National Veld and Forest Fire A/B: process to extend scope, Department response to public submissions and report on provincial public hearings; with Deputy Minister

Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment

22 November 2022
Chairperson: Ms F Muthambi (ANC)
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Meeting Summary


 Legal opinion (awaited document)

The Committee met virtually to be briefed by the Department of Forestry, Fisheries, and Environment and other entities related to the National Veld and Forest Fire Amendment Bill.

The Committee requested advice on the process to be followed if the Committee wishes to extend and make further amendments to the National Veld and Forest Fire Amendment Bill [B24-2021].

The Committee was advised to seek permission using National Assembly Rule 268(4). If permission is granted, the Committee was advised that the process cannot be completed in 2022. The Committee is worried that the Bill has to go through a long process for the next financial year, considering that extensive public hearings have already been conducted and concluded. The Members further asked if the Bill could not be passed as it is now. Otherwise, restarting the process would be lengthy and costly.

Working on Fire said it had a seven-year memorandum of understanding with the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment, which allowed for the transfer of vehicle ownership after their useful five-year life to junior management. The Committee Members asked if the managers get the vehicles free of charge. Was the same presentation delivered to the Auditor-General of South Africa? What was the audit outcome?

The Committee commended the presentation from the Department. The Members agreed that it reflected public hearings inputs.

The Committee unanimously adopted its draft consolidated report on written submissions and public hearings on the National Veld and Forest Fire Amendment Bill [B24- 2021] held in the nine provinces of South Africa from 27 May to 23 October 2022.

Meeting report

The Chairperson welcomed everyone to the meeting, and asked if any apologies were conveyed.

The secretariat indicated apologies received from Ms N Gantsho (ANC).

Mr D Bryant (DA) moved for the adoption of the agenda, and was seconded by Ms T Mchunu (ANC).

Chairperson’s Remarks

The Chairperson asked everyone to pay close attention to the legal opinion presented today. She recounted that when the Committee met on 11 February 2022, to discuss the National Environmental Management Laws Amendment Bill (NEMLA Bill), it was returned to the Committee from the National Council of Provinces (NCOP). The Committee asked if the NEMLA Bill needed to be subjected to further public hearings. “We were advised against the suggestion, and the Bill was adopted and passed by the National Assembly. Eventually, the President assented to the Bill, signing it into law”, she said. NEMLA has become a litigation matter between Parliament and the public stakeholders. “The DG and the secretariat will attest to how we ran around the other weekend typing to sign”, she added.

“I want to appreciate the Minister and the DG for the support you granted us to ensure that a proper affidavit was commissioned”, she said. Some public stakeholders felt like the NEMLA was supposed to be subjected to further public hearings because substantive changes have been made to the Bill. “If we had judgement on the NEMLA Bill and the decision on the National Veld and Forest Fire Amendment Bill, it would have been easier and straightforward. I would like us to be alive to the reality of public participation and integrate any grey areas so that our decisions can stand the test of furnace”, she said.

The Chairperson said that veld fires seem to affect almost all the rural populations, many of whom are illiterate or have limited access to media. How can a call for written submission or targeted request for inputs from the community assist people with limited media access? Can grassroots groups challenge such an approach in a court of law? Can the NCOP process downstream be considered public participation? If not, why not? “It is high time we request the rules of the National Assembly to define what constitutes sufficient and adequate public participation that provides certainty to Committees”, she said.

Today's briefing will focus on further responses from the Department of Forestry, Fisheries, and the Environment (DFFE) on the issues raised during the public hearings on the National Veld and Forest Fire Amendment Bill (NVFFAB). 

Mr Bryant was pleased that the Portfolio Committee took time to interrogate the NEMLA Bill. “All our concerns have been noted in the record of that meeting. We obviously had to take advice from the officials from the meeting. I am pleased that all the Members of this Committee applied their minds properly and adequately when they were interrogated on their position regarding the Bill”, he said.

Briefing by the Parliamentary Legal Advisor
Ms Fatima Ebrahim, Parliamentary Legal Advisor, presented the advice from the Parliament’s Legal Services Office.

The Portfolio Committee had requested advice on the process to be followed if the Committee wishes to extend and make further amendments to the National Veld and Forest Fire Amendment Bill [B24-2021].

