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Parliament 2018 : somewhat shell-shocked

Taking a breather….

As Parliament closed for the Easter recess there was a sort of stunned silence that reigned over the precinct.   It was as if the guns had gone silent following a truce declaration. 

Maybe it was because parliamentarians were looking at their piled-up in-trays as they left or were considering the legislative backlog that had built up and the long list of promises that had been made to get the country back on its feet. Nevertheless, the feeling that change was coming was palpable.

At least in the last few weeks people were smiling and looking more cheerful, saying “good morning” to all and sundry – a pleasant habit of long ago which has now returned.  The ambiance at portfolio meetings has improved dramatically with many a parliamentarian having to carry a lesser amount of political baggage.

An improved atmosphere has also been noticeable in the National Assembly, despite hard debate on such issues as the Political Party Funding Bill and the motion for an early end to the next parliamentary session.   Such issues would cause heated discussions between MPs, delegates and people’s representatives in any parliamentary forum worldwide but the angst and gloom caused by a feeling of helplessness has gone.

Long walk

The journey from the days when those two ridiculous men in gum boots, red hard hats and an old water pump tried to explain away the Nkandla swimming pool as a “fire pool”, lasting until the other day when everybody woke up to hear that the country had squeaked through with a Moody’s stable rating, has been a long and exhausting one.  

At one stage it seemed that scriptwriters were on the loose trying to dream up impossible situations for the next episode of a TV series. 

Film locations moved from Saldanha Bay one minute, to the Free State the next, and then to Gold Reef City; from 54 Sauer Street, Johannesburg to the Union Buildings in Pretoria; from the Constitutional Court, the British Houses of Parliament, Moscow, Dubai, to a chicken coop in the King Cetshwayo  district of KwaZulu-Natal, and from a large domestic home in Saxonwold, possibly with a shebeen, to the steps of the National Assembly in Cape Town.   

All of this is impossible, it seemed.    What could tomorrow bring that could possibly exceed yesterday?

Never ending

Now we hear from the Hawks that some nefarious types, who illegally trade in abalone, delivered at some stage a cartload of money to the gates of Nkandla to ensure the retention of a certain Cabinet minister.

Who could possibly have written such an outlandish, disconnected and never-ending series of scripts?

For the average South African, it has also been a highly expensive journey.   Very few are better off because of the disasterous reign of Jacob Zuma, except of course a notable few who were pulling the strings.   Most are worse off.  It has been a disgraceful episode in the country’s history and the whole of the sordid story is sadly yet to emerge.

 Chinese trains

The news recently in the Portfolio Committee of Transport that the Transnet heist has paled the Eskom heist into insignificance brought up the awful thought of another round of endless parliamentary inquiries.   But that cannot happen.   It should be left to the Hawks.  There is just not enough time in the diary and, in any case, with Parliament closing early for next recess who knows what will be further uncovered.   The parliamentary programme is now far too behind for more navel gazing.

There is much outstanding legislation needing urgent debate and coming up are the important issues of land reform, minimum wage finalisation, mineral resources charters, decisions on tolling principles, health crisis controls, and energy mix finalisation.   Fortunately, we do not have a sitting President who will hold up legislation for personal reasons, as Jacob Zuma did with the FICA Bill. 

 Looking ahead

Parliament  will now shut down its next and second of the year session earlier on June 18 and return later August 13 for the third session. With some 47 Bills to be processed by Parliament, this will be an embarrassment.  Quite obviously the reason for an early constituency period is politically driven, a further backlash of the Jacob Zuma era. It could be a snap election. Who knows?

It will  now be hard task to deal appropriately with such key laws in draft including the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Amendment Bill, the Minimum Wage Bill, the Basic Conditions of Employment Amendment Bill, the Cybercrimes and Cybersecurity Bill as well as the Expropriation Bill, the Copyright Amendment Bill and the Critical Infrastructure Bill before June 18, but the delay has to be recognised as fact and put down to damage control.

Fixed anchors

Despite all this, Parliament has preserved its status despite the political moves to challenge its structure.    It has won the day in the separation of powers battle, despite losing a little of its dignity. It has become the battlefront for all that is right and the only real venue for its people to be represented, despite there being no real constituency system but only a party list process. 

But most important of all, the Constitutional Court was seen and heard to be arbiter of truth and good reason.   This gives us every confidence that the land reform and restitution issue, an issue that was never going to go away, will be handled in the same manner with a good mix of common sense, fairness to all and proper application of the law.    We remain positive.

