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AGRICULTURE AND LAND AFFAIRS PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
2 October 2001
NAMC LEVY APPLICATION: VOTING
BRIEFING ON VETERINARY AND PARA-VETERINARY PROFESSIONS AMENDMENT BILL
Chairperson: Adv S. Holomisa
Documents handed out:
Veterinary and Para-Veterinary Amendment Bill [B66-2001]
Veterinary and Para-Veterinary Professions Act, No. 19 of 1982 (South African Veterinary Council)
NAMC Application of Statutory Measure in the Deciduous Fruit Industry (National Agriculture Marketing Council)
Veterinary and Para-Veterinary Amendment Bill: Additional Amendments (South African Veterinary Council)
The NAMC Application was voted on and approved. The Committee was briefed on the Veterinary and Para-Veterinary Professions Amendment Bill. Following discussion on this Bill, the Committee decided that it was desirable to amend the Act and it would be dealt with formally at the following Tuesday's meeting.
The Chairperson opened the meeting and stated that the agenda would consist of a vote on the National Agricultural Marketing Council (NAMC) levy application and the presentation and discussion of the amendments to the Veterinary and Para-Veterinary Professions Act, 19 of 1982.
NAMC Levy Application
The Chairperson welcomed Mr C. Gladwin, Economist for NAMC, and requested a motion from the Committee to approve the application. The motion was made and seconded, and the Chairperson confirmed the formally approval of the Bill by the Committee.
Veterinary and Para-Veterinary Professions Amendment Bill
The Chairperson asked the presenter to provide background on the Bill and an overview of the proposed amendments. Dr P. Ardington, former president of the South African Veterinary Council, began his presentation with an explanation of the primary aims of the amendments. The Council was tasked with updating currently outdated legislation. He confirmed that the largest problem which the amendments addressed, was representivity. This issue included representation by members of the profession and those who utilise it, as well as geographical, gender and race distribution. He stated that the composition of the Council presented in the new amendments was the best compromise for these factors. He informed the Committee that only 100 of the 2500 veterinarians in South Africa were black. Since the current Council consists predominantly of middle-aged white males, the proposed compromise would allow more input from the Minister. The veterinarians, in turn, would input their representation by vote.
Dr Ardington proceeded to talk through the new procedure for selecting the Council as proposed in the Bill. The new Council would consist of sixteen members rather than the previous thirteen. The Council would consist of two persons designated by the Minister, one veterinarian or veterinary specialist who is an officer of the Department and one legal practitioner. The legal representative could be chosen from two candidates selected by the selection panel created by the Minister with concurrence of the outgoing Council. This selection panel would consist of three veterinarians or veterinary specialists, one para-veterinary professional, and one non-veterinary professional. Another representative would be appointed by the Minister from recommendations from South African universities with faculties of veterinary science. One member of the Council would be selected directly by members of the South African Veterinary Association. Six members would come from a pool composed of the two legal specialists mentioned above, ten veterinarians or veterinary specialists elected by registered veterinarians, and eight veterinarians or veterinary specialists and two non-veterinarians chosen by the afore-mentioned selection panel. Additionally, one representative from each para-veterinary profession would be elected by registered members of that profession to serve on the Council.
The Chairperson then asked if there were any questions.
Mr P. Ditshetelo (PAC) asked what was the role of the non-veterinary members of the panel.
The Chairperson then stated that their role was likely to represent the interests of the consumers of veterinary work.
Dr Ardington responded that it was difficult to know what type of veterinary consumer might be most important to have on the Council; however, consumer viewpoints were valuable and necessary in some capacity. Any non-veterinarian represented on the Council then had the option and responsibility to attend meetings and communicate with other consumers who might be affected.
Mr F. Bhengu (ANC) then asked about the level of the Minister's input on selection for the Council and whether or not it would be sufficient to counteract the imbalances in the racial composition of the profession. He stated that they were accountable to a constituency that was proportionally very different from the community of veterinary professionals.
