Categorized | Energy

SA Parliament in review

Parliament: the last session….

NA with carsLooking back on the session in Parliament just completed, probably the most important Bill to be introduced  in business terms was the Special Economic Zones (SEZ) Bill – its introduction leaping the country  from the somewhat current constrained IDZ strategic plan to a much broader SEZ vision involving the whole country.

The ideas incorporated in the Bill introduce a much broader economic theory of development of the underdeveloped areas in SA by giving to business and industry incentives, rather than just develop strategically important economic nodes because of facilities provided. The new Bill from DTI is, according to most, sensible in that incorporates genuine development possibilities but in the hearings from many institutions, industry and business there seemed much differentiation on what exactly is the best way to go forward on certain issues.

In the past, the minister Rob Davies and his colleagues have never been adverse to sensible debate in Parliament (witness the withdrawal of the Licensing of Businesses Bill for serious re-drafting) and the debate continued on the SEZ Bill for some time, many changes occurring, but the Bill seems destined in its final agreed form for assent.   Interesting was insistence by Dr Rob Davies that the three NEDLAC SEZ board members be approved by him.

Drama unfolds around E-tolling Bill

The Transport Laws and Related Matters Amendment “e-Toll” Bill was finally adopted despite the considerable from the opposition on the lack of transparency at local government and provincial level on e-tolling and the implications of cost to the taxpayer and to the private transport system.

Eventually on this subject, it seems to have become obvious that somebody has to pay for new roads, one way or another, and despite the earlier furore, many academic transport institutions have now indicated their support for e-tolling as it is proposed, since this really is the only way forward.   In the end, the most pressure for the passage of the Bill came from the fact that the financial commitments for the whole exercise had to be met and the realization that the loans in place were a reality. It turned out that lack of transparency in instituting where they went was a major problem, other than cost. That was solved.

Justice catch-ups

Important in the legal world was the Judicial Matters Amendment Bill, a sort of compendium of updates that made amendments to the Magistrate’s Court Act; the Criminal Procedure Act; the Child Justice Act; the Sexual Offences and Minimum Sentencing legislation; the Attorneys Act; the Small Claims Court Act; the Judicial Service Commission Act; Promotion of Access to Information Act; the Children’s Act; and the Reform of Customary Law of Succession and Regulation of Related Matters Act. All of this is part of the judicial reform process in place in South Africa.

From a judicial aspect the Legal Practices Bill, subjected to months of debate primarily resulting from the controversial proposal to provide for the minister of justice to select appointments to the a proposed Legal Practice Council which will have power over a newly separated division between advocates and attorneys. Stalwart Dene Smuts of the Opposition faces ANC chair Luwellyn Landers in this long drawn out affair, as has become the battle with the Protection of Personal Information Bill dealt with by the same PC committee and which has seen protracted viewpoints referred now for legal opinion.

Financial clean-ups

From the aspect of being a “catch-up bill, the Financial Laws Amendment Bill on various tax and financial regulatory issues was also dealt with but important in the financial world was the tabling, before the standing committee on finance, of the Banks Amendment Bill tightening up on regulatory issues in line with global issues in mind. Hearings and submission from the public are now called for.

On finance and just before the bell rang on closure, the Insurance Laws Amendment Bill was also tabled similarly tightening-up on this financial avenue. Further financial changes in the form of new regulatory measures arrived earlier with the tabling of the Rates and Monetary Laws Amendment Bill.

DTI has a busy time

DTI introduced during the session the Intellectual Property Laws Amendment Bill on Indigenous Knowledge and also the responses to public hearings on the B-BBEE Bill were aired, a Bill specifically introduced to eliminate fronting but which caused a storm by introducing criminalisation to the issue accompanied by serious penalties.

Minister Davies had the views of business spelt out in direct questioning from the media but the overall result was that it was quite clearly a cabinet decision that BEE in all its various legal applications was here to stay and there would be not be any form of sunset clause even considered in the near future, apartheid damage being considered by cabinet as too great and lasting in its effects.

During the last parliamentary session, DTI also introduced its next five year plan on IPAP and gave its thoughts on administered prices in the manufacturing  sector.

Also emanating from DTI and Parliament itself, was a National Credit Amendment Bill, a private member’s Bill from Dr Mario Ambrosini – now in ill health – which proposes some sensible amendments to the National Credit Act regarding unintended consequences, lesser pressure on consumer debtors to repay insofar as accumulated interest is concerned, this Bill and its parent the National Credit Act, having considerably changed the way South Africans do business, as has consumer legislation.

NEMA issues continue to dominate

From an environmental viewpoint the situation in Parliament, as always, remains dominated by the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA) under which a raft of Bills remain under discussion, including the Air Quality Bill amendments, the Integrated Coastal Management amendments; and a number of generalised issues under the NEMA Second Amendment Bill. The new winter session should see conclusion of most of these issues under the control of fractious PC chairman Adv. de Lange.

The cost of Air Quality infrastructure costs has left a number in the industrial sectors particularly worried, from statements made in Parliament to various parliamentary committees, coupled as it is with the introduction of carbon tax proposals by Treasury to the standing committee on finance.

Treasury no doubt considers this committee as their sort of alma mater in Parliament, pointedly ignoring similar and simultaneous proposals that should have been made, we would have thought, to the energy and environmental committees. It appears this is to be rectified.

