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Pravin tackles COGTA intervention at local level

 COGTA getting somewhere with municipalities…..

pravin gordhan MTBSIt is quite apparent why the seemingly impossible task of integrating local, provincial and national government service has been given to minister Pravin Gordhan of cooperative governance and traditional affairs (COGTA). He seems quite determined that all provinces and municipalities have to deliver on their constitutional mandate.

His department of cooperative governance (DCOG) recently updated Parliament on the current situation, led by some opening remarks by the minister himself.   He went straight to the nub of the issue by stating that section 139 of the Constitution provided for intervention by the relevant provincial executive if a municipality could not or did not fulfil an executive obligation.

First steps

Whilst the Local Government Reform Act, passed in 2014, has helped considerably by refining local electoral areas nationally down to 137, whilst 95 municipal districts have been designated in most cases to correspond with electoral areas. Thus, more representative structures have been established although some suspected at the time this was an election ploy.

Stabilisation of local government was the key, said minister Pravin to parliamentarians, and the process of “Back to Basics”, one of the 16 SIP strategic items on the list of the National Development Plan, was the basis of the department’s 2015/6 annual performance plan. This to ensure municipalities performed in their dealings with local government at the coal face.

Minister Pravin said, “Local government plays a key role in determining whether people live with dignity and whether they are able to access economic opportunities, consequently contributing to the overall development of the country”.    Part of COGTA’s mandate, he said, was to understand and support the development of intergovernmental relations in all three tiers of government.

New Bill to make third tier accountable

vusi madonaselaVusi Madonsela, DG of DCOGTA, advised that they were “aiming to build accountability for performance in local government systems by setting and enforcing clear performance standards by March 2019. To this end a new Intergovernmental Monitoring, Support and Intervention (IMSI) Bill would be processed through Parliament.

The performance of municipal public accounts committees (MPAC’s) therefore in all “dysfunctional municipalities as well as municipalities with adverse and disclaimer opinions would be monitored and enforced”, he said.

Changing attitudes to debt

Madonsela also said, “The culture of payment for services would be encouraged nationally with campaigns” and part of DOCG’s task was to improve the ability of at least 60 municipalities to collect outstanding debt. He named other targets such as to strengthen anti-corruption measures by 2019 and to have achieved a full local government anti corruption tribunal systems working.

He also said DCOG would start with 12 districts to develop integrated development plans and eight cities and towns would also be supported and monitored in developing long term strategies and proper spatial development programmes.

Skills always the problem

Opposition members called on COGTA for better performance by local government training SETAs. Many institutions were conducting training programmes for councillors but in the process had found that many councillors literally have no skills or formal education. Madonsela responded by saying there were now regulations being passed to weed out unqualified persons and those with false CVs.

Minister Pravin agreed that some of the factors that led to dysfunctional local government structures included political instability and problems with service delivery and institutional management inability.  Councillors were nominated and appointed by their political parties, he said, and “perhaps it should be a conversation amongst MPs on how councillors should be appointed.”

Back to “Back to Basics”

The net result at the moment, said minister Gordhan, that one in three municipalities, according to a study conducted nationwide, were failing and the success of the “Back to Basics Programme” would now depend on inter-government transfers to bring in skills and changing the employment criteria to economic, tax and financial viability experience.

He concluded that his department was getting tough where municipalities had broken the law and some of the answers may lie in strengthening district municipalities with specialists and merging some municipalities.   Another option was to abolish local municipalities completely and in their stead, start again with district management areas but he did not elaborate on this.
Other articles in this category or as background
Municipal free basic services slow – ParlyReportSA
Local government skills totally lacking – ParlyReport
Electricity connections not making targets – ParlyReportSA

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Government communications accused of promoting ANC

Department of communications accused of cloning ANC slogans…..

country wants youThe opposition has complained that the department of communications (DoC) and government communications information services (GCIS) are using ANC party slogans for a DoC communications and PR campaigns, such campaigns costing millions of rands.

The complaint was lodged by Gavin Davis, DA member of the parliamentary portfolio committee on communications and a DA whip, during a presentation by DoC on progress of setting up the newly reconstituted DOC with new responsibilities and reporting at the same time ion liaison with the similarly, newly re-constituted department of telecommunications & postal services (DTPS).

Brand South Africa had moved from department of public service to DoC, it was reported.   SABC remained with DOC; the Media Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA), previously reporting direct to a minister was now with DOC as well, and the Films and Publications Board (FPB) moved from department of home affairs. Also, important was the transfer of the (GCIS) to DoC.

At the same time, parliamentarians were told of the new mandates on matters related to the Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA), some of which were in the area of broadband and telecommunications and therefore had to remain with DPST. 

Hot under the collar

It was in the discussion and questions on the campaigns of Brand SA, using the combined power of this re-organisation together with the communications strategies of GCIS, that most of the questions arose. At various points the meeting became quite heated. on the issue of slogans and party posters.  Present was the deputy minister of communications, Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, who could be seen at times to be visibly angry under questioning.

tv flat screenPresented by the DDG of communications, Gift Buthelezi, was a progress report of the national communication strategy, which included details of the processes to be used, media deployed and messages to be conveyed in the communications campaign of Brand SA aimed at the South African public.  The objective was “to increase pride in being a South African”.

Upfront minister

stella abrahamsDeputy minister Ndabeni-Abrahams took it upon herself to answer 95% of the questions asked during question time on the various presentations made, not the director general.   

On a number of occasions the debate reached the level of a public spat, particularly on the questions surrounding statements made in the presentations at the meeting which conflicted with statements made by senior executives of the SABC at different times and on different occasions.

First, shadow minister of communications, Gavin Davis, complained that the line adopted by the DoC campaign for all government departments and media placings, “Together We Move South Africa Forward”, was in fact an ANC slogan and used at the recent ANC conference. He said the DoC was clearly bringing party politics into government spending.

