggestion that the amendments proposed by the Committee should be deferred until 2013 and passed as a Committee Bill while the current principal Bill was passed in Parliament. This proposal was objected to by the DA member who insisted that the amendments proposed by the Committee were the essence of the public hearings process. The DA member said that the Committee had worked very hard on the process and the plug was now being pulled by forces outside the Committee due to political and leadership issues. The meeting was adjourned for a second consultation by the Chairperson and the National Assembly presiding officers.

The third part of the meeting was an update on the consultation between the Chairperson and the presiding officers of the National Assembly. It was decided that the proposals made to the Committee be taken into consideration. The Bill would be considered along with the SALGA proposed amendment. On the matter of
Rule 249 where a Committee has to seek National Assembly permission where they wish to amend other provisions of an Act which are not part of the amendment bil, the Parliamentary Law Advisor said there were two option which the National Assembly could follow and it was possible. The Transport Laws and Related Matters Amendment Bill was adopted by the Committee with amendments.

Meeting report

Introduction by the Chairperson
The Chairperson said that the meeting would focus on the amendments to the Transport Laws and Related Matters Amendment Bill as proposed by the public submissions. She had monitored the media and the Committee needed to provide information so that there could be balanced reporting and an increased understanding of how Parliament works. In processing the Bill, the Committee was required to give notice of public hearings after the Department had briefed the Committee, by advertising for public hearings. In terms of the Rules of Parliament, the Committee was supposed to give 10 days’ notice in written form for public hearings and for stakeholders to indicate if they want to make a verbal submission. It was up to the public to make submissions after the advertisement and it was not the Committee that decided who had to come and make verbal submissions. The Committee was also required to advertise the Bill in not less than three newspapers. In the case of the Transport Laws and Related Matters Bill, the Committee advertised in seven newspapers.

The Chairperson said that it was reported in The Star newspaper that Cosatu
General Secretary, Mr Vavi, said that the Committee advertised only on the 6 November 2012. The Committee did not advertise on the 6 November as reported in The Star. The Committee advertised the Bill in the main body of newspapers as follows: The Star newspaper on 26 October 2012; Cape Times on 26 October 2012; New Age on 26 October 2012. The Committee paid the following amounts to the respective newspapers: The Star R15 724; Cape Times R7 938; New Age R2 2000; Isolezwe R7 866. The Committee advertised in the weekend newspapers on 28 October 2012 and paid R29 000. For the Sunday Times, it paid R45 000; for Mail and Guardian R21 000. The total amount paid to the media by the Committee for advertising the Bill was R171 000.

The Chairperson said that even if Mr Vavi had made wrong allegations, at least The Star had the right records and should have reported the right information. The Chairperson had corrected the information with Mr Vavi as of the night of 20 November 2012 yet the correction had not been reported by The Star newspaper. The Chairperson appealed to the media that it should give balanced reporting.

The Committee gave 11 days instead of 10 days to the public to make submissions and 19 submissions were received. Of the 19 submissions received, only three organisations indicated interest in making verbal submissions to the Committee. These three organisations had been accommodated. After the lapse of 10 days, the Committee engaged with the process of planning. It was important for people to understand the processes of Parliament. Neither the Committee nor the Chairperson decided when a Bill was to be debated after public hearings.

Today’s meeting was meant to accommodate the proposal by the South African Local Government Association (SALGA) and to establish the legal process involved. The SALGA proposal required the Committee to go to Parliament and ask for the suspension of Rule 249. That was the essence of the day’s meeting. It was being done because the Committee was accommodating the proposals made during the public hearings.

It was important for the media to report in a way which could assist the public in understanding the processes of Parliament and also not to mix issues and confuse the public and respond emotionally – as if the Committee was not doing its work. There had been no rushing of the process as all processes and rules were followed according to the Rules of Parliament and not in terms of what COSATU wanted.

