National Forests Bill: discussion

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Meeting report

AGRICULTURE, WATER AFFAIRS & FORESTRY PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
19 August 1998
THE NATIONAL FORESTS BILL: DISCUSSION


Document handed out:
The Departmental response to the public submission heard by the committee.

SUMMARY
The Portfolio Committee started its clause by clause deliberations on the Bill, reaching section 16 before the meeting adjourned.

DETAILED MINUTES
The meeting was Chaired by Mr. Abrahamse (African National Congress)

The meeting started with a request from the Minister Asmal to say a few words. The Minister explained he would like to explain some of the key policy behind the Bill. The Bill would update forest legislation to reflect the international and local trends in forestry in the last 15 years. The Bill was the third key bill originating from the department, following the Water Services Act, and the National Water Bill. The National Forests Bill is a product of four years work, and has followed a long and comprehensive road. The National Council of Provinces has amended the original draft Bill. The minister added that he thought the Bill had been strengthened as a result of the amendments. The Bill aims to overcome imbalances in access to state owned forests. Sustainable forests management was provided for, including the setting of standards and criteria. The indigenous forests and woodlands would be protected, as would individual trees of cultural or historical importance.

Minister Asmal stated that the management of indigenous forests would be returned to provinces where the capacity existed within the provinces. The Bill required the department to collect and make available information on forests in South Africa. In response to the concerns raised in connection with section 28 of the Bill, the Minister noted that contracts would only be cancelled where it was in the public interest to do so. Finally, the Minister stated that the Bill gave statutory recognition to the wood needs of many rural South Africa through the concept of community forests.

The committee was invited to ask questions. Mr. Nel (National Party) stated that his party could go a long way with the Minister on the Bill, especially with regard to access to state forests and community forestry. However, there were difficulties with section 28. Mr. Nel asked how many contracts would be jeapardised by section 28. He stated that he understood the problem with long term contracts, but was worried the ability of the state to legislate out of contracts would set a worrying precedent. He urged the Minister to rethink the strategy, and asked whether there was not another way.

Minister Asmal responded saying that there was another way, that being the renegotiations of contracts. There were 28 Department of Water Affairs and Forestry evergreen contracts, and 5 SAFCOL evergreen contracts. These contracts involved 60% of sawlog sales in South Africa. The sawlog industry was the prime opportunity for small time black people to get involved in the industry, and renegotiations of the evergreen contracts was being undertaken. However, where there was no desire by the other party to renegotiate, section 28 was needed. The section would be used sparingly, yet it was needed to allow for renegotiations.

Mr. Schooman (National Party) noted that the reply indicated that negotiations were a successful option. He queried whether they should not be pushed to the limit, and the section 28 clause be withdrawn. His fear was that all the people in the room were temporary, and future officials may abuse the clause.

Mr. Masala (African National Congress) asked the Minster to clarify the issue around sawlogs.

Mr. Ligege (African National Congress) queried the problem with section 28. He stated that he was a South African, and had no problem with the section. He noted the National Council of Provinces had passed the section, and they were all South Africans. The section was good for previously disadvantaged people in South Africa.

Minister Asmal responded by saying that section 28 allowed for the restructuring of the industry when people refused to renegotiate their contracts. He offered to consider it being removed after a certain period, however it was necessary now. He noted that SAFCOL had met with some resistance in trying to renegotiate contracts.

He answered Mr. Masala by saying that sawlogs are the cut and cleaned logs that come out of forests. Other products from the industry were pulp, chips and bark, which were often exported. The sawlogs however were used locally, and 60 % were tied up in evergreen contracts.

Mr. Mentz (Inkhata Freedom Party) stated that the legislation was good, and there was a good chairperson to take the committee through the process. They supported the opening up of state forests, and the protection of indigenous forests. But he noted that people had a problem with section 28. He used the example of Mr. Motlana, saying he represented previously disadvantaged people.

The Minister noted that world wide commercial forestry tended to be run by 3 or 4 companies in a country. What the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry wanted to do was to encourage companies to make deals with local communities. He stated that Mr. Motlana would not be effected by section 28. In communal areas, communities could enter into contracts for sowing, reaping and tendering.