Good news

ANC athen added that the ANC had fielded a successful electoral manifesto to the whole country at the election based on this line and therefore took this as a mandate for government to also adopt this “because obviously this was what the majority wanted. She said DoC had plenty of “good news” to impart.

They (the public) had said so when they voted”, she said, and emphasised that there was nothing “sinister in this”. “Togetherness and pride in South Africa”, she added, were the key neutral expressions being used to shape the campaign, she said.

ANC members argued that pride in South Africa could be encouraged by sports events, regular communications on subjects that affected the ordinary citizen focused on the “good news”, such as cleaning up corruption and government successes.

Gavin Davis (DA) then asked the minister how DoC, as a government department, could possibly involve itself in building up such issues as “pride”. He said that pride in one’s country was a personal issue and it was not the job of a government to manipulate this feeling with what might be described as propaganda.

He also said it was impossible to neither measure such things as “pride” nor manipulate the emotion and called for detail on how this could be achieved with PR campaigns when such issues were governed or frustrated against a background of political and economic facts, which at this time were far from good.

Gupta’s “New Age”

Davis said he was also unsatisfied by the answer given to his question as to why R10m should be spent on the publication New Age for advertising when they only had some 10,000 readers and queried the media spend in general. The answer given was stated by Davis as being “totally undecipherable”.

He also asked for clarification on the statement made by DoC that a 70% quota of what was published and broadcast had to be “localised”, DoC having emphasised local news would be disseminated in future as a priority as distinct from international news. 

sabc news logoMinister Ndabeni-Abrahams said she did not necessarily agree with SABC editorial policy on this issue, the  SABC management being quoted by Davis as having said that SABC will in future broadcast the good news which would be local news”.   The minister said her earlier  statement, and that of DoC, was that  a figure of 70% for local news was the correct one.   Davies then asked if she were prepared to tell the SABC this fact.

At this stage minister refused to answer any more questions on the subject and accused the opposition of being provocative.

Other articles in this category or as background
Overhaul of broadband policy underway – ParlyReportSA
Communications bill awaited setting up consumer body – ParlyReport
More state powers for ICASA proposed – ParlyReportSA

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Private Security Industry Bill comes closer

Motive for Private Security Bill unclear…..

adt securityAs of this date, the Private Security Industry Bill still remains for signature by President Zuma passing it into law, having had the contentious clause that South Africans must own at least 49% of shareholding of any security companies, as proscribed in the original Bill passed by Parliament, increased to 51%.

However, from statements made by senior officials in the department of police and the minister himself it seems quite possible that government will push the law through despite the stated objections of security  industry associations and the possibility of the industry taking government to court on the matter.

The Bill introduced two years by minister Nathi Mathethwa, then a protégé of president Zuma but now reduced to the post of minister of arts and culture, posed the reasons for a controlling number of 51% being the result of the possibility of national security breaches by foreigners in South Africans affairs. This has never been defined.

Ek is die Suid-Afrikaanse

Such a matter was stated by the local security industry as being absurd since most South African management, local shareholders and certainly the majority of employees were South Africans anyway. In can only be assumed that the government thinks their are “plants” by foreign countries working in the industry, or alternatively, the reasons given by the state are a cover for some other motive, as of yet not clear.

Immediately the Bill was tabled, opposition members in Parliament pointed out that such a law would place SA not only in violation of international trade agreements but place the country in jeopardy of renewal of AGOA by the United States, of valuable export trading advantage to South Africa.

Particularly, South Africa is in danger of violating GATT agreements, but the minister of police has responded with the names of other countries discounting international agreements on the issue of local ownership control.

In a rush to close Parliament for the May elections last year, the Private Security Industry Bill, with other Bills, was hammered through Parliament using every possible ANC vote but, however with the 51% clause reduced to 49%.  This has now been reversed.

Trade and Industry unconcerned

Unless the Bill is returned to Parliament unsigned, a course, which would seemingly make the new police minister Nkosinathi Nhleko unhappy, and with minister of trade and industry (DTI), Rob Davies, appearing ambivalent on the whole issue, all would seem set for a suicidal dive into unknown international trading waters as far as obligations are concerned.

This is despite a trade delegation visit to the US on the subject. Recent statements by US congressmen and a joint letter addressed by them to SA on other possible violations of GATT by the DTI, particularly on poultry import issues threatening AGOA, are all being played down by cabinet ministers.

 American Chamber of Commerce in SA have pointed to the difficulty, not only with B-BBEE but with this proposal, the difficulty US/SA companies operating in South Africa have with their head offices in parting with ownership of their companies.

The police minister says that he “finds that South Africa will meet its trade obligations under GATT and the action will not threaten AGOA” – an unusual statement for a minister of police, whilst DTI itself, or the minister of trade and industry, still seem have their heads well below the water line.

Under the skin

Eventually, it will emerge what it that is so worrying to the department of police about companies like ADT, Tyco, Securitas, Chubb and the many Japanese, Korean and British companies involved in the manufacture and supply of security equipment….. all at the risk of disinvestment or, worse, maybe an imagined xenophobic wish for these countries not to employ ex-pats or immigrants from other parts of Africa. 

Other articles in this category or as background

No moves on new Private Security Industry law – ParlyReportSA

Private Security Industry Bill gets through Parliament – ParlyReportSA

DA’s Crucial Infrastructure Bill tabled on security – ParlyReportSA

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Parliament circulates Russian technology agreement


Partnership in techno between SA and Russia…

russian flagThe agreement between the Republic of South Africa and the Russian Federation on scientific and technological cooperation has now been tabled in Parliament, according to a notice published recently. It includes an annex between the same parties, the point being made strongly that both Russia and South Africa are part of BRICS which includes Brazil, India and China and indicating similar agreements. After much to-ing and fro-ing in 2014 between Moscow and Pretoria by minister of energy Tina Joemat-Pettersson and a separate visit by President Zuma for personal reasons it seems but who met President Vladimir Putin, a Russian Federation delegation was reported as having visited Tuynhuis in the Parliamentary precinct in early December last year, meeting Speaker of the House, Baleka Mbete.

