Legal Metrology Bill [B34-2013]: public hearings

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Trade and Industry

15 October 2013
Chairperson: Ms J Fubbs (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee received two more submissions on the Legal Metrology Bill.  The South African Geomatics Institute (SAGI) noted that the Metrology Bill greatly affected SAGI as an organisation.  They were in full support of the Bill, with the exception of two concerns. Firstly, SAGI was concerned with regard to amendments made on land regulations, particularly those regarding accuracy levels. It was stated that accuracy regulations existed in other legislation already, which conflicted with this Bill. These regulations also had certain implications on traditional land allocation, as well as expropriated areas. Secondly, the organisation was concerned with the registration amendments in the Bill. There was concern that the licensing provisions might have the opposite effect and result in harming the public, rather than giving them protection. Concern was also raised regarding the registration of individuals, as it might lead to the exploitation of employees. Proposals were made to address these concerns.

The South African Council of the Scale Industry (SDACS) made the second submission. They stated that they had no issue with the modernisation of the Bill, but they did have a few concerns. Firstly, SACS believed that the National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications (NRCS) should not be allowed to veify any measuring instruments due to a possible conflict of interest. Secondly, SACS had an issue with the new functions outlined for the Market Survey Inspectors and argued that they should be renegotiated. Thirdly, the new segregation of the repair and verification functions was seen as highly unaffordable within South Africa. It was argued that if one was designated as a verification body, one should also be allowed to repair instruments.  However, a repair body should not be allowed to verify. The fourth issue raised was with regard to the disclosure of information to the National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications. There was concern raised over the disclosure of confidential information and fear that it would be misused. Lastly, SACS was concerned with the harshness of the new sentences, and requested that they be amended.

Members’ concerns included strategies to protect the local profession from international powers, clarity on traditional land matters, conflict within the legislation, big company domination, and levels of accuracy.

The Parliamentary Legal Advisor raised questions on the Bill, which can be found in the attached document.
 

Meeting report

The Chairperson was pleased to be back from Europe and in front of the Committee. She welcomed the submissions made for the public hearings and was looking forward to the input of the legal advisors.

Submission by the South African Geomatics Institute (SAGI)
Mr Peter Newmarch, President of SAGI, informed the Committee that as surveyors and measurement specialists, SAGI as an organisation was greatly affected by the Metrology Bill. SAGI was mandated with certain fields or specialities that were officially recognised by Parliament, and they were specifically issues dealing with land, which were covered in the Bill.

SAGI was in support of the Bill overall, but with minor provisions. The Bill was viewed as a controlling measurement, but SAGI wanted to indicate to Parliament that there already existed a profession for measurement. As the only measurers legally recognised to measure, SAGI argued that possible conflict could arise from the Bill, and that cooperation was needed. Ultimately, SAGI had been taken by surprise by the submission of this Bill as they had not been consulted during the process. However, SAGI appreciated the Committee’s allowance for submissions. SAGI had two main concerns with regards to the Bill.

Firstly, Mr Newmarch raised the issue of land. He explained that the Land Survey Act governed diagrams and plans that were central to the sale process of land.  Included in the Act were provisions regarding the accuracies and technicalities required for the preparing of such diagrams and plans. Ultimately, all diagrams and plans were legal documents and as such contained declarations of linear and angular measure. SAGI’s concern arose in Section 33(1) of the Bill, which made any incorrect statement a criminal offence. The concern was that functioning of the property system could be compromised if the tolerances included in Section 33 differed from those in the Land Survey Act, particularly in the level of accuracy.  Other complications were possible with regard to property matters, such as land allocations done by tribal chiefs without a proper survey being completed, and expropriated areas that had not been surveyed, and thus the areas were not final. As such, SAGI proposed the addition for the following sub-clause to Section 33

(4) Any statement or declaration of measure in terms of the Land Survey, the Sectional Titles Act or the Spatial Data Infrastructure Act and corresponding regulations, shall be exempted from the criminal provisions of this Act.