The Minister thanked the committee for the opportunity, and excused himself in order to return to a Cabinet meeting.

The chairperson requested that the committee continue with a clause by clause process. Mr. Nel (National Party) noted that the committee had only received the Departments response to the submissions that morning, and had not had a chance to read them, which would impact on their ability to go through the Bill clause by clause.
The chairperson understood the objection, and noted that clauses would all be returned to later.
A motion of desirability for the Bill was read, which was supported by the African National Congress and the Inkhata Freedom Party. The National Party reserved opinion.

The Portfolio Committee started looking at the Bill from the beginning. Mr. Nel (National Party) queried that the preamble noted the constitutional right to a have the environment protected, but did not mention whose responsibility it was to do so. Ms Bethlehem, the Director of Forestry, noted that the preamble recognised the Constitution as it informs the Bill, but that the preamble was not the place to mention and delegate responsibility.

In response to a query from Mr. Nel, the chairperson outlined the process the committee was undertaking. The Bill would be gone through, and all the sections that could not be agreed on easily would be noted to be returned to. However, any section could be returned to by a member of the committee at a later stage.

Clause 1. Ms Seperepere (African National Congress) asked whether Medicinal could be added as a use of natural forests after spiritual. Ms Bethlehem asked whether the addition of the word "health" would be acceptable. Ms Seperepere agreed.

Mr. Van Zyl (National Party) stated that the Bill was sometimes confusing whether it applied to state or private forests, and asked whether a clarifying section could not be put in here. Judged Dodson, a member of the drafting team, stated that if they were shown the specific areas of concern in the Bill, they would try and cover the concerns.

Ms Seperepere (African National Congress) noted that herself and other members of the committee had to attend a Portfolio Committee on Land Affairs meeting at 11 am. As it was approaching eleven, could the committee not stop its proceedings, as the meetings were specifically designed not to overlap. The chairperson noted the concern, but mentioned that special provision had been made to extend the meeting to twelve, and regretted that those members who had to leave would miss out on the last hour of the meeting.

Mr. Mentz (Inkhata Freedom Party) asked in reference to clause 2.10 whether the suggestions made in the public hearings about separate definitions for forests (indigenous) and plantations could be included. Ms Bethlehem stated that this would continue to treat forests in a fragmented way, which was something the Bill was trying to prevent. She added that there were sections in the Bill that specifically dealt with the different types of forests where it was needed. Judge Dodson added that the splitting of the definition would create drafting difficulties, as both terms would have to repeated throughout the Bill in every circumstance where the term forests was used. Further, in terms of the physical forest, the two types often overlapped and bordered on each other, and separate definitions could create difficulty in applying the Bill. Mr. Mentz accepted the explanations.

Judge Dodson asked the committee to consider an amendment to simplify the definition of forest produce in section 2, which the committee agreed on.

The Department requested the committee to delete subsection c in the definition of "organ of state" to widen the departments opportunities. The committee agreed.

Mr. Mentz (Inkhata Freedom Party) on clause 3 (3) and (4) asked the department to consider deleting "in exceptional circumstances", which would allow for indigenous forests to be destroyed. Ms Bethlehem stated that the department was aware of the need to balance environmental protection and the need for development. However, she noted that "exceptional" would require a very good reason to destroy forests.

Mr. Mentz (Inkhata Freedom Party) asked that the word "preserved" be changed to conserved in subsection 3 and 4. The department accepted the proposal.

The Department requested the committee to delete section 4 (2) c. The South Africa Bureau of Standards existed which could accredit certifiers. The key issue was that there would be recognised standards and criteria, and the accreditation could be handled by the SABS. The committee agreed to the deletion.

Mr. Mentz (Inkhata Freedom Party) asked whether, in section 3 (4) the word "advice" could be changed to "evidence". The Judge stated that the word evidence would place a more formal, almost court-like, procedure. The aim of the clause was for experts to provide advice based on scientific evidence.

The chairperson noted that the next meeting would be on Monday, 24 August. The meeting was adjourned.

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