The “R” in BRICs

The actual agreement was signed by the chairperson of the National Council of Provinces, Thandi Modise, who appears to have hosted the event. It was also signed by the deputy chairperson of the council of the Federation of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation, Ilyas Magomed-Salamovich Umakhanov. In a statement issued at the time in Cape Town, it was announced that “the two Parliaments had agreed to strengthen ties and cooperation through exchange programmes and to encourage freer movement of people between the two countries.”

Not just science

Education, agriculture, economic cooperation and coordination in the global arena were also identified as key areas for closer cooperation. “This memorandum of understanding is testimony to the historical, present and future ties between our countries,” Ms Modise said.   With regard to the use of the word “historical”, President Zuma mentioned in his recent SONA address that the bodies of “two veterans of the apartheid struggle” were to be repatriated and re-buried in South Africa. The statement issued at the time by Ms Modise stated, “Members of Parliament should not be left behind in developments taking place at executive level between their countries.” Other articles in this category or as background Nuclear goes ahead: maybe “strategic partner” – ParlyReportSA Nuclear and gas workshop meeting – ParlyReportSA National nuclear control centre now in place – ParlyReportSA

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National low income retirement plan ahead

 State retirement plan possible….

dol logoIn terms of what has been expected for quite some time, the department of labour (DoL) is soon to launch an investigation into a national retirement mechanism for low income earners. Such has been announced to the parliamentary committee on labour.

DoL, in a statement issued shortly after the meeting had been held, added that a discussion paper on the issue would be tabled at Nedlac in the near future.

In the last month of the previous parliamentary session the portfolio committee on labour held a number of workshops on the minimum wage issue and other matters perceived as critical in the labour field. Pensions for low income earners was one of them.

Stakeholders join in

During these workshops, which the department’s performance against set targets contained in the strategic plan and annual performance plan was evaluated, strategies were developed by participating parties, contributing parliamentarians and DoL.

DoL also stated that it would be talking to ILO as part of its investigations into a national retirement programme, not only as far as best practices were concerned but also into what had been found possible and practical at certain income levels elsewhere.

old mutual logoIn a recent survey undertaken by the Old Mutual on retirement plans, 42% of respondents were found to have no formal retirement provision in place at all and 85% of those that did, stated their concern on not having enough money to retire as their greatest worry due to fears surrounding inflation.

DoL is now to go a step further into the area of the of an income bracket lower than dealt with by private pension fund operators and, says DoL, plans are also afoot to investigate the possibility of including government employees in the benefits offered by UIF and also the effectiveness of the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act.

Other articles in this category or as background
Labour committee ignores strikes – ParlyReportSA
Parliament delays process on Labour Relations Bill – ParlyReportSA

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Medicines Bill : focus on foodstuffs

DOH responds on new Medicines Bill……

patientDr Anban Pillay, DDG of the department of health (DoH), has made it quite clear in answering public comments on the proposed amendments to  the Medicines and Related Substances Act  that their concerns regarding foodstuffs are not just confined to the labelling of food and providing a list of the contents of any food products but also the actual food content itself contained in the product and any harmful effect it might have on the consumer.

In this regard, Dr Pillay has said there was to be much closer contact between DoH and the department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF), the lack of co-ordination becoming apparent during the recent scandal when horse meat and donkey meat had been discovered in the contents of named foodstuffs brands without any public awareness to this effect.

This and many other comments were made on submissions recently put before the parliamentary portfolio committee on health during the debate on the Medicines and Related Substances Amendment Bill.

No separation from cosmetics

Dr Pillay also made it quite clear that comments in submissions suggesting that food stuffs and cosmetics be isolated into separate legislation parallel with medicines and related substances was a non-starter.  DoH, he said, had already recruited 25 new permanent staff members that would be working for the South African Heath Products Authority (SAHPRA) who were in the process of considering a food agency, food being very much within the ambit of the one Act.

A good number of the changes in the Bill before Parliament arose in the area of vitro diagnostics (IVD), or tests with equipment which assisted medical diagnosis by sampling body tissue and fluids.    In this regard, the wording of international medical regulatory bodies had been used whereby such equipment had to meet certain performance requirements. This was in contrast to medicines and related substances issues which dealt primarily with matters of efficacy.

Big retailers excluded

On the question of the issue of licences to trade issued by the new Medical Control Council (MCC), it had been conceded that retailers dealing exclusively with bulk products classified as unscheduled medicines did not have to comply with all SA Pharmacy Association requirements or obtain a licence from the MCC.

Comments in submissions had been made and by the opposition that the regulating body would find it difficult to exercise its authority with regard to product advertising in all forms of electronic media, particularly if it extended to social media.  Dr Pillay said that this was acknowledged but he asked for his detractors to note that advertising and marketing world was an ever-evolving subject and attempts had to be made to deal with false claims and failure to meet requirements in all forms of advertising media whatever the problems of doing so.

Debate on medical devices

Regarding criticism on the descriptions and definitions in the amending Bill with regard in the approval of medical devices and the ambits of inclusion and exclusion, Dr Pillay said DoH had fallen back on an updated version agreed upon by the International Medical Device Regulatory Forum, which was more appropriate, he said.

Considerable debate took place upon the issue of controls on pricing, raised in a number of written submissions. DoH had agreed that the amendments would clearly state that the agreed pricing committee would be the final body to make recommendations on such matters to the minister of health. Meanwhile, the MCC would confine its activities to quality, safety and efficacy, not pricing.

Furthermore, Dr Pillay confirmed it was the pricing committee alone who were to “pronounce on marketing, bonusing and pricing matters”, bonusing usually being related the incentives to doctors to recommend certain medicines in relation to price.

Traditional medicines

As expected, the EFF and the ANC raised the question of traditional medicines and asked why there was no reference to such in the “description of medicines and products”.  On this, Ms Malebona Matsoso, DG of DoH, replied that department was fully aware of the need to incorporate traditional medicines.

