Forestry Regulations: deliberations; Forest Fires: discussion

Water and Sanitation

02 September 2003
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Meeting report

WATER AFFAIRS AND FORESTRY PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE

WATER AFFAIRS AND FORESTRY PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
3 September 2003
FORESTRY REGULATIONS: DELIBERATIONS; FOREST FIRES: DISCUSSION


Chairperson: Mr J H Van Wyk

Documents handed out:
Summary of Submissions on Draft Regulations of National Veld and Forest Fire Act
Fire Protection Association Regulations
National Veld and Forest Fire Act No 101,1998
Report on the recent fires in Mpumalanga and Kwazulu-Natal
Draft Report: Implementation of Free Basic Water Policy
National Forest Act - 1998 (No. 84 of 1998)

SUMMARY

The Committee examined submissions on the Draft Regulations of National Veld and Forest Fire Act referring to Chapters 2 and 3 . Adoption was postponed because there were outstanding issues. A report on recent fires was also discussed but the Free Basic Water Policy discussion was postponed because the Committee did not have a quorum.

MINUTES

Draft Regulations, Chapters 2 & 3 of National Veld and Forest Fire Act
Linda Mossop, Chief Director with the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (DWAF), reminded the Committee that this briefing was a follow up on of a previous brief (20 August 2003) on Fire Protection Associations (FPA). Legislation in the 1984 Forestry Act for committees and structures had made provision for issues that were now being regulated in the new Act. At the previous briefing, the Committee requested that the comments received during the consultation process be made available to members. The Chairperson agreed that this had subsequently been done.

Ms Mossop reminded the meeting that chapters two and three of the Act were not in effect yet. Chapter three required the Minister to introduce a National Fire Danger Rating System. There had been considerable development in this regard. The Department introduced a user-friendly document for people who were interested in fire fighting.

Ms Mossop discussed chapter two of the Act and explained how the new democratic structures would allow owners to participate. She gave an overview of the regulations, before dealing with each one individually afterwards. Public comments received were numerous. Consequently, it took a long time to compile. The document is bulky but the comments were now well arranged and cross-referenced. Even responses without objections, were documented. Ms Mossop emphasised that the regulations under the Fire Act of 1984 must be repealed legally. It was finally published for public comment on 16 May 2003. (Please refer to document)

From interaction with the members, Ms Mossop also noted the following:
-An officer could not be compelled to become part of an FPA[Chapter 2, 3 (3)].
-Although the Department had a blueprint, it was not prescriptive. Certain FPAs may wish to be larger/smaller [Chapter 2, 12].
-A concrete record is important [Chapter 2, 13]
-If an FPA was deregistered, they would have the right of appeal with the Minister. The approach will always be remedial [Chapter 3, 7].

Discussion

Mr Arendse (ANC) needed clarification on the Fire Brigade Services Act, 1987 (Act No 99 of 1987). He enquired if the 1987 Act was now in line with the new Act and/or whether changes were needed, because it was discussed at the time.

Mr Molapo stated that when the Act was drafted, the Fire Brigade Act (FBA) and all the relevant legislation were taken into account. They sought opinion in the areas of jurisdiction. The FBA and the National Veld and Fire Association complement each other.

Mr Van Wyk asked a question that was related to the consultation process. He specifically referred to sub section 1 (c), Section 21 of the Act. He observed that the Fire Advisory Councils (FAC) were consulted extensively.

Ms Mossop assured the committee that the consultation process was extensive. Comments were also received from Allan Dobson, a senior FAC official. However consultation with the Fire Brigade Boads was not possible, because this body was not operational. Legal advice was sought and the consultation process went ahead.

Mr A Nel (DA) sought clarification of the last word, "and ", under 2 (viii) of chapter 1.

Ms Mossop noted the mistake.

Mr M Masala (ANC) asked the Department to clarify the word "owners", under 2 (v) chapter 1.

Ms Mossop said that "owner " had not been defined absolutely. The word ought not to be seen in a constrained manner. Rather, it should be seen in terms of the user of the land and not the titleholder. Land use could be within a system such as communal, governmental. The Minister would define 'owner' accordingly.

Chief E Sigwela (ANC) asked if the Department had a concept of how members could perform or how they could be absorbed. His other concern was getting the Department's information to people on the ground, in particular, those in his constituency.

Ms Mossop said that in terms of the concept of FPA's, the country had been divided into possible areas. If there were sufficient grounds for the formation of an FPA, people may come forward and request registration with the Minister. If registration was not possible, an interview with the Minister may be requested in this regard.

Mr Nel suggested that the Department should be kept informed about information as it relates to the formation of FPAs.

Mr Arendse questioned sub clause 3 of the Act as it related to the formation of a FPA within one year after the act came into effect. His understanding is that one year window had already expired. He asked for further clarification.

Ms Mossop agreed with Messrs Nel and Arendse. She said that if an FPA was not established spontaneously within a year, the Minister might intervene. The window period was extended to May 2004. However, there were a significant number of applications for registration. A municipality may decide against applying for the registration FPA where the threat of veldfires were not serious.

Chief P Mathebe (ANC), expressed a serious concern voting rights of stakeholders, especially potential members in the rural areas. His understanding was that individual farmers would each
have a vote whereas large communities may only have one vote (the Chief), who would vote on their behalf.

Mr Molapo said that the whole country has been mapped and after 16 May 2004 all areas would be covered by an FPA in terms of the FPA Act. Voting was a big issue and it was decided that the allocation of the vote would be per title deed. In a tribal/rural community the village Chief would have one vote. In the process of forming an FPA, the Chief Officer and the Department must be dominant and there could be no overrule. In terms of legislation, provision was made for disadvantaged communities to share resources.

