Disaster Management Bill: briefing

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JOINT STANDING COMMITTEE ON DEFENCE

LOCAL GOVERNMENT SELECT COMMITTEE
16 October 2002
DISASTER MANAGEMENT BILL: BRIEFING

Documents handed out:
Disaster Management Bill [B21b-2002]

Chairperson: Mr. Mkhaliphi (ANC)

SUMMARY
The Committee was informed that the Disaster Amendment Bill provided for an integrated, co-ordinated and uniform approach to disaster management by all spheres of government. The Committee heard that in order to realise this objective the Bill focused on 'disaster management as a continuous and integrated multi-sectoral, multi-disciplinary process of planning, and administration of relevant measures.

MINUTES
Briefing by Mr. Louis Buys
Mr. Buys from the Department of Provincial & Local Government explained that the Disaster Management Bill 2002 gives effect to the White Paper on Disaster Management, which was published in January 1999 and which advocated a new approach to disaster management. He noted that unlike previous policies contained in existing legislation that focused predominantly on relief and recovery efforts, the White Paper emphasised the importance of measures to avoid and minimise human and economic losses and established prevention and mitigation as the core principle of a future disaster management policy.

The Bill provides for an integrated, co-ordinated and uniform approach to disaster management by all spheres of government. He added that in order to realise this objective the Bill focuses on 'disaster management as a continuous and integrated multi-sectoral, multi-disciplinary process of planning, and administration of measures. He explained that these measures aim at ensuring the prevention and reduction of the risk of disasters and at the same time mitigating the severity of the consequence of disasters. He added that these measures also aim at ensuring emergency preparedness and a state of readiness to deal with impending or current disasters or effects of disasters. He noted that this was the only way to ensure a rapid and effective response to disasters so as to restore normality in conditions caused by disasters.

Mr. Buys informed the Committee that Chapter 2 of the Bill provided that the National Disaster Management Framework (NDMF) would put in place an integrated and uniform approach to disaster management in the Republic. This approach would cover all national, provincial and municipal organs of state, statutory functions, non-governmental institutions involved in disaster management, the private sector and communities. He noted that these measures would provide a coherent, transparent and inclusive policy on disaster management appropriate for the Republic as a whole.

The disaster management framework would guide the development and the implementation of the new concept of disaster management, and establish prevention and mitigation as the core principle of disaster management. It would also lay a basis for regional co-operation in disaster management that was appropriate for the republic as a whole.

Chapter 3 of the Bill establishes a National Disaster Management Centre as an institution inside the public service. The Centre would be located in the department of a Minister to whom the President allocates the administration of the Act. He said that the function of the Centre, among other things would be to specialise in issues concerning disasters and disaster management and to monitor whether organs of state comply with the Act and the national disaster management framework.

Mr. Buys continued that the Centre was also given certain special functions, which among other obligations included the identification and establishment of communication links with disaster management role-players in the public and the private sector. He added that the Centre would include development and maintenance of a directory of institutional role players and contact persons.

Mr. Buys informed the Committee that one of the critical functions of the Centre would be the classification of disasters as local, provincial or national. He explained that the classification of a disaster designated primary responsibility to a specific sphere of government but did not prevent an organ of state in any sphere of government from assisting in dealing with a particular disaster and its consequences.

Chapter 3 provided for the preparation of disaster management plans by national organs of state indicated in the national disaster management framework. He noted that the Chapter confers special powers on the Minister to declare a national state of disaster. He said this would be applicable where existing legislation and contingency arrangements did not adequately provide for the national executive to deal effectively with any particular national disaster or if other special circumstances warranted the declaration of a national disaster.

Mr. Buys explained that the functions of the provincial and municipal disaster management centres that were provided for under Chapters 4 and 5, would generally be equivalent to those of the National Centres at their respective levels. However, in case of functions that must be performed at national level only, the provincial and municipal centres would be required to lend support services to the National Centre. Special powers had been given to the provincial and municipal authorities to declare a state of disaster in their respective jurisdiction in order to augment their powers to deal with the situation effectively.