She said that DoH was now distributing a booklet on the process they intended to use to regulate for traditional medicines and how DoH planned to carry out any regulations. The booklet was not available at the time but would be sent to parliamentarians, she said.

The DG, DoH, said that eventually SAHPRA would regulate all products that were processed in laboratories as well as the plants that were used during the process of making medicines. She explained that one of the main drivers for the establishment of SAHPRA was that MCC appointed members were contributors from different industries and not only public servants.

The establishment of SAHPRA therefore would be on a permanent DoH staff member basis and would deal with this as well as foodstuffs and cosmetics in terms of “products” under the Bill. Ms Matsoso confirmed again that traditional medicines and products had not been excluded under the Bill since the Bill included all products. How the regulations were to be extended to include traditional medicines was now being established, she said, and university research particularly from the University of the Western Cape and UN World findings would be used.

Animal world

Despite some objections in written submissions, DoH was insistent that veterinarians had to ensure that they were issued with licences wherever medicines were either compounded or dispensed. Also, Dr Pillay pointed out that the new Bill would not regulate for electronic-medical and radiation devices, the worry of one submission, and hence the question of the Hazardous Substances Act did not arise, he said.

In an earlier meeting with the DoH, also led by Dr Anban Pillay, the portfolio committee debated the section of the Medicines and Related Substances Amendment Bill that covered the formation and running of SAHPRA. What SAHPRA would do and the manner it would operate in the industry, he said, would be dealt with by the regulatory process to be devised.

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EU and AGOA still important to SA, says govt

portsharboursWhite Paper on AGOA and EU trade still applies….

In describing both the need to continue trade in terms of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) and the importance of trade with the EU, the department of international relations and co-operation (DIRCO) said clearly some new terminology had been necessary to add to what was basically a 2012 document, the White Paper on Foreign Relations,.

DIRCO was briefing parliamentarians in the international and foreign relations portfolio committee on South Africa’s updated foreign trade policy.

New Bill from International Relations expected

New trading policies needed to be entrenched in the wording, they said, in what was clearly a roundabout way of introducing the idea of new legislation to establish a South African Council on International Relations and beef up the Consultative Forum on International Relations.

DIRCO officials talked at length on how BRICS had changed the scenario of South African foreign relations. However, positioning with the western trading world since the White Paper was first published had not changed much for South Africa, they said.    DIRCO expressed the need for continued good trade relations with the EU, which officials said was still an enormous contributor to overall trade relations with SA. They added that there remained an important need for AGOA to stay in place with the USA to beef up export figures.

Ubuntu the answer

The key concept behind all South African foreign relations was the concept of the “diplomacy of ubuntu”, they said, describing this as a policy of “collaboration, cooperation and partnership rather than conflict and competition”.

When asked by MPs as to whether DIRCO had considered the competitive nature of Nigeria and whether South Africa should really be the leader on the continent, DIRCO officials explained that South Africa’s stance was to “collaborate not compete” and this ethic applied to all relationships, particularly as far as trade was concerned. This was part of the “ubuntu” philosophy, they said.

On key foreign policies, the usual pattern as described in the White Paper were emphasized on the quest for “unity and economic, political and social renewal of Africa” but a number of times the expression “South-South solidarity” did emerge in answers.

Shift in partners

Emphasis was laid on the development of the South African Development Partnership Agency (SADPA) to pursue bilateral co-operation with international partners in support of African development but again it was noted the growth of BRICS in prominence in international affairs and the shift in global economic centre of gravity from North-West to South and East.

South Africa, DIRCO officials told parliamentarians would continue to support the development of larger markets in South Africa but Asia had become of increasing importance to South Africa, in fact Africa as a whole, with China and India increasing their global influence.

As far as the Middle East was concerned, the Levant was mentioned as providing excellent export opportunities but the area remained important in order to access sovereign wealth funds to finance infrastructure.

USA stays globally dominant

DIRCO finally acknowledged that the USA and Canada will remain dominant global and regional political and economic players with significant potential for tourism. DIRCO was conscious however of its own internal changes and policy directions on labour and civil society and incorporated this into their diplomatic training academy courses, which all appointments overseas were enrolled into.

Little could be drawn from DIRCO by MPs present on SADC, Zimbabwe and AU relationships, other than DIRCO intended stepping up its AU relationships, again with the principle of “ubuntu” at the forefront.

DIRCO said the updated 2012 White Paper on Foreign Relations is available on request.

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Private Security Industry Bill gets through Parliament

Minister of Police bulldozes Private Security Industry Bill....

adtThe highly controversial Private Security Industry Regulation Amendment Bill was passed in Parliament in a surprise vote in the National Assembly, despite the assurances of many that the governing party would accede to the suggestion that the Bill was neither in the interests of a South African investment profile or from the aspect of constitutionality.

The Bill, as passed, aims to limit foreign ownership in security companies. Foreign owned private security companies would be compelled to sell 51 % of their shares to South Africans. Whether this will be challenged at constitutional level remains to be seen.

Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa told MPs earlier this was necessary in the interests of state security because “the line betweennatie mthethwa security investments and military establishments is blurred. Equally, private security companies are increasingly used in the field of intelligence”, he said. He said the need for the Bill rested entirely on this issue and the need exceeded any issue regarding possible disinvestment. He dismissed the possibility of complaints for disregard of a constitutional balance between commercial and security needs.

Threats to national security

A police “technical” team of intelligence experts reported on matters relating to foreign ownership, which had been, since the Bill was first tabled, the area hotly contested. The report read out raised the question once that despite the fact that no information could be handed out or could be reported upon, there were threats to national security and de-stabilisation of states by the private security industry which also involved intelligence activities and specific incidents.

Opposition DA shadow minister of Police, Dianne Kohler Barnard, was shocked at the vote saying that she had expected the minster to withdraw the Bill in the light of legal opinion and public sentiment.

