National Veld and Forest Fire Amendment Bill: briefing with Deputy Minister

NCOP Land Reform, Environment, Mineral Resources and Energy

14 March 2023
Chairperson: Ms T Modise (ANC, Northwest)
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Meeting Summary


The Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment briefed the Select Committee on the National Veld and Forest Fire Amendment Bill [B24B-2021] which is a Section 76 Bill affecting the provinces. The Bill aims to amend the Principal Act of 1998 to improve its administration, provide technical enhancements, align the legislation with the Constitution and ensure that the Act is responsive and relevant in combatting and preventing veld fires.

Committee members asked about concerns raised during public participation in the National Assembly that were not addressed in the Bill; the tagging of the Bill; governance; funding model; having the Act as passed available in indigenous languages; inclusion of farmers; participation of the traditional council and capacitation in rural communities.

Meeting report

The Chairperson welcomed the Department led by the Deputy Minister. Apologies were noted from the Minister and Director General who were in a Portfolio Committee meeting.

National Veld and Forest Fire Amendment Bill: briefing
Deputy Minister Maggie Sotyu thanked the Committee for speeding up this piece of legislation which was adopted two weeks ago in the National Assembly. She would not be providing an overview but would immediately hand over to the DDG.

Ms Pumeza Nodada, DFFE Deputy Director General: Forestry Management, presented:

Problem Statement
• Challenges in the interpretation and non-comprehensiveness of some terms in the Principal Act, leading to implementation challenges.
• Inadequate cooperative governance arrangements.
• Lack of provisions for an appeal process in the Principal Act.

Objectives of the Bill
The objectives of the Bill are to effect amendments to the Principal Act in order to:
• Improve the administration of the Act;
• Deal with a number of important technical enhancements;
• Align the legislation with the post-1996 constitutional framework; and
• Ensure that the Act remains responsive and relevant in the field of combatting and preventing veld fires.

How will the NVFFA Bill address Strategic Priorities of Government?
DFFE acknowledges the strategic priorities of Transformation; Job opportunities; Food security.

• Transformation
- Through the provision for an appeal process against a decision taken under delegated powers and duties.
- Establishment of Fire Protection Associations (FPAs) promoting involvement of Traditional Leaders and inclusion of women and youth in decision making.

• Job Creation
- Formation of FPAs gives rise to job creation as provided in Chapter 2 of Principal Act.
- Job opportunities in the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP) through Working on Fire Programme.

• Food Security
- Prevention and mitigation of risk of veld fires contribute to food security through increased compliance and enforcement.

Bill process followed
The NVFFA Bill was first published in March 2015 for public comments with public consultations conducted by the Department in all nine provinces with key stakeholders in May 2015. Public comments and inputs were consolidated into into a final report and this report together with the proposed Bill was presented to NEDLAC in July 2015.

In July 2017 the Bill was tabled in Parliament. In August 2017, the Portfolio Committee held public hearings and during these hearings some stakeholders and public members raised concerns that they were not adequately consulted. After thorough consideration, the Portfolio Committee recommended that the Minister consider withdrawing the Bill and re-consult. The Minister duly withdrew the Bill in November 2017.

In 2018 the Department developed a re-consultation schedule and invited further comment and these were recorded and consolidated in a final report. Subsequently, a request was made to the Office of the Chief State Law Advisor for certification of the Bill which was completed in February 2021. The Department obtained the SEIAS and quality assurance certification from the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation (DPME) in February 2021.

Cabinet approved the introduction of the Bill to Parliament on 29 September 2021. The Bill was tabled in Parliament on 28 October 2021 and referred to the Portfolio Committee. The Department made several presentations on the Bill. Public hearings were held from 27 May 2022 - 23 October 2022 in all provinces, with three hearings per province. DFFE and other relevant institutions responded to the submissions. The Portfolio Committee deliberated and adopted the Bill on 30 January 2023 and referred the Bill to the National Assembly with adopted the amendments on 20 February 2023 and referred it to the NCOP.