Dr Ardington once again discussed the opinion base of the selection panel and stated that that the Minister's input in the process would be sufficient. He said that it was not a perfect system but that the Council believed it was the best compromise available. He then stated that the issue of more even representation on the Council needed to be addressed more broadly in terms of increasing the number of black veterinarians. The Council had discussed this extensively, but, according to Dr Ardington, this was the result of low numbers of blacks matriculating with science in a high grade and the large number of professions competing for these candidates. Additionally, he said that there was now only one university in South Africa with a veterinary faculty, and the numbers of blacks graduating in veterinary science remained low despite a push since 1987 to strongly increase those numbers. He argued that, until the Department of Education is able to graduate more black students with science in a high grade, this would not change.
Mr S. Abram (UDM) said that part of their duty was to provide user-friendly legislation, and he wondered if this could be considered such. Additionally, he asked what the level of this Council was vis a vis veterinary councils in other countries in terms of how veterinary practice in South Africa might be considered.
Dr Ardington stated that the Council was responsible for enacting the Veterinary Act and ensuring that those they registered are qualified to practice in South Africa. It was the role of the Minister of Agriculture to take care of other matters.
The question was posed whether the representation of the para-veterinary professions was adequate.
Dr Ardington stated that each of the para-veterinary professions was represented and that they deemed that to be sufficient. Considering the question of how workable the legislation was, he said that the Council was certainly capable of holding elections and following through with its duties. He claimed that any failure to complete this procedure would likely be from the side of the Minister who had already failed in appointing the two representatives from the Department that were due at the expiration of the last Council on 31 March 2001. Dr Ardington said that the Minister did not appear to have the capacity to perform these functions timeously, and this had been the case for several years.
The Chairperson stated that this came as a surprise to the Committee, and, as it was their duty to oversee, they would make it a priority to make sure that the Minister responded as necessary.
Mr Bhengu then stated that it was up to the Committee to ensure that what they pass was utilised.
Mr A. Van Niekerk (FA) agreed and asked who takes responsibility since the Committee has an overseeing role to ensure that things are followed through.
Dr Ardington mentioned the huge backlog that a new appointee would have to deal with since so much had been left undone, and he said that this reflected poorly on the Council and the profession. He welcomed any action that would help the Council get results from the Minister.
The Chairperson concluded that the Committee had a duty to follow through with the Minister, having received this complaint, and then stated that they should proceed with the rest of the Bill.
Dr Ardington said that the most important part had already been dealt with and continued with the remainder of the Bill. He said that he saw no need to discuss section 1 as it only concerned definitions. In section 3, the Council found it too harsh to disallow someone from membership on the Council if they had been convicted of a minor transgression by the Council that resulted in the minimal reprimand, so this was changed from the original bill. Section 4 dealt with changing gendered language in the Bill and, likewise, did not require debate. Section 5 repealed references to the 1933 legislation that were no longer relevant. Dr Ardington then continued to Section 6, which was unconstitutional because it required proficiency in the English and Afrikaans languages that are no longer the two official languages in South Africa. The amendment changed this by rather making English and one other language required.
Mr Van Niekerk stated that he was not certain this was constitutional either because it still singled out one of the eleven official languages.
The Chairperson stated that they understood each other best in English and, indeed, used English in the Committee. He said he thought the difficulty the Committee might have with the amendment was that it specifically promoted English over Afrikaans.
Mr Bhengu argued that this was for practicality and, thus, unlike in 1948 when one language was forced on everyone.
Dr S. Schoeman stated that English was a second language to them all, and the practicality was realistic. He said they should inquire about it but should not debate it within the Committee.
Mr L. Modisenyane (ANC) argued that there was no challenge to official texts being in English.
The Chairperson then asked why there must be a reference to language at all.
Dr Ardington said that the reference was under the old act, and they were merely trying to improve upon it. He saw no problem in deleting it entirely.
The Chairperson said that, if there were no challenges to that idea, it would be finalised at a later date.