Damaging to SA profile

She said that she had heard that as a result of the passing of the Bill, constitutional opposition had to be expected from the private sector because not only was the Bill damaging to South Africa’s profile as a country, which was supposed to be trying to encourage foreign direct investment, but that “it also reflected unclear thinking on the part of the ANC on how to treat its own marketplace.”

Minister Mthethwa seemed to exude confidence when he told parliamentarians that “the provision of security service depends on supply and demand like any commodity in the market place. Change of ownership will not change demand,” he said.   He brushed aside claims that companies would disinvest aside and said. “Indications are that when the time comes, they will comply with the law and not close down.”

tycoThe DA and the FF+ objected to and voted against the Bill on the grounds that it represented a signal to the investment world that expropriation of majority shares in a public entity by the state was possible.

The Bill, having now been passed by the National Assembly, went to the National Council of Provinces for concurrence, where public interception is not possible, and then for assent by President Zuma when it will become signed into law on a date published by gazette.
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Infrastructure Development Bill modified and passed

Minister responds on land issue….

ebrahim patelThe Infrastructure Development Bill recently tabled by Ebrahim Patel, minister of economic development, appears to have avoided major confrontation as a result of re-wording of the provisions it contained regarding expropriation of land for major projects, the Bill having originally granted the state the right to expropriate land where a development project, declared as a Special Infrastructure Project (SIP), was concerned.

The Bill was passed by the National assembly and recently went to the NCOP for concurrence. Recent reports indicate it was passed.

Most submissions criticising the Bill said that the new proposals completely overstepped the mark on the question of expropriation but minister Patel has now assured all parties that such expropriation, if it took place because of a SIP, would be in terms of existing legislation when it came to the acquisition of land needed.

PICC oversight will cost project

In terms of the Bill, each SIP is to have a steering committee which will put in place time frames; attempt to deal with regulatory delay challenges; address project management and ensure the coordinated issuing of permits and licences but the PICC budget for the particular SIP would have to be funded out of the departmental budgets or those of the state-owned companies responsible for managing a project.

The Bill also gives the stamp of approval to PICC, the body which has adopted the National Infrastructure Plan of 2012 that intends to “transform the SA economic landscape while simultaneously creating significant numbers of new jobs, and to strengthen the delivery of basic services by planning and developing enabling infrastructure that fosters economic growth.”

Expropriation to be as presently defined

But the Bill as introduced into Parliament overstepped the mark on the question of expropriation when it came to ensuring that a SIP became a national priority and the minister has indicated that a new cause has been drafted to make it clear that any expropriation required in terms of the strategic integrated projects will be carried out in accordance with the provisions of current legislation.

Minister Patel told parliamentarians that all thirty written submissions had been received and noted and the Infrastructure Development Bill had, as a result of these public hearings, strengthened the constitutionality of the work of PICC, reduced ambiguity on the subject of SIPs whilst ensuring that public consultation had led to transparency.

He said the Bill was important as it involved some R1-trillion on infrastructure since 2009 and the Bill in giving legal standing to the work of PICC was a “milestone in South Africa’s economic development”.

Environmental impact overlooked by Bill

Another complaint was that despite the fact that, if passed, the Bill would co-ordinate some of the biggest infrastructure projects in South Africa’s history, the provisions  make no reference to the need for infrastructure development to be environmentally sustainable other than a clause acknowledging that the SIPs will still need environmental authorisation under the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA).

South Africa has a comprehensive environmental impact assessment (EIA) regime and the department of water and environmental affairs, over the past five years, had spent time and parliamentary effort to improve, streamline and speed up EIA processes, the minimum period for such clearances going no faster than 300 days for clearance on EIAs as far as NEMA is concerned, under any circumstances, in the national interest.

The idea of PICC being allowed to reduce this environmental clearance to 250 days, or even shorter time frames for mega-projects, has the environmental world in a stir it seems, the shortening process, they say being impossible to manage to and which renders EIAs meaningless.

Environmentalists say that decisions about big projects that will affect the whole nation for generations to come must be made using comprehensive information about social and environmental impacts in compliance with NEMA and this takes time, the minimum possible being 300 days as envisaged by NEMA.

It seems that minster Patel has solved the land expropriation issue but has not satisfied the environmentalists who still complain that in its present form the Infrastructure Development Bill will not achieve its aim as far as fully integrated development in the national interest is concerned.

The Bill is headed for promulgation sometime in the mid year, and was passed before the end of the present session in an extended session of the NCOP.
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Environmental pace hots up

Johannesburg first with environmental “green scorpions”…….

green scorpionThe City of Johannesburg has trained nine environmental management inspectors (EMIs), known as ‘green scorpions’, to ensure compliance with the city’s environmental bylaws.

Launching its Environmental Management Inspectorate made up of such persons, it was explained that this was part of the implementation of a memorandum of agreement between the city and the Gauteng Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, in accordance with the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA).

Parliament passing more new laws

As far as NEMA is concerned, the portfolio committee on water and environmental affairs under Adv, “Johnnie” de Lange and the select committees in the NCOP are finalising a raft of new environmental laws to be followed by new regulations in the form of  the Marine Living Resources Amendment Bill, the: National Environmental Management Air Quality Amendment Bill, the National  Environmental Management Integrated Coastal Management Bill and the National Environmental Management Amnendment Waste Bill.

green scorpion logoIn Gauteng, the Green Scorpions will have distinctive uniforms and would, would carry official identity cards to identify themselves on official business. MMC for environment, infrastructure and services, Matshidiso Mfikoe, said that this “would ensure that Johannesburg had “none of the no-go areas created through dumping or the harbouring of dangerous substances and animals.”

She added that the safety of the people of Johannesburg could only be guaranteed when the policies of government were implemented. “This is just the beginning”, she said. “As the inspectors are taking on their responsibilities in the field, the city plans to train more to strengthen the inspectorate to give it more teeth, while creating a safe and healthy environment for ourselves and future generations”.
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The state of the nation

No commitment in state of the nation address before elections….