Posted in cabinet, Finance, economic, Home Page Slider, Justice, constitutional0 Comments

Minimum Wage Bill hits bumpy road….

Minimum Wage not signed into law…

The long journey for South Africa’s first minimum wage fix has been tabled in the National Assembly with the Basic Conditions of Employment Amendment (BCEA) Bill and the National Minimum Wage Bill (NMW) Bill having passed second reading stage and having been voted upon.

But all is not well with in the drafting of this Bill by the Department of Labour (DOL) and further reports on union reactions are to be posted in due course. This site is archival.

These two Bills, voted upon and approved by both the National Assembly and the NCOP, four months before the agreed minimum wage to be implemented by law with a deadline of May 2018 set by President Ramaphosa in his State of Nation Address, have therefore not yet been signed by him.

Terminology all wrong

This is because nobody present at the Portfolio Committee of Labour meetings seems to have know what was agreed at earlier NEDLAC meetings.  Both Bills were tabled by the Minister of Labour, Mildred Oliphant.   In the case of the NMW Bill, the proposal tabled specifies that the national minimum wage will be obligatory for all employees and cannot be varied by contract, collective agreement or law, except by a law amending the anchor Act itself.

Cabinet’s approval of a national minimum wage followed consultations and agreements with business‚ labour and community formations within NEDLAC to allow for the introduction of a national minimum wage.  Some low-income employees such as farm workers and domestic workers are to be exempted at a lesser sum and subject to further talks.

Final story

This approval is also translated across into the tandem NMW Bill, a much shorter 14-page Bill, states as item one that the national minimum wage for employees is R20 for each ordinary hour worked but then states as item two that despite this, farm workers are to be entitled to a minimum wage of R18 per hour and domestic workers to R15 per hour. Both anchor Bills can be amended based on annual negotiations.

The BCE Act describes a farm worker simply as “a worker who is employed mainly or wholly in connection with farming or forestry activities” and describes a domestic worker not only as being a worker employed in a home but also “a gardener; a person employed by a household as a driver of a motor vehicle; a person who takes care of children, the aged, the sick, the frail or the disabled; and domestic workers employed or supplied by employment services.”

New boss

The tabling of these two Bills was ratcheted up when Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa referred to them in one of his first candid speeches unencumbered by political restraint, when he said, “The minimum wage, which translates to R3,500 per month, will be based on a 40-hour week and R3,900 for a 45-hour week. Whilst not being a living wage in his estimation, it represented a start to the upliftment of 6.6 million workers in the country who earn below R3,500, he said.

The secret to acceptance for any number of reasons will not be as a result of parliamentary hearings in this case but an assessed view of how acceptance plays out at provincial level, now in process.   Workshops are now touring the country organised by DOL attempting not only the easier task of informing city dwellers but also attempting to outreach to more distant areas such as farming communities.

Outreach

In democratic terms it has been decided that the final stages of the Bill must reflect how the people feel.  Provincial briefing sessions on the subject of a minimum wage started 9 November 2017 and commenced in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Cape Town, George, Pietermaritzburg, Richards Bay, Durban, Tzaneen, and Polokwane.

The balance of meetings is to be completed after Parliament has opened Port Elizabeth, Upington and culminating in Kimberley. The balance of all provincial will be assessed by MPs and Parliament will proceed based on input.   Feedback is filtering through that the description of workers leaves a number of casual categories holding the short straw in terms of definitions. Our current report with clients amplifies the outrage.

How they see it

The proposed changes to the BCE Act also make provision for the introduction of a new section dealing with guaranteed minimum hours of work. This section provides that an employee, who works for less than four hours on any day will be entitled to be paid for four hours of work if circumstances beyond the control of the employee prevent work from being performed.

Reactions of unions to the term of “employee” being used throughout in the Minimum Wage Bill is now being played out and the “fall out” from the misrepresentation  is referred to in reports still with clients.

Posted in Agriculture, Finance, economic, Home Page Slider, Labour, Trade & Industry, Transport0 Comments

Marine Spatial Bill targets ocean resources…

Bill to bring order to marine economy…

In the light of President Zuma’s emphasis in his recent speeches on oil and gas issues, it is important to couple this in terms of government policy with the tabling of the section 76 Marine Spatial Planning Bill (MSP Bill).  The proposals are targeted at business and industry  to establish “a marine spatial planning system” offshore over South African waters.

The Bill  also says it is aimed at “facilitating good ocean governance, giving effect to South Africa’s international obligations.”