The extensive list of stakeholders consulted were listed.

The Chairperson called on the nine provincial representatives to respond.

Ms C Labuschagne (DA, Western Cape) requested the Department to state what was the biggest concern raised during public participation on the Bill in the National Assembly that was not amended in the Bill and what was the reason for that.

Ms Labuschagne asked if provision has made for the financial implementation of the Bill especially with the concern about the existing state of fire protection across the country. Is there a funding model for this Bill and will there be capacity support when it becomes an Act?

It is interesting that the Bill was presented to and received feedback from the nine Provincial Disaster Management Centres (PDMCs). She asked how many PDMCs made a submission which would give an indication of how many of them are up and running and functioning.

How will the Fire Protection Association be supported, governed and monitored and how will it interact with local farm obligations for instance the Working for Fire programme. She noted that state-owned entities were consulted and asked if farmers were included in the public participation process.

She asked if the Bill provides clarity on the roles, functions and support of all three spheres of government or is there other legislation that the Department must read in the conjunction with this Bill. To what extent does the Bill assist in the effort to reduce legislative fragmentation as identified as a challenge in the White Paper on Fire Services.

Are fire prevention strategies and requirements mainstreamed in other legislation related to sectors impacting on land use such as Agriculture and Forestry?

Ms L Bebee (ANC, KZN) said that she also wanted to inquire about the three spheres of government and the impact on land use including Agriculture and Forestry.

Ms W Ngwenya (ANC, Gauteng) asked if DFFE has a plan to deal with cross border affairs and the details of the plan. Has the Bill linked municipality rules with the Fire Protection Association, if so, how does the Bill link those rules. What was the penalty should an individual or state entity default on the provisions of the Bill?

Mr J Nyambi (ANC, Mpumalanga) asked for the reasons for the Section 76 tagging of the Bill.

Mr Nyambi referred to the Fire Brigade Service Amendment Act which falls under the Department responsible for local and provincial government (Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs). How is cooperative governance ensured when legislation dealing with a similar matter falls under different departments and ministers. It is a matter of the correct location.

He repeated how would the FPA be supported, governed and monitored.

He asked what the reason was for the delay in dealing with most of the proposed amendments now which were supposed to be dealt with a long time ago.

Mr Z Mkiva (ANC, Eastern Cape) thought the Bill was progressive and resonated with issues at grassroots level. His question dealt with rural communities, particularly those in communal land areas under the jurisdiction of traditional leadership. The meaningful participation of traditional councils and traditional leaders was mentioned in the presentation several times. However municipal offices are located in town centres and traditional councils in rural areas do not have the tools of trade for mitigating veld fires and firefighting or the specialised training. Referring to African indigenous knowledge systems he asked if the Department would come with a training method anchored to indigenous methods to strengthen firefighting so that people in the FPAs are not plunged into fighting fires that are dangerous and that trap them.

Mr Mkiva noted that the Department had interfaced with the Houses of Traditional and Khoisan Leaders which is an essential requirement of the parliamentary process. It is vital to the development of legislation and should not be clubbed together with other stakeholders. There is a specific procedure for consultation with traditional leadership to give their input. This is to ensure that the law in the final analysis is an all-encompassing instrument.

Mr A van der Westhuizen (DA; Western Cape) was pleased that owners of state land are now involved in the Fire Protection Associations. His concern was that often the owner of state land which are the national or provincial Departments of Public Works make that land available to clients in several departments such as the Departments of Environmental Affairs and Forestry, Water and Sanitation, South African Defence Force or South African Police Service who should be represented on the FPA as they are closer to where the action is, than having Public Works as the only one who has knowledge about the FPA as it is far away from the land which is occupied by someone else. He requested clarity on the definition of "owner of state land".

Ministry & Department response

Deputy Minister Sotyu responded that the Department is going to support traditional leadership. The Act does empower the Department to give support and training to the traditional leadership. The DDG will take them through what kind of support and how they will be supported. Before the Act was amended, the municipalities were not forced to be part of the FPA but now that they form part of this Act, they must help fight fires in their municipality or in their province.