OR

Any statement or declaration in any other Act or Regulation which specifies measurements and or tolerances shall be exempted from the criminal provisions of this Act.

Mr Newmarch emphasised that SAGI supported the principles and objectives of the Bill.  However, it was important to acknowledge that certain Acts already included the necessary accuracies or tolerances with regard to land.

Secondly, Mr Newmarch raised SAGI’s concerns with Section 11 of the Bill, on registration. He commented that SAGI was already licensed under a statutory council and did not see it necessary to be re-licensed under the new Bill. There was a concern that the licensing provisions in the Bill might have an opposite effect and result in harming the public rather than giving them protection. Furthermore, SAGI was the only statutory measuring service providers recognised by law. Given that the Bill sought to broaden the industry for this service, SAGI believed that they should be granted protection under the Bill.

In addition, Section 11 also covered matters regarding the registration of individuals. Given the offence provisions, it was understood that companies would be able to take advantage of an employee and enforce conditions or requirements on the individual that were not in line with the provisions. Given the provisions in the Bill for the registration of individuals, this could lead for the penalisation of the individual, rather than the company. As such, he argued that the Bill needed further provisions that held companies accountable in such a scenario. That said, SAGI was not opposed to be re-licensed in terms of the Bill but only on the basis of the following proposal:

SAGI proposed that the following be added to the end of Section 11:
With the proviso that any person who performs work which falls within the scope of the geomatics profession shall not be licensed in terms of this Act unless they are registered with such governing geomatics council in an appropriate category as defined by that governing council

Mr Newmarch concluded the presentation and thanked the Committee.


Submission by the South African Council of the Scale Industry (SACS)
Mr Werner Barnard, SACS Committee Member, began the presentation by outlining the aims of the Scale Council. A list of these aims was provided in the attached document, along with brief statements on the membership, structure and office support of the Council. Overall, SACS had no issue with the modernisation of the current Metrology Bill and were in favour of most of the changes, as they were needed in the new and modern society in South Africa. However, a few concerns had been raised with regard to the Bill.

Firstly, SACS believed that the National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications (NRCS) should not be allowed to verityy any measuring instruments due to a possible conflict of interest. As such, SACS requested that the NCRS use its resources to supervise the industry rather than verify measurements.  They proposed the removal of ‘and verify’ from Section 4(1)(f) as well as the removal of ‘or verify measuring instruments’ from Section 4(2)(d).

Secondly, Mr Barnard argued that the new functions outlined for the Market Survey Inspectors were dangerous, due to the fact that the person appointed may not have an interest to the function it must inspect.  SACS believed that the complementary function and purpose of Section 20 must be renegotiated. It was further proposed that the words ‘stored, kept for sale’ be removed, as keeping an instrument was not an offence and it was only an offence once the instrument was sold.

Thirdly, Mr Baranrd addressed issues regarding the segregation of the repair and verification function. SACS felt that the South African demographic and client base would not be able to afford this change. He argued that if one was designated as a verification body, one should also be allowed to repair instruments. In this regard, Section 25(2) should be removed, with further amendments, to Section 26(1)(e).  However, SACS did agree that if a company was designated as a repairer only, then they may not verify. A detailed example was provided in the attached document. Furthermore, he argued that the Minister and the Department needed to increase the current number of inspectors significantly.

Mr Barnard then raised the issue of information required by the regulator. He indicated that various sections of the Bill required verification and repair bodies to provide information, such as lists of verified or rejected and repaired instruments, to the NRCS. The Scale Council felt that some of this information was confidential and was property belonging to each private company. This was due to many fears, one of which was a fear that clients’ names would be passed on to other companies. He noted that SACS was prepared to provide this information only on the guarantee that the NRCS was not to use it for their gain and as such, Section 25(3)(c), Section 27(5) as well as others, required amendments.