Mr. Buys concluded that Chapter 6 of the Bill dealt with funding of post-disaster recovery and rehabilitation prescribing certain guiding principles. However, that the Chapter is subject to sections 16 and 25 of the Public Finance Management Act, 1999 which provides for the release of funds by way of direct charges against the National and Provincial Revenue Funds in the Case of emergencies for which funds were not budgeted.

Mr. Buys informed the Committee that the Bill was published for public comment and appropriately adjusted in view of comments received thereby. He explained that comments on the Bill had been received from fifteen national departments, seven provinces, eighteen municipalities and thirteen institutions and organisations.

Discussion
Ms Majodina (ANC) noted that the Bill was not specific on the role and obligations, which the provinces should undertake. She expressed reservations on the provision for punitive measures and asked for clarity on whether this provision would not unfairly affect rural communities since these people would not have the necessary means to avoid such disasters.

Mr. Buys replied that prevention and mitigation in rural areas was a very important question. This issue had been the subject of heated debates in past discussions. The whole question rested on the principle of getting people to be more involved in prevention measures whenever this was within their competencies. Punitive measures were not there to burden people but only as a preventative measure and as much as possible to encourage people to avoid building houses along riverbanks.

Ms Kgoali (ANC) asked about Telkom obligations would also apply to new role players in the industry.

Mr. Buys replied in the affirmative. He said that the obligation on the provision of contingency services affected all service providers be they in government or the private sector. He added that even those who were new in the field must comply. He noted that it was after all in the interest of the public that services be made available and that it was equally important for the service provider that operations kept running.

Ms Kgoali suggested that municipalities should be bound to activate mechanisms for disaster prevention like their national counter-parts instead of making this requirement optional.

Mr. Buys acknowledged that the question of political structures was a rather thorny one. He said the drafters of the Bill were mindful not to stumble on the Constitutional rights of citizens. Nothing in the Bill prevented the Provinces and the Municipalities from replicating the political structures that were at the National level. Local municipalities were by far better equipped to deal with disasters than district councils and that in any case the former was always the first in the line of fire.

The Chair referred to Clause 27 2(j) of the Bill on 'the maintenance or installation of temporary lines of communication to, from or within the disaster area' and asked if lines of communication therein included other services other than those provided by Telkom.
Mr. Buys noted that the very same question came up in earlier discussions and he clarified that the thinking was that lines of communication were far broader and covered radio, landlines, satellite and related communication gadgets.

Dr. Conrad asked if physical lines of communication would not fit into this description.

Mr. Buys agreed that for the avoidance of doubt physical communication would fall under the clause.

Mr. Nkosi (ANC) disagreed with the reasoning that physical communication was intended here. He wondered physical communications could be maintained in the case of a disaster. He insisted that physical communication was not the intention here.

The Chair agreed with Mr. Nkosi and suggested that the Committee settle on what was written in the Bill to avoid complications.

Mr. Buys said that the question of communication needed to be looked at in a broader sense but concurred with the Chair that in order to keep the context of the provision the Committee should go by what was written in the Bill.

Ms Kgoali (ANC) wondered how provinces were expected to make provision for contingency funds without the necessary resources. She lamented that there was nothing written in the Bill providing for an urgent release of funds nor were timeframes set within which rescue plans should be executed.

Mr. Buys acknowledged that Ms Kgoali had raised a very valid concern. He, however, explained that the response was right there when disaster striked and that was why the Bill had provided for financial thresholds to ensure that municipalities assisted at that point in time to the tune of the authorised funds. There were no timeframes to be set since this was a matter of immediate and rapid relief measures to be rolled out. He noted that municipalities had given their assurance that response would be afforded within eight hours.

Mr. Maloyi (ANC) asked about the specific organisations and institutions the department claimed to have consulted and those that tendered submissions.

The Chair concurred with Mr. Baloyi that the Bill alluded to several organs of state and statutory role players who it was claimed were consulted but that these organisations had not be named. The Chair nonetheless asked Mr. Baloyi to reserve this question and related issues for the following Friday when further deliberations on the Bill would continue.

The meeting was then adjourned.

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