DDG Nodada gave an overview of the responsibilities outlined in the Act especially those for the Fire Protection Associations and their support. The FPA allows for users or owners of the land to come together and form an association where they can work together on how they manage fires. This is clearly stipulated in Section 5 of the Principal Act which lists the FPA duties. It indicates that the FPA would need a Veld Fire Management strategy and that is why the Department wants state owned entities to form part of that, because bringing them together with the FPAs means that those membership fees assist these FPAs to be able to function.

On governance and support, the Department utilised the Amendment Bill to develop the FPA support strategy which looks at both financial and non-financial support. The non-financial support will include awareness, inter-governmental support where the Department will bring the different spheres of government together to form and affiliate into the FPAs to deal with preparedness and fuel load. DFFE also provides training, and through that strategy, the intention is to look at the funding available to see what funding they can provide to these FPAs that will also link to the Working on Fire Programme that is already existing.

On the concerns raised during consultation that DFFE has not considered, the Department has considered all the issues related to the Bill itself. They have separated issues that deal with implementation. Most concerns were about how DFFE will support communities, FPAs and traditional leaders.

On cross-border fires, the Department works through the SADC Protocol on Forestry which deals with different aspects of forestry development and fire is one of them. They have collaboration with neighbouring countries on how to deal with these fires. The Department has included fire in the Commercial Forestry Sector Master Plan which was approved by Cabinet in 2020. It has begun the process of reviving discussions with neighbouring countries to strengthen this collaboration. DFFE had a meeting with the Fire Protection Association in Free State recently to look at what kind of support they would need so they can take that input into the discussion on the MOUs they want to sign with neighbouring states so should there be fires that cross borders, the countries know how to respond to them.

Farmers and communities were consulted. Farmers formed part of the initial consultation that the Department did prior to the Sixth Administration and they were consulted during the Portfolio Committee public hearings.

On the Fire Brigade Amendment Act, the Department had discussions with COGTA and the National Disaster Management Centre (NDMC) to compare that Act's purpose and mandate with the NVFFA Bill. COGTA commented on the Bill and indicated that as it amends the Fire Brigade Act, it will ensure it is aligned to the NVFFA Bill. In the same breath, through the Master Plan those issues are also captured to ensure there is always alignment between the two pieces of legislation and understanding of the mandates of the two government departments for the same goal.

On the rural communities, DDG Nodada said the Deputy Minister touched on ensuring the participation of the traditional council and their capacitation. DFFE has set up a training programme to ensure that the traditional councils come to understand what their roles and responsibilities are. They just finished the first phase of training with the Nelson Mandela University in January through to 15 February 2023 to ensure that the candidates nominated to form part of the management of the Act can be trained.

On the fire protection strategies and how they are mainstreamed to other sectors impacting on land use, land owners or users are supposed to form part of the FPA. If land owners do not form part of FPA and do not work with neighbours in ensuring there is collaboration should a fire start and they have not prepared fire breaks, then the liability lies with the land users/owners unless they can prove they were not liable. This collaboration assists in bringing together resources to ensure that the farmers and neighbours work together on that particular landscape. DFFE has also ensured that all FPAs are aligned to municipal boundaries so that is easier for municipalities to join the FPAs and provide necessary support.

On the tools of trade, through the strategy which is what the Department is looking at to ensure that those tools are provided, also linked to that is the work done through fire programme where there is provision of the fire fighters, training of those fire fighters and deployment in the different areas. she stated that the Department particularly observed in this current term of the programme, is to make sure that there’s placing of fire fighters in the rural areas places closer to the communities, so that should there be a need to fight fires, it is easy to have access to the resources the government is supporting.

Mr Renny Madula, DFFE Director: Forestry Regulation and Oversight, clarified that the definition of owner is defined in the Principal Act in Section 2(11). The definition is all encompassing and addresses the issues raised.

Chapter 7 of the Principal Act deals with offences and penalties. Section 24 deals with penalties and Section 25 deals with offences. So those aspects are already captured in the Principal Act, and guides how these are dealt with when members of the public or government officials contravene the legislation.