(a) The Committee may seek permission through National Assembly Rule 268 (4) to inquire into extending the subject matter of the Bill and to propose amendments to other provisions of the principal Act.
(b) The Committee must seek permission through an interim report. The provisional report should include a description of what the additional provisions are.
 c) If permission is granted, the Committee must follow a public participation process for new provisions.
d) The public participation must have regard to the nature of legislation, the effects of the new proposed amendments, and the urgency and cost of embarking on a public participation process.
e) The Committee can advertise and call for written submissions, send targeted requests for input from persons who previously participated in the public participation process and have oral hearings if necessary.

The Committee was advised that the process cannot be completed in 2022. Therefore, it should not embark on a public participation process during the festive season unless absolutely necessary.

The Deputy Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, Ms Makhotso Sotyu, thanked the Parliament Legal Team. She said that, as much as she agreed with everything that had been said, she just wanted to show the importance of passing this Bill. She acknowledged that it is not possible to complete the process for 2022. They are worried, but they urgently need the Bill. The Department intended to assist the Portfolio Committee in passing the Bill before the end of this financial year. She is worried that the Bill will have to go through a long process next year.

Mr Bryant agreed with the Deputy Minister. He said that the Committee had conducted extensive public hearings across the country at an expense. He was concerned that another process would incur more costs, including transport, accommodation. If a specific area requires further urgent public participation, the Portfolio Committee can apply a similar process conducted on Climate Change Bill through virtual hearings. He is concerned that, next year, the attention might be paid to the election, and this Bill might not be prioritised.

The Chairperson said that the Committee Members did their part and conducted the public hearings. The Western Cape was intense due to long hours and distances, but none of them ever dismayed. Under these circumstances, they just have to deal with the amendments the way they are. Otherwise, if there are further amendments in line with the legal opinion, they cannot be done through a different process.

Mr N Paulsen (EFF) asked if the Bill cannot be passed as it is. How critical are the amendments to the operation of the Bill?

Ms Vanessa Bendeman, Deputy Director-General: Regulatory Compliance and Sector Monitoring, DFFE, said that the Department would deal with the amendment of the Bill in the presentation.

Ms Linda Garlipp, Chief Directorate: Law Reform and Policy Coordination, DFFE, said that the amendment of the Bill could be accommodated according to the legal opinion. The Department received many comments about the low fines across the provinces. These amendments will be new because they have not been in the Bill previously. “We can align the fines with the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA) Bill fines in terms of categories”, she added. The Department would have liked to accommodate an amendment on Section 10(1) (b) to remove the reference to newspapers. However, the Department would not insist on the amendments. “Many of the new comments will lead to new amendments. If the comments are accommodated, there will be no need for new amendments, and therefore no further accommodations will be required”, she explained.

Input by Working on Fire (EPWP)

Mr Trevor Abrahams, Managing Director, Working on Fire, noted the comments from the Committee on the transfer of vehicles to management. He said that the Working on Fire board would like to present on the matter.

Presentation Summary:

(a) Types of vehicles: strike team units, 4x4 purposed build vehicles, fire trucks, crew buses and light delivery bakkies.
b) The seven-year-old Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) allowed for transfer of ownership of bakkies after its useful life of five years to junior management, which include regional managers. About 98% of the regional managers are former firefighters. The transfer of the vehicles allowed the firefighters to conduct the mandate across the sparse country’ spaces.
c) The bakkies travel on average 3 300 km per month over rugged terrain. They are fitted with a bakkie-sakkie or water container.
d) The seven-year MOU period ended in March 2021. DFFE entered into a six-month agreement until October 2021, which explicitly stated the transfer of the vehicles to eligible project managers.


Mr Bryant thanked Mr Abrahams for providing clarity on the transfer of vehicles.

Ms S Mbatha (ANC) asked if the employees get the cars free of charge.

Mr Abrahams said that the employees are required to pay tax in terms of benefits before they can take ownership.
The Chairperson asked Mr Abrahams if he delivered the same presentation to the Auditor-General of South Africa (AGSA). Is there any reason why the AGSA did not accept it? She highlighted that the Working on Fire Project has to be audited, and the AGSA has to make a particular finding.