Dr Ardington then brought up Section 20 of the Act in which the Council cleaned up the references to its discretion as to whom they registered. If the Council deemed it necessary, it had the power to administer an examination in order to determine qualification.
It was asked why it was necessary to force examinations on those coming from outside the country.
Mr Van Niekerk asked if this was not necessary in order to ensure that they reached our standards and were familiar with our veterinary issues and practice.
Mr Niati stated that they certainly could not let just anyone practice regardless of who qualified them.
The Chairperson agreed that it was necessary for some level of quality control.
Dr Ardington stated that it was the Council's duty to release qualified veterinarians into the field with the animals and people of the country. He continued by saying that this was standard of registering bodies throughout the world. It was not necessary for all to take the examination as the Council could look at several criteria in order to decide if it is necessary.
Dr Ardington said this was left to the discretion of the Council.
It was asked why any procedure was necessary to allow those who did not already possess the requisite requirements or a sufficient background to become registered here at all.
Mr Van Niekerk said that many people have the basic knowledge and training but simply need more specific knowledge of South African veterinary science. If this were not allowed at all, many people who should be allowed to practice in this country would not be.
The Chairperson stated that the Committee should move on as this session was for gaining an understanding of Bill and not necessarily for reaching agreement.
Dr Ardington asked if he could move on to Section 12 because it was related. He explained that this section allowed for the Council's actions to be adequately policed by the Minister if he or she chose to do so. It provided an appeal process following action taken by the Council. In terms of Sections 8 and 9(a) of the Bill, private companies and close corporations were included in the Act in order to make then equally liable under it. Section 9(b) amended gender specificity as well.
The Chairperson asked whether or not it was standard to hold an individual director responsible for wrongdoings of any part of a company.
Dr Ardington stated that the Council wanted the right to make these people accountable for their actions.
The Chairperson asked whether others in the company would be liable for the actions of one member.
Mr B. Beukes, legal advisor from the Department, stated that, in the matter of debts and loans for companies, this was standard procedure.
The Chairperson asked whom the Council consulted in determining whether this was proper. Dr Ardington admitted that they had not consulted every relevant source on the matter.
Dr Schoeman said that the Council should consult legal representatives because he was not certain that, in normal company law, individuals would be liable in this way.
Mr Abram asked whether this clause was standard practice or if it was included to uphold the good name of the veterinary profession.
The Chairperson asked if there were any more questions on Section 9 and then asked that they move on to Section 10.
Dr Ardington responded that this was also simply a change to include private companies.
The Chairperson asked if there were any questions and then moved on to Section 11.
Dr Ardington stated that the Council had sought this for many years. It gave them the ability to charge a fine in order to help offset the costs of trials they held for veterinarians who had transgressed. He said very few cases occurred, but those that did were quite costly to the Council.
The Chairperson proceeded to Clause 12 as amended.
Mr Beukes said that this was actually a mistake as this part of the Bill had not been changed.
Dr Ardington stated that this clause simply left fines to the Minister's discretion rather than having particular fines within the Act since they would certainly need to change over time.
The Chairperson asked for any questions and asked the presenter to proceed to Section 13.
Dr Ardington stated that this clause deleted a section that was no longer relevant because it referred to former amendments from the old clause and was unconstitutional.
The Chairperson said that this was because the section placed the onus of proof on one accused rather than on those placing charges. He then asked Dr Ardington to proceed with explaining the remaining amendments.
Dr Ardington stated that Sections 14 and 15 were a matter of tidying and updating the Act, similar to Section 12. Section 16 set up the mechanics necessary for the making the transition from the old Council to the new one. Section 17 made another correction to gender specificity. The remaining amendments involved correcting numbering and inserting the word 'veterinarian' where it was mistakenly left out.
The Chairperson read the Motion of Desirability, it was so moved and seconded, and the Committee thus decided that it was desirable to amend the Veterinary Act of 1982. He stated that the following Tuesday the Committee would deal with the Bill formally. He then adjourned the meeting.
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