A briefing by the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) on their proposals is now awaited in Parliament. The Bill until recently was undergoing controversial hearings in the provinces as is demanded by its section 76 nature.

Water kingdom

The MSP Bill applies to activities within South Africa’s territorial waters known as Exclusive Economic Zones, which are mapped out areas with co-ordinates within South Africa’s continental shelf claim and inclusive of all territorial waters extending the Prince Edward Islands.

The Bill flows, government says, from its Operation Phakisa plan to develop South Africa’s sea resources, notably oil and gas.   The subject has recently been subject to hearings in SA provinces that have coastal activities. This importantly applies to South African and international marine interests operating from ports in Kwa-Zulu Natal and the Eastern and Western Cape but also  involves coastal communities and their activities.

International liaison

Equally as important as maritime governance, is the wish to assist in job creation by letting in work creators.  Accounted for also are international oceanic environmental obligations to preserve nature and life supporting conditions which DEA state can in no way can be ignored if maritime operations and industrial seabed development are to be considered.

South Africa is listed as a UNESCO participant, together with a lengthy list of other oceanic countries, agreements which, whilst not demanding total compliance on who does what, are in place to establish a common approach to be respected by oceanic activity, all to be agreed in the 2016/7 year.  South Africa is running late.

Invasion protection

Whilst the UNESCO discipline covers environmental aspects and commercial exploitation of maritime resources, the MSP Bill now before Parliament states that in acknowledging these international obligations, such must be balanced with the specific needs of communities, many of whom have no voice in an organised sense.

As Operation Phakisa has its sights set on the creation of more jobs from oceanic resources therefore, the MSP Bill becomes a balancing act for the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) and the Bill is attracting considerable interest as a result.

The hearings in the Eastern Cape have already exposed the obvious conundrum that exists between protecting small-time fishing interests and community income in the preservation of fishing waters and development of undersea resources.  What has already emerged that the whole question of the creation of future job creation possibilities from seabed-mining, oil and gas exploration and coastal sand mining is not necessarily understood, as has been heard from small communities.

The ever present dwindling supply of fish stocks is not also accepted in many quarters, with fishing quotas accordingly reduced.

Tug of war

All views must be considered nevertheless but from statements made at the political top in Parliament it becomes evident that the potential of developing geological resources far outweigh the needs of a shrinking fishing industry.  At the same time, politicians usually wish to consider votes and at parliamentary committee level, the feedback protestfrom the many localised hearings is being heard quite loudly.

As one traditional fishing person said at the hearings in the Eastern Cape, “The sea is our land but we can only fish in our area to sustain life. The law is stopping us fishing for profit.”

Local calls

The attendees at many hearings have said that the MSP Bill and similar regulations in force restrict families from earning from small local operations such as mining sand; allow only limited fishing licences and call for homes to be far from the sea denying communities the right to benefit from the sea and coastal strips for a living.

Hearings last went to the West Coast and were held with Saldanha Bay communities.

Big opportunities

Conversely, insofar as Operation Phakisa is concerned, President Zuma, as has been stated, said clearly in his latest State of Nation AddressZuma that government has an eye for much more investment into oil and gas exploration.   He has since announced that there are plans afoot to drill at least 30 deep-water oil and gas exploration wells within the next 10 years as part of Operation Phakisa.

Coupled to this is the more recent comment in Parliament that once viable oil and gas reserves are found, the country could possibly extract up to 370 000 barrels of fossil fuels each day within 20 years – the equivalent of 80% of current oil and gas imports.

According to the deadline set by the Operation Phakisa framework, the MSP Bill should have been taken to Parliament at the beginning of December 2016 for promulgation as an Act by the end of June 2017, making it appear that things are running late.

Environmental focus

As the legislation is environmentally driven, with commercial interests coming to the surface in a limited manner at this stage, the matter is being handled by the Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs.    It is understood that later joint meetings will be held with the Trade and Industry Committee and with Energy Committee members.

Adding to the picture that is now beginning to emerge, is the fact that Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor, has signed a MOU with the Offshore Petroleum Association of South Africa.

Minister Pandor said at the time of signing, “The South African coastal and marine environment is one of our most important assets.   Currently South Africa is not really deriving much from the ocean’s economy. This is therefore why we want to build a viable gas industry and unlock the country’s vast marine resources.”

Moves afoot

OPASA is now to make more input with offshore oil and gas exploration facts and figures.   Energy publications are now bandying figures around that developments in this sphere will contribute “about R20bn to South Africa’s GDP over a five-year period.”   If this is the case, the Energy Minister might be compromised once again, as she was with renewables, on the future makeup of the planned energy mix.

