National Forests Bill

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Meeting report

AGRICULTURE, WATER AFFAIRS & FORESTRY PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
24 August 1998
NATIONAL FORESTS BILL


SUMMARY

The committee continued the clause by clause discussions on the Bill, starting at clause 14 and ending at clause 28.

DETAILED MINUTES
The Chairperson was Mr. Abrahamse, African National Congress.
The committee went through the clauses, raising concerns and asking for clarity. The key concerns are listed below.

On clause 21, Ms. Ntuli (African National Congress) noted that there was provision for private land owners to be paid compensation for damages incurred by public access, and asked for clarity. Judge Dodson, from the drafting team, explained that the clause allowed for private owners to voluntarily allow public access to their forests. If damage occurred as a result, the Minister could, at his discretion, allow for the Department to compensate the private owner, if other sources of compensation, such as insurance, would not cover the damage.

On clause 22, Mr. Nel (National Party) asked whether section 2 was not in conflict with section 28.5. Judge Dodson explained that the clause prevented the department from leasing or licensing the same forest, or forest produce, twice. The clause was not in conflict with section 28.5.

On clause 25, Mr. Nel (National Party) asked for clarity on the compensation referred to in sub section 2(a). Judge Dodson and the Chief Director, Ms. Bethlehem, explained that the termination of licenses in these circumstances would arise from events such as forests fires, after which trees or produce would not be available.

On clause 26.6, Mr Nel queried the exclusion of the state from the common law principle of prescription. Judge Dodson explained that the section was included to legislate the state out of a prescription situation. The argument was that the state managed large areas, and could not monitor every section of the land regularly, and should therefor not be open to prescription.

On clause 28, Mr. Nel raised a few more concerns. He understood the issues leading up to the need for such a clause, but was worried about including such a section in the bill which would only deal with so few contracts, and which would set an unfortunate president. He noted that the clause was not about communities, or other similar issues, but that the contracts were just not palatable to the department. He requested that other options are looked at, and that a possible sunset clause be added.

The Chairperson stated that the number of contracts was not the key concern. The contracts amounted to 60% of the sawlog trade. He stated that there may be differences on a right or wrong way of dealing with the legislation. He believed that the Committee had not heard anything that really convinced him that the clause was the wrong way of going about solving the problem.

Ms Bethlehem stated that the state contracts covered 60% of the sawlog industry. The remainder was mainly made up of inter-company transfers. Therefore the department was not in a position to offer wood to any new entrants.

Mr. Schooman (National Party) stated that he understood there were many who were willing to negotiate on the contracts, and that only 5-6 were a problem. He noted that it was not about a right or wrong way of legislating, but a good or bad way. The clause in question brings insecurity to the industry.

Ms. Bethlehem, the Director of Forestry, noted that the contracts in effect were about communities and new entrants. A great deal of the departmental wood was tied up in the Contracts, and could not be offered to new entrants. Some of the companies involved in the SAFCOL contracts had been prepared to renegotiate, but some had not. Of the 28 Department of Water Affairs and Forestry contracts, Ms. Bethlehem was not sure how many would be prepared to renegotiate. However, she believed the issue could not be left to chance. Many of the contracts are extremely lucrative for the companies involved. She noted that Section 28.5 was in principle a sunset clause in itself, as it applies only to those contracts which were active on the day of the act becoming law. Therefore once the contracts are dealt with, there will be no purpose for the clause.

Judge Dodson noted that there had been substantial changes to the clause over the three years of drafting. One of the key changes was that section 28.5 [c] had been added which only allowed the minister to exercise his power after giving it considerable thought, and in the interests of the public interest. Further, the constitution guaranteed that the right of a judicial review.

The Chairperson closed the meeting.

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