Nobody likes a tax proposal, says Treasury

The carbon tax proposals seem to have been conducted in the manner of shoving a cracker into a room full of people, shutting the door, and watching reaction. Many Parliamentarians, even those of the ANC, could not accept that that Treasury had suddenly gone “over the top” environmentally and treasury officials were not in fact looking for more revenue to bolster a bad balance sheet. The feeling was that “golden boy” Pravin Gordhan would probably get his way in the end, despite more watering-down on future dates of implementation.

Labour legislation came to an unsatisfactory end with the close of the last session with the contentious amendments to the LRA failing on lack of quorum in the House, a very tatty way for nearly a year of hard work to end. The Labour Relations Amendment Bill is therefore returned to portfolio committee level, whilst its tandem legislation partner, the Basic Conditions of Employment Amendment Bill, is ready for presidential assent.

Energy on the edge

Energy had an extraordinarily busy session, most of it dominated by Eskom and its problems and the somewhat hesitant introduction of independent power producers, clean energy and nuclear issues which have slowly made their way somewhat painfully into the energy mix.

Much talking on all these subjects took place in the session, with the ISMO Bill converted into a section 76 piece of legislation and therefore going to the provinces for approval. An overview report on energy generally is now awaited before the ISMO Bill proceeds any further. In essence, the body of the Bill is now complete.

The big one in mining and petroleum

Entering this period at the last moment was the knowledge that a long awaited draft Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Amendment Bill, containing a number of contentious proposals such as state rights and ownership in any discovered and exploited resource and particularly referring to gas. This has been published for public comment by the minister of energy affairs. The debates and initial briefing have started already.

Although debate throughout the last session hasfocused on mainly what Eskom, in its debate with NERSA over final agreed tariffs for the next five years – a debate very much involving parliamentarians – at the last minute gas exploration and its potential assumed a higher profile. With things going downhill at Medupi in the last few months, parliamentarians sensed that Eskom may not have all the answers needed for the national grid to meet its needs in even the medium term. Despite assurances to parliamentarians to the contrary, costs at Medupi continue to escalate leading to murmurs in the background that possibly Eskom may re-approach NERSA.

Presentations to parliamentarians on possibilities surrounding shale gas development indicated that any contributions from the Karoo were not likely to come into play until well after the period of the current scenario planning of five years, possibly ten, had been played out. The general feeling was expressed, however, that shale gas development would pass beyond its current exploratory phase into exploitation when measured as an economic necessity in balance against the disadvantages expressed strenuously by objectors.

Nuclear has arrived

On energy also, an amending Bill beefing up the National Nuclear Regulators office was introduced, all seemingly in a vacuum at the time since no view could be obtained from government energy policymakers on the issue of finalising the energy mix for the future. Time seemed to be slipping away. As one of her last moves before swopping ministerial portfolios with minister Ben Martins of transport, minister Dipuo Peters finally announced that nuclear energy was in the pipeline, although, like gas energy, both remain in the early development and planning stage. Parliamentarians becoming aware that the private sector is where the action will take place in this zone, as has been the case for years with the fuel refining industry.

Land reform to become big issue

Other critical issues making their entry into Parliament include the issue of land reform on the major issues of “willing buyer – willing seller´, the definitions of what exactly is meant by “in the national interest”  and the possibility of a state valuator to determine the price of the exchange.  Such proposals are coming from the ministry of public works in the form of a draft Expropriation Bill, back again in a new form for public comment. The “unlock mechanism” seems to be a state appointed valuator who will contemplate the “official market value” in some sort of effort to take the horse play out of the issue.

Meanwhile, the last session of Parliament also saw major legislation in the area of land and property with the conclusion of two Bills, the Sectional Titles Bill and the Deeds and Registries Bill which, by their names, indicate which areas they overhauled.

Finally, and almost improbably, the Spatial Land Planning Use Bill entered the fray, a Bill tackling the almost impossible odds of trying to sort out the convoluted systems of municipal and local land planning which have so the beset human settlements drive in recovering from the failed mess left by apartheid.

After nearly two years of haggling, something representing a final document for the Spatial Bill has been cobbled to together, accepted by most of the provinces, ignored by the Eastern Cape and rejected by the Western Cape since, the Bill as a section 76 proposal involving all tiers of government had had to go through debate in the provinces. Majority vote won the day but whether any of this can be got to work in the nether regions of South Africa is now the challenge.

Changes at the top

On the subject of human settlements, Tokyo Sexwale went before Parliament for his budget vote, budget votes being the main subject of the last session, and presented in a somewhat half-hearted way his housing loan scheme for lower-middle income class incomes.  In fact, the entire set of presentations from the department of human settlements seem to have fed back from Parliament to cabinet with a general “thumbs down” on performance in terms evaluation from minister Collins Chabane, resulting in that and Minister Sexwale no longer holds the portfolio.

Newspaper comment on the political aspects regard Tokyo Sexwale’s challenge at Polokwane for presidency being the reason for his departure to us would seem somewhat irrelevant.  If Sexwale and his department over the three years of his tenure had been able come up with some answers on the human settlements problem and scored success with voters, he would have been in an unmovable position. Quite clearly, minister Collins Chabane’s report on evaluation on human settlements was the equivalent of a very bad end-of-term report.

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