Amongst the particularly worrying issues raised by opposition parliamentarians and various groupings in agricultural and fishing areas is that there is a proposal in the MSP Bill on circuit states that the Act will trump all other legislation when matters relate to marine spatial planning. DEA will have to answer this claim.

Opposition

Earthlife Africa have also stated at hearings in Richards Bay that in their opinion “Operation Phakisa has very little to do with poverty alleviation and everything to do with profits for corporates, most likely with the familiar kickbacks for well-connected ‘tenderpreneurs’ and their political allies.”

This is obviously no reasoned argument and just a statement but gives an indication of what is to be faced by DEA in the coming months.

Giants enter

With such diverse views being expressed on the Bill, President Zuma and past Minister  of Energy, Mmamaloko Kubayi cannot have missed the announcement that Italy’s Eni and US oil and gas giant, Anadarko, have signed agreements with the Mozambique government to develop gas fields and build two liquefied natural gas terminals on the coast to serve Southern African countries.

Eni says it is spending $8bn to develop the gas fields in Mozambique territorial waters and Anadarko is developing Mozambique’s first onshore LNG plant consisting of two initial LNG trains with a total capacity of 12-million tonnes per annum.  More than $30bn, it has been stated in a joint release by those companies, is expected to be invested in Mozambique’s natural gas sector in the near future.

Impetus gaining

In general, therefore, the importance of a MSP Bill is far greater than most have realized. The vast number of countries called upon to have their MSP legislation in place also indicates international pressure for the Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs to move at speed.

This follows a worldwide shift to exploiting maritime resources, an issue not supported by most enviro NGOs and green movements without serious restrictions.  Most parliamentary comments indicate that the trail for oil and gas revenues needs following up and the need to create jobs in this sector is even greater.

Ground rules

Whilst the oil and gas industry and the proponents of Operation Phakisa also recognize that any form of MSP Bill should be approved to provide gateway rules for their operations and framework planning, the weight would seem to be behind the need for clarity in legislation and urgency in implementation of not only eco-friendly but labour creating legislation.

Operation Phakisa, as presented to Parliament particularly specified that the development of MSP legislation was necessary and Sean Lunn, chairperson of OPASA has said that the Bill will “add tangible value to South Africa’s marine infrastructure, protection services and ocean governance.”  He said it will go a long way in mitigating differences between the environmentalists and developers.

Not so nice

On seabed mining, the position with the MSP Bill is not so clear, it seems.    Saul Roux for the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) says that the Department of Mineral Resources granted a few years ago three rights to prospect for marine phosphates.

He also stated that the marine process “involves an extremely destructive form of mining where the top three metres of the seabed is dredged up and consequently destroys critical, delicate and insufficiently understood sea life in its wake.”   Phosphates are predominantly used for agricultural fertiliser.

“These three rights”, he said “extend over 150,000 km2 or 10% of South Africa’s exclusive economic zone.”

Something happening

One of CER’s objectives, Roux says, is to have in place a moratorium on bulk marine sediment mining in South Africa.   He complains that despite the three mining rights having been gazetted, he cannot get any response from Minister of Mineral Resources, Mosebenzi Zwane, or any access to any documents on the subject.

He stated there were two South African companies involved in mining sea phosphates and one international group, these being Green Flash Trading 251, Green Flash Trading 257 and Diamond Fields International, a Canadian mining company. All appeared to be interested in seabed exploration for phosphates although not necessarily mining itself.

Roux called for the implementation of an MSP Bill which specifically disallowed this activity as is the case in New Zealand, he said.

Coming your way

The MSP Bill was tabled in April 2017 and once provincial hearings are complete it will come to Parliament. The results of these hearings will be debated and briefings commenced when announced shortly.

Previous articles on category subject

Operation Phakisa to develop merchant shipping – ParlyReportSA

Hide and seek over R14.5bn Ikhwezi loss – ParlyReportSA

Green Paper on nautical limits to make SA oceanic nation – ParlyReportSA

Gas undoubtedly on energy back burner – ParlyReportSA

 

Posted in cabinet, Energy, Enviro,Water, Finance, economic, Home Page Slider, Labour, LinkedIn, Mining, beneficiation, Special Recent Posts, Trade & Industry0 Comments

Parliament thrashes out debt relief Bill

Credit Regulator calls for defined debt relief… 

MacDonald Netshitenzhe, of Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), has told parliamentarians that his department in general endorses the call  by the National Credit Regulator (NCR) for the Minister of Trade and Industry to provide for debt relief provisions under the National Credit Act (NCA). The call will be answered by a Bill generated by Parliament because of its cross-cutting nature.