Lastly, Mr Barnard argued that Section 39 required refinement. He explained that the proposed regulations were too harsh, ‘as rapists and serial killers get less’ (in terms of criminal sentencing). SACS suggested that the warning system based on offences in the first draft be reconsidered.

Discussion
Mr X Mabasa (ANC) asked what strategies the two organisations had in place to ensure that international companies did not overtake their professions. He also asked for a further explanation on the issue of traditional land.

Mr Newmarch replied that the Bill stated that any incorrect measurement was a criminal offence. However, in the case of traditional land, distribution by tribal leaders did not automatically mean that it was based on accurate measurements. In the traditional sense, allocation of land was based on landmarks such as from a certain tree or fence for example. As such, the purchase of land was not based on an official diagram or plan, but rather based on what was seen in reality with the naked eye. Therefore, given these traditional practices, the new provisions in the Bill were concerning and harmful to tribal areas.

Mr G McIntosh (COPE) noted that the Committee must be aware that there was a Geomatics Bill which had been put before another Committee. Mr Barnard raised real concerns in this regard, as there could not be conflict a between this Bill and the Geomatics Profession Bill, raised before the Rural Development and Land Reform Committee. He addressed Mr Barnard and explained that another submission had been made that expressed concern that big companies were dominating the industry and small businesses were losing out.

Mr Barnard replied he had not seen the referenced comments.  However, there was no discrimination regarding who could be a member of the Council. As such, companies were not being excluded in any way. He would look at the submission following the meeting to address the issue.

Mr McIntosh said that one of the great things about the new South Africa was the openness of the proceedings in Parliament. Anyone was welcome to attend any of the meetings and the public had open access to the documents used in meetings. As such, the referenced submission was a public document that was easily available to SACS.

The Chairperson said it was interesting that SAGI was a voluntary organisation, but she was concerned that there were so many different issues engulfed in the submission, ranging from land issues to consumer issues. There was always a need to aim for greater accuracy, but she was unsure if SAGI was seeking to have greater accuracy or not. With regards to SACS, the Chairperson was astonished that Mr Barnard took the new offences as seriously as to compare them to those of serial killers or rapists.  What then was SACS’s proposal for punitive measure -- or were the current measures adequate?

Mr Barnard replied that perhaps the statement made on penalisation was a bit harsh.  However, the issue remained that the Bill had no leniency whatsoever. The previous draft had more details on this topic and included first, second and third offences.

Mr Newmarch replied that the organisation was in fact voluntary. As for the level of accuracy, highest accuracy meant increased cost, so it was more a matter of efficiency. South Africa had become ranked among the best for accuracy and there needed to be a balance between accuracy and cost. In this particular case, SAGI was arguing that legislation for accuracy already existed, which was in conflict with the Bill.  Lastly, while SAGI was in favour of higher accuracy, there was a concern about the associated cost -- a cost that was unnecessary, as the current regulations were fully functioning.

The Chairperson countered that the Bill covered issues other than just land, such as health.  In this regard, it was of extreme importance that the highest accuracy measures were adopted.  It was important to meet the highest international standards in order to protect the public.
There was much to digest from the discussion, especially with regard to the technical matters.

She then went on to announce that Ms Susan van der Merwe was resigning from Parliament. She thanked the Honourable Member for all her wonderful contributions to the Committee, as her contribution had been truly valuable.

Ms Van der Merwe was privileged to have served in Parliament for 18 years. She stated that she was to remain a member of the ANC, but was no longer a part of Parliament.

Advocate Charmaine van der Merwe proceeded to read out her questions on the Bill. These questions are provided in the attached document. Several issues were raised with respect to the long title, clauses 3, 3, 5, 8, 12, 13, 15, 18, 20, 21, 26, 33, 34, 36, 37, 38, 40, 41, 42 and Schedule 2.

The Chairperson asked the Department to study the questions and the submissions and return with questions at the following meeting.

The meeting was adjourned.
 

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