Most know the state of the nation, so the question  was really what President Jacob Zuma had to say about it and was a rabbit going to come out of the hat.

For the mining industry and the trade unions there were indeed some specific statements but for the rest, the state of the nation address was sadly a hodge-podge of known facts, most of it un-related to the year under review. Nothing particularly new emerged.

Furthermore, very little looked into the future, other than a surprising reference to both the possibility of nuclear development, with no timings given, and fracking, mentioning Shell by name and calling such development “a game changer”. Otherwise, general industry and commerce, trade and industry and agriculture might not have existed.

Cumulative numbers

Clearly, with an election coming and such a poor record behind him, President Zuma chose the option of saying nothing of consequence, other than to blame  current unrest in some areas as being due to success in others. Furthermore, much of the statistical success claimed by him in the state’s performance referred to the period since the ANC came to power, thus subtly once again referring to the bogeyman of apartheid.

Sadly, it was “nothing” speech, just simply delivered better than in the past.

The nation therefore seems to remain in exactly the same state as it was before; that is – without strong leadership; without any message to the international world that that South Africa is interested in doing business, and with legislation in the pipeline indicating a strong leaning by most of its cabinet members towards national socialism.

Lost opportunities

On the bright side, South Africa remains still one of the greatest countries to live in and according to the numbers, to visit. Nevertheless, the “lost opportunity factor” is growing; nobody seeming to get a grip on corruption and the slow slide downwards a failure of service delivery (which cannot be blamed on the US recovery and the effect on emerging countries) not happening.

Dr Wolsey Barnard of department of energy possibly summed up the problem, although unrelated to the address last night, in his report to the portfolio energy committee on the departments’ performance for the third quarter, contained in this report, when he said that South Africa has lost 3,000 engineers in the last ten years.

He also said it took Eskom twelve long hours to get a required licence to enter a defaulting municipal area to solve power problems at Richards Bay, closed down because of a power line fault in a municipal area and where overheating was causing an ammonia storage plant to overheat, thus threatening the area with an ammonia gas discharge.

Twelve hours of demurrage on dozens of vessels standing off at sea at South Africa’s largest export port because of municipal licence needed by Eskom to enter the area.

Somehow President’s Zuma’s speech  seemed strangely unrelated to what is actually going on in South Africa.

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Shale gas exploration gets underway

Intensive shale gas exploration in Eastern Cape….

The Eastern Cape Departmento f Economic Development, Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEDEAT) has launched a R16m shale gas exploration across four of its district municipalities, says Mining Weekly. This is the first phase of such exploration.

The department said in a statement that their shale gas exploration plans would extend from the Little Karoo right across to Buffalo City; the Joe Gqabi district municipality, which included the towns of Aliwal North and Burgersdorp; and the Chris Hani district municipality, which included the towns of Cradock and Queenstown towards Graaff-Reinet.

Groundwater reserves being established

The statement said that the initial phase of the project, which had been named Field Level Operation Water Watch, or FLOW2, would create a baseline for shallow groundwater reservoirs in the Eastern Cape ahead of shale gas exploitation, through a groundwater monitoring programme with community-based participation to stimulate capacity building and entrepreneurship.

The department said that the DEDEAT project would essentially determine a forensic analysis of water and gas fracking in the Karoo to determine whether it was safe, cost-effective and beneficial.

In understanding many of the issues and what was not known about shale gas and the extent of the reserves would be assisted and an assessment of the technical skills needed by the provincial economy to increase the benefits of shale gas exploitation made.

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Gigaba answers critics on infrastructure build

Minister appoints infrastructure manager…..

malusi gigabaIn final questions before Parliament closed, answers were supplied by minister of public enterprises, Malusi Gigaba, to a parliamentary question on the effectiveness of Eskom and Transnet to achieve their infrastructure-build programmes. The Minister replied that he had appointed of Chief Director: Project Oversight, to specifically handle such issues with an infrastructure projects manager.

The minister said that the department of public enterprises (DPE) has established the office and who will be putting in place “policies and systems to enhance the rigour of the DPE oversight of the build programme”.  This would include the establishment of an information technology-based reporting system which will highlight progress and risks relating to all SOC strategic projects.

The DPE is planning to establish a dedicated “projects office”.

The minister said he had also established an internal task team that is systematically reviewing the policy and regulatory environment relating to state owned entities “with the objective of making clear recommendations as to how the environment can become more supportive in relation to an SOC delivering on their strategic mandates, particularly regarding their investment programs”

DPE, he said, was working with a National Treasury infrastructure task team “that is busy with a diagnostic exercise that will inform the process of enhancing SOC balance sheet capacity.”

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Set top box system to be overhauled

Communications dept. to revise controls on set top box system

TVsetsA proposed amendment referring specifically to the use of a control system for set top box supply (STBs) under the Broadcasting Digital Migration Policy in terms of the Electronic Communications Act (2005) has been published for public comment.

The amendment, the notice said, followed an extensive review of the system and consultations with stakeholders.

The notice said, “Although control systems will not be mandatory in order to avoid differences between broadcasters and manufacturers, certain STBs will use a control system to protect government’s investment in the local electronics industry and the subsidised STB market.”

“The policy amendment also establishes that costs will be recovered from subscription broadcasters that choose to make use of the STB control system in the future.”

The notice went on, “The amendment states that the switch-on of the digital television signal will take place by 1 April 2014 and the switch-off of the analogue terrestrial signal will be determined at a later date by the Minister of Communications after engaging with cabinet and relevant stakeholders.”

“According to the amendment the national broadcasting digital signal coverage shall cover 84 percent of the population by March 2014 and areas that may be deemed difficult or uneconomical to reach will be covered by a specified satellite system.”

The written comment period has expired and the ministers final decisions on the matter are awaited.

