National Forestry Bill: discussion

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Meeting report

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

Department Officials present:
Ms L. Bethlehem (Chief Director of DWAF)
Judge A.C Dobson (Department of Water Affairs and Forestry Legal Services)
Prof. Van Reenen (Consultant)

DETAILED MINUTES
The meeting was opened by Chairperson Arendse. A request to change the time of the afternoon meeting was taken from Mr. Van Zyl (NP). The afternoon meeting, scheduled to start at 2pm was changed to start at 4:30pm. The committee began the discussion of the National Forests Bill by looking at Chapter 1, clause 2.

Mr. Van Wyk (ANC) requested a change in the definition of a 'trust forest' to include forest in rural areas. Judge Dobson replied that no area, which falls under the Rural Areas Act, has forest in it. He did however, change the wording in clause 2, page 14, line 39(a) by omitting 'or' and substituting 'and'.

No changes were made to clauses 3,4,5 and 6. Mr. Van Wyk (ANC) requested a change to clause 7.1(b) with reference to the use of forests by rural people. Ms Shope (ANC) found the word 'disturb' in clause 7 to be vague. The questions were answered by department official, Ms Bethlehem, who identified clause 7 as a critical area of the Bill because of the need to recognise the rights of people to forests. Ms Bethlehem defined 'disturb' as meaning no interference and clarified the use of forests by rural people by saying an exemption from licensing can be granted to people using the forest for domestic purposes. The department wishes to set up a joint task team with the committee to discuss the wording of the exemption including, for example, a list of ways in which people may use the forest for domestic purposes and an indication of the amount of wood that can be removed.

The offense section of the Bill was left unchanged but Judge Dobson highlighted clause 62. He suggested that an exemption for traditional users of forests be published at the same time as the Bill. He also clarified that an exemption does not have to be obtained, it would be published in the Government Gazette. By not writing it into legislation it is allowed to be flexible. The committee will be presented with a draft of the exemption by the department.

No changes were made to clauses 8 to 18. Ms Seperepere (ANC) requested the inclusion of the word 'health' in clause 19, page 30, line 35. Ms Bethlehem answered that this section of the Bill deals with access to the forest and the use of the forest for non-consumptive purposes. The inclusion of the word 'health' should be added rather to the section on consumptive use of the forest. Ms Seperepere (ANC) asked how the meaning of 'culture and spiritual fulfillment' differed from 'health'. Judge Dobson decided that the addition of the word 'health' to clause 3, page 18, line 1 would make the exemption easier at a later stage. This change was agreed upon.

Clauses 20 and 21 were not changed. Ms Seperepere (ANC) asked for the word 'servitude' to be changed. Mr. Ligege suggested the word 'permission'. Ms Bethlehem defined servitude in an example of having rights over another person's land. The word is used in the Bill to make the allowance for people to walk through forests. Judge Dobson said that the word could not be replaced, any other word used would require much explanation, servitude captures all aspects of permission.

No change was made to clause 23. Ms Shope (ANC) asked if the exemption from obtaining a license for the domestic use of the forest, stated in clause 24, included the use of the forest by traditional healers. Ms Bethlehem said that this aspect was not covered and that a license would be needed for traditional healers. She also suggested a change in the wording of the clause to read 'domestic and cultural purposes'.

Ms Ngwenya (ANC) asked whether placing information in the Government Gazette was the best means of communication. The Gazette is not available to people, especially those in rural areas who are most affected. Ms Bethlehem recognised the need for better communication, possibly through radio, pamphlets or newspaper articles. She said the department would commit itself to better communication.

Clauses 25 to 27 were left unchanged. Discussion was started on clause 28. Mr. Masala (ANC) said that he did not see the need for the new subclause to be added to clause 28 and suggested omitting it. Ms Shope (ANC) said that the ANC had no problem with the clause and that it could be amended if necessary at a later stage. Mr. Van Zyl (NP) wished to hear from the department. Ms Bethlehem commented on the section of the clause which allows a 5 year written notice to terminate the agreement of the sale of State forest wood by saying that a 'sell-by date' on clauses will not work. She said that the idea of the clause falling away after a certain time was unacceptable. Judge Dobson said that there was draft legislation for the clause but it does not deal with large scale issues, this causes costly litigation.

Mr. Mentz (IFP) said that he had a 7-page petition with the signatures of people from the Lumber Millers Association requesting the scrapping of clause 28. He said that the Minister wanted a compromise and was willing to negotiate a change in the clause. Mr. Mentz said the Minister has the right to amend the act but the ANC refuses a change. Mr. Ligege (ANC) answered this by saying that pages of signatures were meaningless. He wished to know the reason for the sudden request for scrapping the clause and suggested a secret meeting between the minister and the NP. Ms Bethlehem stated that the NP had met with the Minister but that the meeting was not secret. She said that the Minister wanted a change in the clause.

Mr. Van Zyl (NP) said that the NP was worried about business and the validity of future contracts. He said that the Bill interferes with contracts and shows that the government cannot be relied upon. He said that something should be done but that declaring contracts to be non-valid should not be made a practice. Ms Ngwenya (ANC) said that clause 28 was the heart of the Bill for the ANC and cannot be done away with. Ms Shope (ANC) again requested the clause to remain unchanged.
Judge Dobson voiced his concern for what the future minister may do. The government cannot sell more wood than there is in the forest and future contracts cannot be interfered with under this clause. He suggested renegotiation of the agreements.

The meeting was closed at this point by Chairperson Arendse. The next meeting followed at 4:30pm the same day to finalise amendments to the Bill.

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