Mr I Ollis (DA) said that the reporting of the newspapers was ridiculous as the Committee had followed all the due processes. He however had concerns about the speed of the process. He had checked with the DA Chief Whip and Deputy Chief Whips and it was reported in the House on the 20 November 2012 that the debate on the amendments to the Bill was put on the Order Paper for Thursday 22 November without the Programming Committee agreeing to put it on the Order Paper. That was not the problem of the Portfolio Committee or the Chairperson but it was an internal problem of Parliament. Someone had put the debate on the Order Paper before the Programming Committee had met and that was appalling.

Mr Ollis said the Committee was now about 30 hours away from voting on the Amendment Bill yet there were still amendments which were being made to the Bill. The Committee had to consult on some of the details of what was being added or removed from the Bill. The speed of such consultation in just one night was a concern. The Committee had not yet made a mistake but it was about to make one. The Committee had not yet received permission from the National Assembly to amend the Principal Act to take care of SALGA’s amendments. Mr Ollis was also concerned about the display of the pricing so that road users would know what they are paying for. The answer which was given the previous day was incomplete. The process was being done in an incredible hurry, at the last minute. This speed could lead to mistakes, and later on either COSATU or another organisation would sue and start another long issue.

The Chairperson said that it was important for the issues to be separated. There was an issue of public consultation which had been reported on in the newspapers. The Committee had allocated enough time for public consultation yet the newspapers were creating the impression that the Committee had not given sufficient time for people to make submissions. The second issue was that the Committee now needed enough time to deliberate on the public submissions. The view of the DA was that the Committee had not had enough time to deliberate on the submissions. The view of the ANC was that the Committee had had enough time to deliberate on the submissions. The State Law Advisers and the Parliamentary Legal Advisers were present and were going to clarify all the grey areas which were outstanding. The Committee had given the Legal Advisers time to insert the proposed amendments from the meeting of the previous day. The Committee did not need three days or five hours to do that because the Committee had agreed on the objects of the amendments. From the meeting of the 20 November 2012, all that was left was the insertion of the proposed amendments in a manner that captured the details of what the Committee had agreed on.

The meeting would be adjourned to confirm how the programming was going to allow for the effecting of the proposed changes. The third issue was further explanation on the concern about the advertising of toll prices. That was not a major issue which needed many days. It could be done in a few hours. The points had been made so the Committee had only to deliberate on the proposals made. There was no issue of time. The Committee was not going to go out to address rallies.
 
The Chairperson said that there was still another process in the National Council of Provinces (NCOP). That process was also going to allow an opportunity for public participation. She did not understand why there was this whole buzz about “the process and the Committee not giving an opportunity for public participation”. The confusion was started by people who did not understand the processes of Parliament and she was appealing to the people who understood the processes of Parliament and had the right records, to report correctly.


Mr Ollis said that he could not comment on the issue about Mr Vavi because he did not account to the Opposition. He agreed with the view of COSATU that the e-toll was unwanted but he did not agree with the reports on Committee process. He was concerned about the speed of the process as there was hardly enough time if the Committee wanted to ask Parliament to break the “Three day rule” and the rule which provided that the Committee could not change the Principal Act unless permission was given by the National Assembly: Rule 249(3)(b) if it is a bill amending provisions of legislation, may seek the permission of the Assembly to inquire into amending other provisions of that legislation. There was very little time to follow the process of breaking the two rules and incorporating the suggestions by SALGA. He also wanted to get responses on the issue of displaying all the prices on billboards. He asked if the Committee was going to request the NCOP to consult with at least the provinces which had metro cities.

Mr L Suka (ANC) said that based on the meeting of the previous day, there were certain positions that were taken. It was important for the current meeting to start from where it left off at the previous meeting so that progress could be made in a coherent manner.

The Chairperson said that the purpose of the meeting was to look at whether the Committee was allowed to effect the proposed amendment in terms of Rules of Parliament, what mechanisms were in place to effect the proposal. It was important for the Committee to get the view of the Parliamentary Legal Adviser and the State Law Adviser.