Chief Mathebe was adamant that the voting system must be reviewed. Issues that must be considered were factors such as proportionality, representivity, size of the land.

Mr Arendse highlighted the fact that the existence of the blueprint indicated that a lot of work had already been done. He wanted a more complete response to his earlier question when he again referred to the wording in sub clause 3, chapter2. He suggested that "…after the Act comes into effect..." rather read, " …when the President signs the Act into law…"

Mr S Simmons (NNP) asked if the Department could not introduce a mechanism that would incorporate consensus so that everybody would participate.

Ms Mossop was assured that the formation of an FPA would be done by consensus by people with a common aim and objective. If people did not want to vote, the Minister might step in.

Mr M Phala (ANC) asked if the rural people were ever consulted.

Chief Mathebe was convinced that the consultation process was selective and biased in favour of certain establishments like Mondi. He told of five emerging black companies that were ignored in the consultation process.

Mr Van Wyk mentioned the names of a few establishments that were favoured in the consultation process.

Mr Arendse referred the meeting to the definition of the Department's definition of a veldfire. There was wide-ranging concern and that their own definition should inform the Department where consultation should be.

Mr Van Wyk was convinced that Labour was not consulted because there were serious complaints from the workforce that protective clothing were lacking, making it difficult for the firefighters to do their work effectively.

Ms Mossop strongly asserted her position on the inclusive consultation process. She named the South African Local Government Association, National Forestry Advisory Council and other representative bodies in the rural areas. She asked for the issues not to be clouded because fires were raging and that the Department was trying to put an effective system in place to combat of veldfires.

Mr Van Wyk expressed his discomfort with the comments made by Ms Mossop. He told Ms Mossop that the government and the Committee were proactive and that they were not reacting to what was happening on the ground now. He reminded her that the regulations came only now, five years after 1998. It was explained that the legislation was in place when the regulations were initially discussed. Now it was discovered that that it was only tabled after the Committee requested this. He asserted that the Committee would decide if the consultation process was wide enough or not.

Chief C Hlaneki complained that he never heard of the consultation process because he was a member of the traditional leadership.

The Chairperson concluded that the consultation process propagated by the Department was problematic.

Mr Nel asked about the need to pay fees and what must be understood by "reasonable time".

Ms Mossop said that fees were charged to cover administrative costs. The concept of "reasonable time" had to be a flexible one. It was not cut and dry because FPAs did not have the same resources.

Mr Masala noticed that chapter eight was omitted.

Ms Mossop agreed that there was a mistake and that chapter nine should have read chapter eight instead.

Mr Arendse asked for an explanation of "partial implementation" as it relates to the Forestry Act of 1984 and which parts of the Act must still be implemented.

Mr Masala added that he too had a problem with the partial implementation of the Act and how the Courts interpreted a clause like this.

Linked to the above concerns, Mr Van Wyk asked what kind of protection was available in terms of the Fire Danger Rating (FDR) system.

Mr Ditshetelo was concerned about the protection of FPAs against fires that were started through negligence and how the Act links with the Regulations.

Mr Malapo said that a non-member was automatically regarded as guilty.

Ms Mossop added that litigation was a possibility because even the State was sometimes litigated against for negligence. FPAs coul use the regulations of the Department in support. She agreed that FPAs should be encouraged to take a collective approach when looking at ways of protecting themselves against negligence. She stated that the Department decided on a strategy in terms of what was necessary and the president signed the Act into law, excluding chapters 2 and 3. However, there was still sufficient covering in terms of the Act of 1984. This approach seemed acceptable because although the Act was not in place, the Fire Prohibition laws continued to work. A considerable amount of technical work had already been done for proposals to the Minister for the best FDR system in the country.

Mr Arendse, at the request of the Chairperson, summarised this part of the discussion adding that chapter 2, clause 3; subclause 4 should read, "Where there is a fire…"

The Chairperson did not ask for the adoption of the regulations but promised that it should happen before the spring recess. The areas to be reconsidered, were the consultation process and the issue surrounding voting.

Ms Mossop agreed..

Forest Fires
Mr Molapo said that the report on the recent fires in Mpumalanga and Kwazulu-Natal were not easy to analyse because it was difficult to ascertain the cause of the fires. Negligence seemed the most likely cause.

Ms Mossop said that the impact of the fires would only be known in the longer term. For the foreseeable future, she expected a lot of economic activity and most likely an oversupply of logs. Unfortunately, there was severe loss of grazing land and a heavy bill for the helicopter (R25 000 per hour) which went out almost continuously, was awaiting.

Mr Arendse stated that the Department Report (please refer to attached document) gave a broader picture than that received via radio and television. He queried the area destroyed at Kaapsehoop.

Chief Sigwela enquired if the absence of a report from the Eastern Cape could be seen as the forest manager being negligent.

Mr Simmons expressed disappointment at insufficient information about whole villages that were affected and/or destroyed. He expressed his condolences on behalf of the Committee.

Ms Mossop agreed with Mr Arendse that the Kaapsehoop Fire should read 4,5 thousand ha. Information contact details could be found in the middle of the bulletin and agreed with Mr Simmons that the information they received, were sketchy.

A brief discussion ensued about the fragmented nature of information in relation to fires and sawmills that belong and may not belong to the state.

The Chairperson said that the Committee would like a more conclusive and comprehensive reports from the provinces by Monday, including the provinces from which reports were not received.

Free Basic Water Policy
This Draft Report adoption could not be made as the Committee did not have a quorum.

The meeting was adjourned.

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