Mr Abrahams said that the information he provided has been with the Department since the inception of the programme. “The Department told us to delay the transfer until the end of that 6 month agreement. I do not know of the finding from AGSA”, she said.

Ms Nomfundo Tshabalala, Director-General, DFFE, confirmed that the seven-year MOU ended on 31 March 2021. She said that Clause 2.2.1 refers to the transfer of the fleet. “We agreed that it had to be postponed”, she added. Clause 5.2 of the six-month agreement stated that the transfer would occur after the consultation with the Department, on the asset disposal MOU submitted by the service provider.

She said that the AGSA has to receive and test the evidence. AGSA was given documents in terms of minutes. AGSA concluded that the minutes do not give sufficient evidence. The institution also said that it was unclear whether the Department approved the transfer of vehicles. “The AGSA found the R18 million transferred for 14 vehicles irregular. We have communicated the findings with the service provider”, she indicated.

Ms Nomfundo Mkhize, Environmental Programmes, DFFE, agreed with the DG. She added that all the MOUs were submitted to the AGSA.

Ms Mbatha said the assets must be registered on the Department’s assets register. The assets team must estimate the value of the assets to be disposed of. “The assets must also be auctioned to generate revenue for the Department. She understood why the AGSA queried these assets because they were not properly registered using the proper procedure of the Department.

Mr Abrahams said that actual tax varied from vehicle to vehicle, hence it was difficult to give an actual total price. He confirmed that there was an asset management committee attended by the DFFE. “There was no permission at any point required to dispose of the assets. The scheme was accepted in its entirety during the seven-year contract. There was a new six-month agreement, and the vehicle scheme was only in the seven-year agreement. The clause did not clarify how the vehicles should be disposed of. There is an interpretation matter that has to be dealt with at the AGSA level because this issue extends over two contracts.

Briefing by the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment: Responses to public hearings
The presentation was delivered by Ms Pumeza Nodada, DDG: Forestry Management, DFFE.

The Portfolio Committee on Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment embarked on a public consultation process to engage South African citizens on proposed amendments to the NVFFA. The proposed amendments are currently the National Veld Forest Fire Amendment Bill [B24-2021] (Bill). The consultation was undertaken in the period 27 May and 23 October 2022 in all nine provinces. During the consultations, the Bill received overwhelming support, and numerous inputs were received. A total of 5,139 stakeholders from 9 provinces attended the public hearings.

The Department’s responses to the public hearings are comprehensively covered in the attached

Mr Bryant said the submission by the Department is a fair reflection of the public hearings and the inputs received. He thanked the officials from the Department for collating all the information.

Ms Mbatha agreed with Mr Bryant. She asked the DFFE to change the description of the acronym PPE from ‘Personal Protection Equipment’ to ‘Personal Protective Equipment’.

Consideration and Adoption of the Committee Report on the public participation
The Chairperson and the Committee went through the draft report on the written submissions and public hearings on the National Veld and Forest Fire Amendment Bill [B24- 2021] held in the nine provinces of South Africa from 27 May to 23 October 2022.

The Chairperson requested that the report be adopted.

Ms Mchunu said that the report is the true reflection of the public hearings process. She moved for the adoption of the report.

Ms Mbatha and Mr Paulsen seconded the adoption of the report.
The report was unanimously adopted.

Mr Paulsen asked whether the Committee is still conducting oversight at Knoflokskraal. “I want us to be received warmly”, he said. What will our role be as the Committee there?

The Chairperson said that the visit would be just for sightseeing.

Ms Tyhileka Madubela, Committee Secretary, said that the Committee had invited the South African Police Services, the provincial Department of Environmental Affairs, Public Works, and Theewaterskloof Municipality.

The Chairperson mentioned that the Friday meeting would be her last.

Mr Paulsen thanked the Chairperson's stellar work in steering the Committee. He said existing leadership needs to be engaged, regardless of how they feel about the Knoflokskraal community. They have to respect the organisation of this community.

The Chairperson asked the Members to give the secretariat suggestions on maximising the oversight meeting.

Mr Bryant thanked the Chairperson for the incredible work undertaken. “You will be sorely missed. Best of luck, going forward”, he added.

The Chairperson thanked everyone for their undivided support. “We have learnt that, working together as various political parties in Parliament, we can achieve more”, she said.

The meeting was adjourned.



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