The Principal State Law Adviser of the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, Ms Suraya Williams, said that the Office of the Chief State Law Adviser had discussed the proposed amendments by the Committee and based on the discussion had formulated a draft of the proposed amendment for the Committee to consider. The job of the State Law Adviser was not to look at the policy issues but to deal with the drafting of the proposed amendments. It was the responsibility of the Department of Transport to deal with the policy issues related to the amendments. Ms Williams read out the proposed amendments.

Mr Suka said that the drafting of the proposed amendments captured what the Committee wanted inserted into the Bill. The input by SALGA had been captured by the drafting. He was comfortable with the drafting.

Mr Ollis said that he had no objection to the draft amendment. He suggested that copies of the draft should be distributed to Members so that they could present them to their various parties.

The Chairperson said that it was important for the Members to explain to their parties why the proposal from SALGA was important. If the declaration of an urban toll did not take into account the increased traffic which will have a negative impact on the roads of that municipality and also the financial burden on the municipality to maintain the roads and deploy traffic police, it was going to create a problem of not having an alternative road which could be used and be conducive to the public. The SALGA submission was being taken not only with the interest of municipalities in mind but also of road users. It was an important amendment because it took into consideration the burden on the municipality to deploy resources and on the other hand it provided road users with an alternative road. The proposal was addressing one of the fears raised about the tolling of roads.

The Chairperson asked the Parliamentary Legal Adviser to brief the Committee on the mechanism to put the proposed amendment through Parliament.

The Parliamentary Legal Adviser, Adv Charmaine van der Merwe, told the Committee that the National Assembly had made two proposals with regards to the process. The first suggestion was that permission could be sought that same day by way of a motion without notice. The risk was that if there was an objection, the motion could not be accepted. Given the nature of the amendment, it was quite likely that there was not going to be any objection. Even if there was an objection, the second option was that the Committee could request for the rules to be suspended by placing it on the Order Paper for the next day.

Mr Suka said that he preferred the second option.

Mr Ollis said that both options sounded like the same thing. Both options involved potentially suspending the rules by way of a notice of motion requesting the House to suspend Rule 249. The DA was a political party but it did not like playing games with technicalities. It was concerned with the principle, not the method. His personal view was that the amendments were “the right thing to do”. The concern of the DA was the funding of the e-toll not the amendments.

The Chairperson said that her view was that what the Committee had been advised to do was to effect both. There were parties which were part of the Committee but were not present so if the two-fold approach was used, the Committee stood a better chance and it could further educate the parties which were not part of the process.

The Chairperson said that the Committee should propose to the NCOP during its processing of the Bill also to take into account the options proposed as well as the consultation process to ensure that affected parties were given an opportunity to participate in public hearings.

Mr Ollis said that he was only asking for public consultation to be done in the provinces where there were metros and major cities.

Mr Suka said that he did not have a fundamental problem with the proposal made by Mr Ollis.

The Chairperson said that it was a fair proposal by the DA and it was accepted by the ANC in good faith.

Mr Suka suggested that the process on the draft amendment could be started with immediate effect so that it could be finished by the end of the day.

Mr Ollis asked why the e-tolling system and authorities did not put up signs showing details of the prices. People needed to know what amount they would be paying if they were not registered with SANRAL and did not have an e-tag and had not provided their details. There was the need to inform drivers that there were other prices, other than those indicated on the signs. There was a need for a proper marketing of the cost. What SANRAL could do was to make two billboards or two columns, with the first one showing the e-toll rate and the second one showing the rates for non e-tag holders.

The Chairperson said that the e-toll was a new system and not very well known. Road users had to know the system and the tariffs before they got onto the road. It was thus an issue of information sharing. There could be television adverts, radios, cell phone messages and other means of communication. There was the need to make the tariff system transparent so that road users could make informed choices as to buying the e-tag. If alternative information was not given, it meant that the public was being forced to buy the e-tag. The current adverts for the buying of e-tags were more like threats compelling the public to buy e-tags.