DTI’s input came after the portfolio committee last year held two meetings on the debt situation in South Africa, following a decision taken earlier in the year to gain input from the public and appropriate state entities on the possibility of debt forgiveness.

Parliamentary initiative

The parliamentary subcommittee, formed by Joan Fubbs (ANC), chair of the Trade and Industry Committee, was established last year to investigate possible debt relief systems for over-indebted households. The objective was to provide with consultation for as many parties as possible and to obtain a legal background to enable debt relief regulations to be drafted as an extension of the NCA.

It was tacitly accepted at the time that the result of the investigation would turn out to be a parliamentary committee Bill drafted on the subject to amend the anchor Bill after an initial policy review was carried out on indebtedness nationally. Documents before MPs showed that the World Bank had noted that South Africans currently owed R1.63-trillion to lenders and SA consumers were the most indebted in the world.

Basics

To draft the Bill, it was agreed that technical support would be given by DTI and that a Socio-Economic Impact Assessment (SEIAS) was to be undertaken when the Bill was agreed as a completed draft.

Meetings on debt relief have been held by the parliamentary subcommittee with South African Reserve Bank, the Financial Services Board, the National Credit Regulator (NCR) and the National Consumer Commission. Already implemented are revised cuts in interest and fees and the well publicised garnishee order changes for public servants.

National Treasury is also working on a draft Insolvency Bill with Department of Justice (DoJ) and input from DoJ has included the Debt Collectors Amendment Bill and the Courts of Law Amendment Bill both now before the PC on Trade and Industry, in separate meetings.

Debt relief per se

In recent meetings, Netshitenzhe who is Chief Director of Policy and Legislation at the DTI, when asked to contribute to the sub-committee’s work, outlined first whom he thought debt relief should apply to.    He replied that DTI recommended that such relief could be for retrenched consumers, victims of unlawful emolument attachment orders (EAOs), victims of unlawful social grant deductions and victims of reckless credit lending.

 

In answer to questions, it was explained that an EAO, more commonly known as a garnishee order, was a deduction by an employer from a wage as distinct from the more sophisticated administration order where an appointed administrator paid one or more creditors from an allocated sum for which a fee was charged.

Flexibility

In expanding on debt levels generally and in talking on counter measures, Netshitenzhe said the position on levels of debt that were currently being experienced would not always be the same and therefore, in allowing the Minister to provide debt relief measures in some form, DTI recommended that it be understood right from the start that the provisions could altered from time to time and the position should remain fluid.

It was DTI’s view that the Minister of Trade & Industry should consult carefully with the appropriate members of the credit industry before drafting the first such amendments in the form of the Bill and making any subsequent changes later. Naturally, he said, National Treasury had to be drawn into the debate immediately.

Domestic debt targeted

As well as providing remedies for household debt relief, strong counter measures also should be adopted, he said, in cases where indebtedness resulted from the behaviour of unscrupulous credit providers. This had become a major problem in SA.

Parliamentarians were told that over-indebtedness had worsened with the slowdown in economic growth and ever-increasing joblessness. Some 40% of the 24m credit card consumers had currently an “impaired record”, which was defined currently as three or more months in arrears or were listed with a credit bureau or who had been subject to a court judgement or administration order.

Causes

Consumer over-indebtedness resulting from prejudicial behaviour by unscrupulous credit providers, he said, was a further major problem, followed by borrowers borrowing more to redeem debt with no checks being carried out by lenders.

In outlining DTI plans, Netshitenzhe said that proposals may have to be provided to alleviate or support those in debt for reasons to be defined and the State therefore would no doubt need to establish a fund reserved for debt relief interventions to either partially or fully pay off the debt of qualifying consumers dependant on their circumstances.

Credit checks

Who qualified for relief of any kind and how to define the circumstances was the next big issue coming under debate. He added that it was DTI’s view that the possibility had to arise whereby credit providers should provide debt relief to over-indebted consumers who have already paid “a significant portion” of their debt. This whole concept had to be fleshed out, he inferred.

At that stage, Opposition members welcomed the propositions in general but were deeply concerned, as were many parties, that the very offer of forgiveness of debt might provide encouragement of reckless borrowing or spending. They wanted to see strong counter measures in the form of affordability assessments when credit was granted.