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Medical and food intellectual property tackled

Medicine, food and education all affected….

patientA National Policy on Intellectual Property document has been published by the minister of trade and industry for broader public comment, cabinet approval having been already been obtained. The document is described as being very much a draft.

According to the policy’s objectives, it aims “to improve access to intellectual property-based essential goods and services, particularly education, health and food” and “introduce a public health perspective into intellectual property laws”.

Multitude of intellectual property issues

The document  is also meant to inform legislative bodies on a multitude of intellectual property-related legislation matters, according to Macdonald Netshitenzhe, chief director of policy and legislation at the department of trade and industry (DTI), who has been responsible for the proposals.

In the background to the Bill, it states that the policies proposed are “meant to co-ordinate and streamline intellectual property legislation within South Africa.”

A 30-day public comment period on the policy closed on October 4 and Netshitenzhe says that the policy is meant to be a framework for discussion on intellectual property legislation within South Africa. He is clearly expecting dissenting views, which he says are welcomed.

A number of highly critical legal dissertations have already appeared on the web. One of the principal suggestions of the new proposals is to tighten up on patent criteria in order to avoid the granting of combinations of previously existing drugs, or finding a new uses for a medicines already on the market.

Patent application procedure changes

The policy also suggests allowing for patents to be opposed before and after they are granted. Currently in South Africa, patents can only be fought through a court challenge, and only after a patent has been granted.

Most notably, the policy also recommends a patent examination system. Currently, South Africa hosts a patent depository system, through which patents are granted so long as paperwork is submitted and fees paid, without the substance of the patent application being considered.

Médecins Sans Frontières, who are known to have been in contact with DTI on the policy matters, will be submitting comments, and, as Netshitenzhe explains, once the public comment period concludes, the amended document, including those comments, will be brought to Cabinet who may suggest further changes before giving its approval.

DTI says a final policy will only vetted by Parliament probably in the first portion of next year.
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Credit amnesty proposals pushed through

ANC majority agrees to idea….

The department of trade and industry’s (DTI) credit amnesty proposals aimed at reducing “credit impairment” were voted through by the parliamentary trade and industry portfolio committee, opposition members either abstaining or opposing the proposals.

A draft Bill, following a thirty day period for hearings, will be tabled in the next and final session of Parliament once approved by cabinet and before the present government ends.

The proposals, which came unexpectedly and at the last minute of the present parliamentary session, were proposed by the minister of trade and industry, Dr Rob Davies and the office of the National Credit Regulator (NCR).

Customer credit “impairment”

The amnesty proposals, it was stated, were aimed at “reducing credit impairment, by addressing its cause;  allowing for restorative justice;  and aimed also to redress the failure of credit providers to make proper assessments of risk.”

The credit amnesty is also intended to address over-pricing, stimulate economic growth and address some of the barriers to credit, McDonald Netshitenzhe, acting director general, DTI,  told parliamentarians. He replaces Lionel October as head of DTI.

In an earlier meeting in August on the subject, Netshitenzhe said before the same committee that the proposals were not only to reduce credit impairment by going to the root cause of the problem cause and legislating for “restorative justice” but in addition DTI’s proposals intended to cover the issue of the “failure of credit providers to consider broader economic factors”.

Three options

As a result of investigations by the NCR, he said at the latest meeting, three different amnesty options had been considered, all with the extent of mitigation in mind that such an amnesty would have on the provision of credit facilities by credit providers when considering their credit risk offerings.

Option one, said Nomsa Motshegare, CEO of NCR, at an earlier meeting, was the “least risk” option, with credit providers being the least disturbed; option two being “medium risk” and option three being “high risk.  Motshegare told parliamentarians that her department had appointed an independent firm to carry out an analysis of the impact assessment of the likely effect of removing various data scenarios from credit records according to the three options.

This study, she said, looked at the number of consumers that would be impacted; the totals of credit granted; the possible risk to the portfolios of credit providers and possible consumer impact.

End result

In terms of the proposal considered, i.e. option two for medium risk, NCR would remove certain categories of credit information from the record to be seen by banks, as well as the removal of all paid-up judgment data and adverse information listings on credit default following satisfactory conclusion of payment of the underlying debt.

The NCR spokesperson was outspoken on the issue that credit providers must conduct more stringent “affordability assessments” and advise “discretionary income guidelines” when providing credit facilities to consumers. NCR advised that reckless lending was to be isolated and “dealt with”.

Too much haste

In answer to opposition objections on the speed of introducing the amnesty proposals and the apparent wish to fast-track the proposals, acting DG Netshitenzhe said that whilst DTI acknowledged that their proposals had come before Parliament without the normal notice, the fact was that the credit situation was “spiralling” dangerously and the build up of genuine consumer complaints that was complicating the issue had to be addressed.

He said that many credit producers had been consulted with in the survey but that they looked forward to further constructive proposals from the major banks.   NCR separately acknowledged the haste had been applied “out of necessity”.

Half on credit prejudiced

NCR added that it was probable that some 50% of consumers with credit facilities were “impaired” from further credit in some way or another and the causes for this had to be assessed and regulated for. Ill advised lending was the main cause for concern, with unsecured lending a major issue and the need for affordability guidelines, it was said.

It was recommended by DTI that any legislation should be aligned with other laws dealing with debt as an issue, involving both debt collection and garnishees. The proposal before Parliament was that the minister should draft regulations in terms of the option agreed to in order to give effect to a credit amnesty, a notice being published giving 30 days to comment on the draft.

Date to remember

The period of comment will be gazetted, Netshitenzhe said, in the period June to September 2013 to allow for DTI to assess these by October 2013.   Meanwhile a number of reputable voices have expressed dissatisfaction with the proposals in the media.

Opposition members objected to the idea that options and drafts should be considered by Parliament before DTI had received the benefit of public hearings, saying that full legislative proposals and the choice of options should come forward following such hearings, especially any submissions from the banks.