The
Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP) Project Manager, Mr A Van Niekerk, replied that on the posting of tariffs, there were various tariffs and the standard tariff had to be posted. What had been currently posted were the e-tag tariffs to inform the regular road users on the amounts payable for the e-tag. SANRAL could adjust the posting to reflect the standard tariff and not only the discounted tariff. On the displaying of more than one tariff on the board, SANRAL was looking at what the regulations permitted it to do. That was to do with scientific studies done on the ability of people to read information while driving. If too much information was posted, it was not going to serve the purpose as people were not going to be able to read all the information. The tariffs had been advertised for comment and had not been finalised as per the Act. This meant that SANRAL could not continue with the physical marketing of the tariffs. Materials had been prepared to roll out advertisements and inform the public of the benefits of the e-tag. With regards to the negative aspects of the e-tag, the only thing that may be perceived as negative was the cost involved in obtaining the e-tag. The cost was just a mechanism to distribute the tag. The money paid for the tag was transferred back in full to the buyer once he had registered the e-tag. This meant that the e-tag was actually free. SANRAL was going to continue looking at ways of making the advertisement as public as possible.

Ms D Dlakude said there was a need to put more than one billboard at each toll gate, stating clearly both the standard and discounted prices.

Mr Van Niekerk replied that there were practical limitations such as space limitations especially at interchanges. However, the possibilities were going to be investigated.

The Chairperson said that she did not hear a firm commitment from SANRAL in terms of information dissemination, transparency and enabling the public to make informed decisions. SANRAL’s marketing drive was about marketing the e-tag but there was also the need to give members of the public the option to choose what rate to pay. There could be road users who used the road only once in a year. They thus did not have to buy the e-tag. Billboards could not be a problem of space. The problem could be the amount of money which SANRAL was not willing to spend to put the message on another board.

Mr Van Niekerk replied that there was a full commitment to engage in a transparent marketing strategy as soon as the tariffs were available. The publicity was going to be done properly. SANRAL was going to revert to the Committee on the progress.

Ms Dlakude said that SANRAL owned the space where the billboards were supposed to be put. There was a serious need for the public to understand the e-tolling system and the costs involved.

The Chairperson said that SANRAL should not be worried about the amount of money it would spend on the advertisements, considering the amount of money which would made from the system. The Committee wanted to see a situation where the administration of roads came back to the government and were not administered by a private company.

Mr Ollis said that many of the points raised and discussed in the meeting were not included in the legislation so the minutes of the meeting had to capture all the discussions and the decisions arrived at.

Mr Suka said that the Committee Secretary was responsible for the minutes of the meeting. The process which the Committee had agreed on was that the meeting was going to be adjourned so that a report and the minutes could be prepared and agreed to by the Committee.

The Chairperson said that over and above the Bill which was going to be approved, the Committee still had to have a report which captured all the discussions.

Mr Ollis asked when the Committee would re-convene to adopt the report.

The Chairperson said that the first part of the meeting was now adjourned and the report would be completed in the next 30 minutes.

Consideration of Committee Report
The Chairperson said that she had consulted with the Chief Whip and Deputy Chief Whip of the ANC and they were in agreement with the amendment proposed by the Committee. However, they suggested that the best route to have the amendments included was through a Committee Bill in 2013. This meant that the Bill was passed as it was and the additional amendments would be inserted during next year.

Mr Ollis said that he did not agree to the ANC suggestion. The Chairperson had the power to overrule on the matter but his opinion was that the Committee was then empowering the e-toll system without including SALGA’s proposal only to bring it back in 2013. Did this mean that the Bill was only going to have the principal amendment made by the Department of Transport? He disagreed and objected to the procedure. The Committee should vote on the matter and he wished to register his objection and disagreement. The amendments were crucial, his party was going to object and the public was going to crucify him.