Mr Sibusiso Kobese, DFFE Director: Law Reform and Policy Direction, confirmed that the Bill was tagged as section 75 but subsequently there were deliberations with the Joint Tagging Mechanism in Parliament and the Bill was re-classified as Section 76. There is a legal opinion on this classification. That is why it is before the Economic Sectors, Investment, Employment and Infrastructure Development (ESIEID) Cluster for further processing.

Mr Kobese added that the Act has a comprehensive definition of the term 'owner' so the fact that you are not an owner per se but the lessee or in control of the land in question does not absolve you from taking responsibility in complying with the Act. The definition of owner is comprehensive and extends not just to owner in the ordinary sense of the word but also lessee and any person who is in control of the land.

Mr Kobese addressed penalties stating that the Act has dedicated provisions for offences and penalties in Section 24 and 25 of the Act. Offences are categorised in terms of severity of the offences which are three. Lighting a fire in the open when there has been a fire danger warning is a severe offence category 1 offence that is about two years.

He addressed the public proposals raised before the Portfolio Committee that were not taken on board. He agreed that there was a package of issues emanating from the public participation process. However, the Committee discussed those substantive proposals that would require a second-round public engagement and resolved that those issues can be put in abeyance and perhaps be addressed in a further Amendment Bill or attempt to address those in the regulations. Therefore there are those types of amendments that could not find their way to the Bill.

Follow up questions
Ms Labuschagne requested that those proposed amendments that might become part of the regulations, be provided to the Committee.

She asked how each Disaster Management Centre in the provinces gave input.

She requested that when the Department returns to the Committee that it present the Fire Protection Association support strategy and about raising awareness, inter-governmental support, training and funding.

Mr Mkiva said that it is important that when they develop training they combine and infuse the academic university format which draws on Eurocentric methods with an element of indigenous knowledge systems because sometimes methods are imported and yet solutions are right here on local front. It will be important that DFFE interfaces with institutions that are the repository of IKS such as Contralesa and other organisations that champion IKS.

He asked if the Bill is available in indigenous languages so that people can understand the depth of it as well. Sometimes the Bills are written in English and yet those who wrote them do not think in English or dream in English. It is essential that the Bill is availed in indigenous languages. He asked the Deputy Minister to email him a copy in Sesotho and Xhosa so that he can share it with his constituency in a language that they are more fluent in.

Ms M Mokause (EFF, Northern Cape), she stated her awareness of the Department mentioning the support to traditional authorities in terms of the veld fighting, however, if observed clearly how this certain portion of this Bill is structured, it does not include the proper remuneration of veld fires, especially those who are found in rural communities or rural municipalities. She asked if the levies will be paid by some associations, are they being regulated.

Are the owners managing the forest going to remain primary responsible for the forest or are they just going to be there but not had a certain responsibility.

She commented that the Bill must not be seen to be giving landowners undue powers to chase people away from forests that they have been utilising for generations as they see that happening when a certain legislation or Bill gets passed. She added that, it gives certain owners the authority to remove people from the land that they have occupied for quite a long time.

Ms Labuschagne noted that she asked a question about the Fire Protection Association and was given the support strategy mostly. However, someone mentioned that the Fire Protection Association will be aligned to municipal boundaries that cover a lot. She stated that she would like to know if the NPA are going to be aligned with the existing municipal boundaries. If municipalities are not functioning well enough given that there are so many municipalities and their current state, how will that then affect the functioning of the Association as she believes that it is more like they are being set up for failure and therefore may be linked again to financial model.

Ministry & Department response
The Deputy Minister addressed the FPA strategy stating that even though they will not submit that today, they do need to give the strategy to the Select Committee. She takes the point about monitoring those municipalities not performing well and the effect this will have on functioning of the FPA.   

