Disaster Management Bill: briefing

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Meeting report

Select Committee on Local Government & Administration

LOCAL GOVERNMENT AND ADMINISTRATION SELECT COMMITTEE
18 October 2002
DISASTER MANAGEMENT BILL: BRIEFING

Chairperson: Mr B J Mkhaliphi (ANC)

Documents Handed Out:
Briefing on Disaster Management Bill by Louis Buys
Disaster Management Bill [B21b-2002]

SUMMARY

The Committee considered the Disaster Management Bill clause by clause. Members highlighted clauses considered controversial and certain clauses were referred back to provinces for further consideration and comments. The question of shared competencies between district municipalities and metropolitan councils with regard to disaster management appeared most controversial. In addition the own contributions by local municipalities towards costs of repair for infrastructure damaged during disaster situations featured prominently during the discussion.

MINUTES
Briefing by Director of Disaster Management in Department of Provincial and Local Government

Mr George Kilian, Director of Disaster Management in Department of Provincial & Local Government, led the Committee on the formal consideration of the Disaster Management Bill. Mr Kilian noted a number of institutions that had made contributions on the Bill. However, only eighteen municipalities sent their comments while all provinces participated in the process, except two undisclosed provinces. The Chair expressed his satisfaction at the wide consultation which resulted in the current Bill. He noted that Members must report back to their respective provinces.

Ms Botha (DP) requested the names of the two provinces that did not send their comments and was particularly concerned with Free State. Mr BJ Mkhaliphi replied that the information is not currently available. The Portfolio Committee would be approached for further information.

Mr Kilian proceeded with Clause 1 of the Bill and indicated that definitions provided therein were internationally recognized in disaster legislation.

Mr Kgoshi Mokoena (ANC) asked whether it was not necessary to include a definition of disaster area.

Mr Kilian said the drafters found such a definition unnecessary as disasters differ from area to area. Further, the Minister concerned may declare an area disaster in terms of the Civil Protection Act. In addition the provisions of the aforesaid Act have been incorporated into the Disaster Management Bill. He informed the members that the Civil Protection Act will be entirely repealed by the current Bill.

Ms Botha(DP) asked whether the Bill covers the mining disasters or was there special legislation dealing with mining disasters.

Mr Kilian responded that the Bill does not cover mining disasters as they are covered in terms of the Mining Disasters Act, whereas agricultural disasters are being covered by the Agricultural Disasters Act.

Mr Maloyi (ANC) asked what is meant by the administration of the act and whether competencies in disaster situations reside with provinces or district municipalities.

Mr Kilian replied that the Constitution provides for concurrent competencies and determines whether it falls under the competency of either the provinces or the local municipality.

The Chair reiterated the significance of clearly defining the competencies and functions of the provinces and district municipalities in the Bill.

Ms Botha wanted to know the extent of involvement of police and the army in disaster management.

Mr Kilian replied that the involvement of both police and army is crucial in this regard. Hence the Minister of Defence is a member of an inter-governmental committee on disaster management and prevention in terms of Clause 4(1) of the Bill.

The Chair asked which organs of state are funding the disaster management.

Mr Kilian replied that the Financial and Fiscal Commission is currently designing a formula to guide municipalities on funding and prevention strategies in relation to disasters. In addition Sections 27 and 56 of the Public Finance Management Act provide such guidelines.

On communication links regarding preventive measures to avoid disasters, Mr Kilian indicated that Clause 16 of the Bill merely reiterates the current position in provision of information regarding management of disasters.

Ms Botha(DP) wanted to know why police and airports are specified in terms of Clause 17(2) and army bases were omitted.

Mr Kilian replied that would appear from paragraph 6 of the Bill that reference to airports is meant to include airforce bases. However, he acknowledged that the omission could not be justified as the South African National Defence Force plays an important role in disaster situations.

Mr Mokoena (ANC) expressed dissatisfaction at the omission of SANDF as an important roleplayer in disaster areas. Further he felt that nothing should be left to chance in situations of disasters affecting poorest of the poor. Any omission of important role-players would leave the door open for interpretation by the courts.

Ms Botha expressed a similar opinion and added that such an omission was an oversight on the part of drafters.

Mr Mokoena cited the recent disaster in Mozambique as a typical example in which the army was involved. Therefore the contribution of the army must be acknowledged in diffusing the harsh conditions under national disasters. The legislative provision must include the army as a practical imperative.

Ms Botha asked if the Bill imposes an obligation on the National Center to supply information which may lead to the prevention of disasters. If so, she was of the view that such an obligation would open a loophole for unforeseen claims by victims of disasters in case of failure to supply the information in question.

Mr Kilian responded that the title of the Bill puts a very heavy obligation on all spheres of government in reduction and management of disasters.

Mr Mkhaliphi expressed the view that the obligation was an onerous one given that certain informal settlements are situated on the flood line. This obligation on all spheres of government has implications for town planning, environmental affairs etc. The implication for the different roleplayers was unjustifiable and warrants a review of the Clause 20(2).

Ms Botha asked what happens if a disaster unfolds simultaneously in two provinces. Which province would assume responsibility in managing the disaster over another?

Mr Maloyi (ANC) asked who the assessors were and if they were qualified in the area of assessment of damage caused by natural disasters.

Mr Kilian replied that usually assessors must have technical knowledge of assessment of damages. In situation where infrastructure has been damaged the assessors would be independent and possess the relevant expertise in disaster management and local government matters.