The Chairperson said that the Committee had agreed that the amendments to do with municipalities and provinces were the ones coming up in the new proposal and that qualified to be put forward as an amendment proposed by the Committee after public hearings.

Mr Ollis said that the Committee had done a good job in making the amendments to the Bill. If the country had to have the e-toll system, the Committee had done its best in representing the interests of the public. The content was good but the procedure was now the main problem. The problems were seemingly being created by forces outside of the Committee. It was a political or leadership issue beyond the Committee level and he could not engage in the process because the people who suggested the process were not present. The Committee had really done a good job but he could not agree with the suggestion from the ANC Chief Whip. It was unfair that after all the hard work, the plug had been pulled at the end. He was going to speak to his caucus to seek advice on the way forward.

The Chairperson said that she did not think that it was a train smash as the issue was not in relation to the content of the amendment but on how the process was going to be effected. It was also important for the amendment to be done as a Committee Bill considering the hype which had been made about the Bill and the negative things which had unfortunately been said about the process. The Committee had done its best but the manner in which the processing of the Bill was reported was very unfortunate and was the cause of the confusion.

Mr Ollis asked if the amendments were pushed forward, COSATU and other organisations were going to take it as an opportunity to say that the Committee had thrown out the proposals put on the table during the public hearings. There could be a lot of opposition if the Committee pushed through with the original Bill. He was of the opinion that the Committee inserts the amendments because the amendments were going to take the worst part of the Bill out and was also going to make the public much happy.

The Chairperson said that she wanted to make a further consultation on the issue.

Mr Ollis said that he was not going to issue any media statements on the issue till he heard from the Chairperson on the way forward. If he did not hear from the Chairperson, then he was going to have to say something but he was hoping that before the end of the day, he was going to hear from the Chairperson.

The Chairperson said that she was going to have a consultation on the matter and revert to the Committee before the end of the day. The second part of the meeting was adjourned.

Update on Consultation by the Chairperson
The Chairperson told the Committee that she had done the necessary consultation and the update was that the Bill had been processed and the proposals made to the Committee had been taking into consideration. The Bill was to be considered in terms of what the Committee regarded as the best decision based on the public hearings. The issue of rules which had to accommodate the proposed amendments was being dealt with and the Deputy Speaker and all the presiding officers were working on a process would allow the Committee to process the Bill as amended by the Committee after the public hearings. This was the work of Parliament and public hearings were held for the purpose of receiving proposals and input.

This meant that the Bill which was going to be passed the Committee included the proposed amendments which had been effected. How that got into the House was not the business of the Committee.

The Chairperson asked the State Law Adviser if she had anything to say.

The State Law Adviser, Ms Williams, then took the Committee through each clause of the Bill and the amendments proposed.

Mr Ollis said that the Committee was welcome to go through the Bill clause-by-clause but he, as the only member of the Opposition, did not have a problem with the text of the Bill. His only issue was to reserve his rights as to whether his party was going to agree to the whole Bill. He could not speak on that as he had to speak to the DA caucus the following morning. In terms of the text, he was happy with it. He did not believe that there were any problems with it but decision making was to be made by his party. There was no need to read the Bill line by line as that had already been done several times.

The Chairperson said that the proposal from Mr Ollis was a fair one. The Bill was not going to be read line by line.

The Bill had been introduced into the National Assembly and it was named the Transport Laws and Related Matters Amendment Bill. The Bill was published in the Government Gazette number 35597 of 15 August 2012.
Mr Suka moved for the adoption of the Bill. This motion was seconded by Ms R Motsepe (ANC).

The Chairperson asked if there was any member of the Committee who was opposed to the Bill.

Mr Ollis said that he could not vote in favour of the Bill without speaking to his caucus. The Bill had just been amended so his name could not be recorded as having voted in favour of the Bill. His caucus was going to decide whether he should support the Bill or not. He reserved his rights till the next day when his caucus met.

The Committee adopted the Bill with amendments.

The meeting was adjourned.

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