Ms Nodada replied that the proposed amendments that are supposed to form part of the regulations can be supplied. The number of PDMCs who made submissions is not available on hand, but they can provide that information. The Department is aware of their participation in provincial meetings and the NDMC made a submission to the Portfolio Committee on behalf of the Provincial Disaster Management Centres.

On the alignment of the FPA boundaries with municipalities, DFFE noted that during the Principal Act implementation most land owners are part of the FPAs which are currently functioning. DFFE wants to bring in the municipalities to participate in the FPA and aligning the boundaries to a particular FPA makes it easier. The Fire Protection Officer within that municipality can then be able to be responsible and participate in one FPA. Non alignment in the past has been difficult. Having the FPA aligned to the municipality will ensure when resources come into that municipality it covers the entire municipality.

The Act also provides that should a municipality not be available to be a Fire Protection Officer, the FPA has an obligation to nominate another individual to take charge as Fire Protection Officer so that it can continue functioning. However, municipalities need to be involved in their jurisdictions as it is easier for them to commit resources in that jurisdiction to augment what DFFE provides and the membership fees of landowners.

Those currently managing forests will remain managing those forests, and the expectation is that if you are an individual managing such a forest and as such are prone to fires, it is a must that they form part of the FPA.

The membership fees differ from FPA to FPA and they take a number of issues into consideration. One factor is the size of the land. If a land owners owns 100 hectares they cannot be expected to pay the same amount as the person with one hectare. Also particular area that are prone to fires will be mapped and they will have higher fees. It depends on the FPA as it develops a constitution and see the possible and impossible outcomes. However, the Department tries to ensure that there is not a discrimination in rural communities that cannot be part of the FPA because they cannot pay membership fees. Through the FPA strategy the Department wants to try and balance that and ensure there is funding that will augment the work of the FPA.

She noted the concern about training methodology and the inclusion of and alignment with indigenous knowledge will be taken into consideration.

The Chairperson emphasised the use of indigenous languages. To avoid people offending and being subject to penalties which can be up to two years, DFFE needs to incorporate the use of indigenous languages.

The Deputy Minister said that the remarks were indeed noted. The issues raised in the meeting will be considered and the questions not satisfactorily responded to, will be replied to in writing.

Committee business
In response to a query about the programme, the Chairperson stated that it will be a public holiday on the 21 March so there will not be a meeting. She has to attend a Chairpersons' workshop on 28 March. The Committee is facing a challenge as it has to process both the Fire Bill and the Agricultural Product Standards Amendment Bill which the Committee is supposed to receive a Department of Agriculture briefing on 28 of March. In April or May they are supposed to be receiving another Bill. She raised her concern about not being sure how the legislative matters will be dealt with so that the provinces understand, participate, and comment on the Bills. Since there will be NCOP plenary meetings as well, they will have to work after hours after the plenary meetings to ensure they deal with the Bills and committee matters. There are a lot of matters that they must deal with but there is not enough time.

Ms C Labuschagne (DA, Western Cape) proposed that the Chairpersons' workshop should take place when there is no committees meetings as there are many of Bills. There are a number of Bills on the way to the NCOP in the three clusters: economic cluster, their cluster and the security cluster. She requested that this be raised in the Chairpersons' Forum. She suggested getting permission for the Select Committees to meet on Wednesday afternoons specifically for Bills when there is no plenary session.

She is aware that the Bills are a priority for the last year of the five-year term so they have to find a balance between the Bills and their normal programme. She always advocates that the NCOP in principle should have a cut-off date in the last year for all Bills to come to the NCOP to prevent the disaster they are facing every time at the end of each five-year term.

Mr Nyambi agreed with these concerns and what was suggested. This is not the issue of the NCOP but all the chairs of Parliament to address. The Committees are busy drafting their legacy reports and they are all aware they are rounding off the term, and they face a pile of Bills. He suggested that they look at possible dates convenient for all members. The last option would be to excuse one committee from plenary attendance if possible to deal with its business.

The Chairperson said they will choose a convenient date to catch up with the Bills seeing that there are many.

The Committee adopted the minutes of 29 May 2022 and the meeting was adjourned.


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