Ms Kgoali (ANC) expressed the view that independent assessors have raked more than enough government funds out of disaster management and Clause 23 of the Bill must be struck out. She felt that it was unnecessary to enlist the help of consultants as volunteers are gaining experience in disaster management.

Ms Botha answered that the assessment of damages was a rather specialised area and its scope calls for people with expertise in disaster management.

Mr Kilian replied that where disaster stretches over two provinces then respective MEC'S in the affected provinces would declare the areas as disaster areas. The affected provinces would evaluate their financial resources to establish if they have capacity to handle the disaster concerned. Further, the Bill stipulates that if disaster affected more than one province the Minister is obliged to declare a national disaster in terms of Clause 23 of the Bill.

Mr Kilian noted a recent disaster where fire raged from Parys in the Free State and spilled over into certain parts of Gauteng. The magnitude and efforts to contain the disaster would normally determine the status of a disaster.

Ms Kgoali added that the provision of relief in disaster areas must be encouraged, irrespective of the nature of a disaster. The spilling over of a disaster into another province must not deter the supply of relief to victims, most of whom are from poor backgrounds. The issue of which province would carry the costs of disaster should not prevent the provision of relief to the victims of national disasters.

Mr Kilian indicated that the issue of cooperative governance features prominently in resolving conflict between affected provinces and district municipalities.

Ms Botha was concerned over the wording of Clause 26(1) and cited the phrase "national executive" as misleading.

The Chair concurred with Ms Botha that the wording in Clause 26(1) is misleading and calls for review of this provision. He argued that the use of national executive could imply the national center or even the inter-governmental committee on disaster management.

Most Members agreed that this clause requires review and must be send back for redrafting by the Department. Ms Botha asked in which centers the volunteers should be located.

Mr Kilian replied that the recruitment and training is entrusted with provinces while the actual participation of volunteers is mostly the responsibility of local municipalities. The provinces are encouraged to develop training and recruitment of volunteers in the spirit of letsema and cooperative governance.

Ms Botha held the view that Clause 30(g) meant that the actual training and recruitment of volunteers must be done by municipalities under the leadership of provinces.

Ms Kgoali expressed the view that participation of volunteers must not be rationalized into provinces and municipalities. But the volunteers must be called upon due to the magnitude and seriousness of a particular disaster. Therefore she strongly felt that the provision must be left intact.

Mr Mkhaliphi asked if Clause 45(1) could be referring to district municipalities and local government to the exclusion of metropolitan councils. Mr Kilian answered in the affirmative.

However, Ms Botha was concerned that it does not seem to confer sufficient responsibility on the municipalities to commit themselves in national disasters. Mr Kilian replied that the district municipality is tasked with doing risk assessment for municipalities and would assist in event of lack of resources by municipalities to handle a disaster. This explanation was clearly in line with the provisions of Clause 44(2).

Mr Mkhaliphi expressed concern that metros are usually far from the local municipalities and would mostly be hard to contact during disasters. Therefore, Clause 54(1) seemed to overlook this practical situation between the two structures of local government. For that reason the Chair noted Clause 54(1) and remarked that it will be referred back to provinces for consideration. This provision employed the term "primarily'" referring to municipality to act in event of disaster. The Committee felt that it places unfair obligation on the municipalities and has to be reviewed.

Ms Botha asked whether Clause 55(2)(e) meant that the regulation of traffic was the competency of municipalities in cases of ensuing disasters.

Mr Mokoena replied that a correct interpretation of the section should be that traffic officers responsible for evacuating people affected by disaster must show them a safer route.

Ms Kgoali was concerned that an unfair obligation is being put on municipalities, which have limited resources to deal with national disasters. Therefore she felt that Clause 55(2) be struck out, given the realities of disasters and the demands on the budget of local municipalities.

Mr Mokoena responded that this provision must be read with Chapter 8 of the Bill as it provides guidelines on when and how municipalities must react in event of disasters. Mr Mkhaliphi asked what the implications of Clause 56(2)(b) were in relation to the funding and repair of damaged infrastructure.

Mr Kilian replied that Clause 56(30) empowers the Minister to allocate funds through the Financial and Fiscal Commission. This Commission is tasked with the duty to draft a funding formula for municipalities. The funding formula would determine the extent of funds to be allocated to different municipalities. This formula will be published in the guidelines for municipalities in terms of the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA). Therefore it would be improper to speculate on the extent of funding to be allocated to municipalities in dealing with disasters, he argued.

Clause 25 of the Bill provides that in cases where the local municipality is unable to deal with a certain disaster the national government must intervene decisively. The national government would enlist the held of independent assessors who would make an appraisal of damages and costs for infrastructure.

Mr Mkhaliphi was concerned that timeframes for the repairs were omitted and the reaction of national government to effect repairs was very slow. He pointed out that in some provinces affected by disaster, the buildings and other similar structures were still not yet repaired. In principle the committee shared the views of the chair on the omission of timeframes. He indicated that Clause 57 must be referred back to provinces for review.

Mr Kilian remarked that the purpose of the provision was to encourage municipalities to develop capacity to handle disasters and not to punish victims of these national disasters.

Ms Botha asked whether the unregistered volunteers would not be covered by insurance during disasters as stated in Clause 59(1)(b).

Mr Kilian replied that no provision has been made for unregistered volunteers to be covered by insurance anywhere in the Disaster Management Bill. Mr Kilian was referring to people who act instinctively in event of a disaster happening in their presence.

In conclusion, he indicated that certain provisions of the Bill would have immediate effect while other would be phased in gradually. The other provisions of the Act would be repealed entirely in terms of Clause 63(1).

The meeting was adjourned.

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