They agreed, nevertheless, that reckless lending had to be curbed in the national interest, proposing that hearing and submissions with further investigations by NCR should be conducted over three months, not one month, and carried forward into the new government as far as debate was concerned. DTI said again that the matter was particularly urgent.

More analysis to be done

DTI said that more investigation would be carried out at the same time as the hearings took place and a report for cabinet would be drafted and confirmed and, as asked by the chair, a further report on that investigation be submitted to Parliament.

After considerable debate and objection by opposition members that the proposals were “being rushed through to satisfy a policy agenda”, and despite even a comment from one ANC member “that not enough time was being given to the public” with just a thirty day consideration period for submissions, it was agreed by a majority of members, with opposition members voting against, that DTI’s request should be approved and that should proceed on the basis proposed of the medium risk option credit amnesty provision in terms of regulations to be published.

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Environmental Affairs speed things up with SEAs

SEAs for major infrastructure projects…..

Environmental minister Edna Molewa said during her budget vote speech that strategic environmental impact reports (SEAs) would be shortly introduced, saying that she was aware that her department may be holding things up with outstanding environmental-impact assessments (EIAs) which applied to specific localised projects.

The idea is to speed things up “without undermining sound environmental-impact management principles”, minister Molewa said and such a strategy for environmental-impact assessments generally to address key national concerns “is well under way”.

National overiding interests

SEAs, she said, are typically carried out on one or more large national projects or programmes, as distinct to environmental-impact assessments (EIAs), which apply to specific localised projects. The idea is to hasten the process “without undermining sound environmental-impact management principles.” Such a strategy for environmental-impact assessments generally to address key concerns “is well under way,” minister Molewa said.

On the subject of major national infrastructure projects, DEA’s Lize McCourt said, in a separate presentation to Parliament, that the department had undertaken an evaluation of the eighteen Strategic Infrastructure Projects (SIPs) which the cabinet has named as essential to the National Development Plan (NDP).

Presidential overwatch on SIPs

“We have looked at what will be the best approach in terms of environmental regulation for each one in terms of the departmental clusters involved and made a preliminary evaluation”, she said.     She indicated that a “streamlined” environmental authorisation process was to be introduced by DEA to facilitate the implementation of all the SIPs projects being overseen by the Presidential Infrastructure Coordinating Commission (PICC).     The idea of the SEA was born.

1,300 EIAs outstanding

There are currently some 1,300 active EIA applications being considered by the nine provinces and here again DEA stressed they were attempting to sped up processes with these, with possibly a single approval process involved, rather than several separate processes.

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New B-BBEE Bill avoids circumvention of the law

lionel octoberB-BBEE legislation needs overhaul…

Director General Lionel October led the department of trade and industry’s (DTI) presentation on the new B-BBEE Amendment Bill  to the portfolio committee on trade and industry, stating that the anchor BEE legislation in place for some ten years badly needed a “proper mechanism to support the actual implementation of black empowerment and methods to deal with non-compliance and circumvention”.

He said the new changes resulted mainly from the work of the President’s Special Advisory Council charged with investigation into the areas where monitoring, evaluation and reporting were clearly ineffective, resulting in a need and to introduce penalties and criminalise those who purposely made false declarations.

Maximum penalty only set by Bill

The Bill, he said, set the maximum penalty but it was up to the courts to set penalties according to circumstances’.

The purposes of the new Bill was to give further effect to the aims and objects of black empowerment legislation, said October, and especially to improve monitoring and evaluation of SA business and industry on the subject; strengthen access to procurement opportunities for black business with focus on opportunities; and funding to improve the technical capacity of the verification industry.

NEDLAC, BUSA, Black Business Council and government departments had been consulted, including all departments in the economic and employment “cluster”, he said.

Most agree changes needed

October said that public hearings had also been conducted. On the whole, these  submissions in broad principle had supported the necessity for amending legislation with a certain number of changes being acknowledged as badly needed, mainly because of misunderstandings particularly in the area of verification and scoring and to clear up a number of unintended consequences of the original Act.

Nomande Mesatywa, chief director of B-BBEE at DTI, told parliamentarians that the objectives of the Bill were to line up other legislation impacting on B-BBEE and also to line up with the Codes of Good Practice.

The Bill established a B-BBEE Commission to monitor and evaluate black empowerment as practised; to deal with non-compliance issues and circumvention and give effect to government policy on the issue of black business empowerment.

Material amendments included a whole number of key definitions and re-definitions and matters regarding the establishment of the B-BBEE commission office.

MPs complain of racial bias

A number of MPs complained that definitions included that of black persons, defining them as black, coloured and Indian, which was simply re-introducing racially based legislation based on skin colour.

October said DG had no option but to follow procurement legislation where the scorecard used such determinations. He said that South Africa was not returning to such levels as had been practiced “in the bad years” but it was now the option or choice of business in terms of a scorecard system whether to do business with government or not.

He said that South Africa was not like Malaysia or Zimbabwe where only nationals of a certain skin colour or nationality could do business with government.

MPs still disagreed with DTI and said not only was the legislation racially based but it disenfranchised white persons from an opportunity that was their constitutional right.

Furthermore, there was a differential between national and foreign business where one’s nationality was prejudicial in dealing with government on tenders and this was bad for investors to see and contributed to the idea that South Africa was unfriendly to foreign investors.

Fronting the main problem

Again, DTI rejected such notions stated by opposition MPs, October defending the proposals in that the B-BBEE legislation before them was mainly aimed at those attempted to defeat the regulations on “fronting” and by supplying false information when submitting scorecard facts. It also remained purely an option for business whether it wished to comply or not with the scorecard system when applying for government business, which he confirmed amounted to some 45% of GDP.

He concluded that it was important for government to have a B-BBEE commissioner as a party to investigate, regulate and impose penalties on those who wished to defeat the purpose of the legislation and who wished to counter government policy on the necessity to empower middle class black development; black small business development and therefore improve the black contribution to GDP.

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