National Treasury

In a follow-up meeting led again by Chair Joan Fubbs with National Treasury (NT), MPs were told by Katherine Gibson, Senior Adviser for Market Conduct at Treasury (who also handles Twin Peaks regulatory measures) that in economic terms, further research was needed to determine the impact of possible debt relief packages which as an outcome, she said, could heavily impact on retailers and microlenders.

Treasury, she said, had previously introduced a debt amnesty to assist poor and indebted consumers and they also were considering many options including ‘extinguishing’ some or all of debt to help people get a fresh start. “However, the underlying principle that if a person can pay, he or she should pay is adopted at Treasury in all considerations”, she said.

Early days

Ms Gibson told MPs that such research was essential since the impact of any kind of debt relief packages was likely to affect retailers and microlenders which could have a knock-on effect of further inability for consumers to access credit. This would, in turn, cause further “worst case scenarios” pushing the more desperate creditor into the hands of illegal

operators. In all considerations, protecting the poor and focusing on the poor was paramount, she said.

In her briefing, she noted that whilst the new requirement that registration of credit providers applied to only those granting credit of over R500,000 or at least 100 agreements, reckless lending was playing a large role in the deterioration of household debt.

Overload

Ms Gibson said it also concerned Treasury that a great number of credit providers had provided credit to already totally over-indebted consumers and had failed to conduct affordability assessments. To this end government, through the Treasury, had appointed a service provider (consultant?) to investigate all EAOs issued to public sector employees.

The service provider had tested the EAOs against various parameters and the credit provider involved was asked to withdraw the arrangements if certain criteria could not be met.

Overhaul

The next phase, said Ms Gibson, was to check on the types and details on EOUs that were currently being applied. It had been noted in discussion with paymasters in government service that employees with the largest level of exposure had instalment values ranging between R1 200 and R6 500.

The state departments with the largest number of EOUs were the SA Police Service (SAPS), followed by the Department of Education, the Department of Health and then the Department of Correctional Services. SAPS also had the largest exposure of different types of credit providers, she said.

Ms Gibson commented, in answer to questions from MPs, that mostly credit providers had corrected their processes and credit arrangements voluntarily after an enquiry by the team investigating. Those not doing so were now subject to litigation in court. This was happening across the various state departments but in answer to a question, Ms Gibson said she was not referring to SOEs.

In need

She also identified many areas where Treasury agreed in principle with DTI as to who were the groups were most likely to receive relief in the final analysis.

These categories were those who had no money or assets; those who had low income and low assets but according to circumstances needed relief; those who had been defrauded and those who clearly had no basic understanding or capability to understand what they were signing because of lack of explanation, lack of understanding of a financial arrangement or lack of a needs assessment.

Any international precedents on the issue of whom should be assisted that had taken placed in developing countries should sought, said Ms Gibson. She said she understood this was in process at DTI.

Debt clearance

Treasury had stated that a procedure must be established, she said, whether the debt was to be written off completely; whether it should be restructured; whether write-off should apply to people who were poor and whether the credit should never have been given in the first place and therefore how it was granted followed up on.

Other cases could involve people who were only insolvent for the moment and therefore needed only a debt restructuring plan to tide over. MPs flagged that they saw problems ahead with instituting such processes in practice but would await a further briefing from DTI and take matters up with them.

OK so far

Ms Gibson concluded that Treasury had already found it had common ground with DTI about debt relief. She acknowledged that the tailoring of measures to meet the circumstances was going to be difficult but most important was to install simplistic check systems.

However, she said, it was also important to control better with strict applications any credit availability and to “change the behaviour of reckless borrowers.” She understood that education processes were to be organised by DTI for borrowers on the subject of borrowing without conscience or thought of the implications of debt.

Big stuff

Chair Joan Fubbs explained to members that the whole issue of mortgages, secured loans, various banking arrangements and pawning were not discussed at this stage, this being left to further final debate and parliamentary presentations after the parliamentary recess in August.

Many inputs have, however, have already been made by the banking industry, business entities and employee representatives during initial discussions but with no draft Bill as a consideration.

Finance Regulatory Bill

Ms Gibson added that much would change upon the implementation of the “Twin Peaks” banking and finance institutional programme where Treasury’s influence upon the banking industry and debt collectors in general would come into play.

Legislation is being concluded by DG Roy Havemann of Treasury, she said, and “Twin Peaks” would change the aspect that the Treasury did not have the power to monitor debt collectors and banks but would have so shortly.

She said the banks had been highly co-operative but had expressed deep concern over long term debt effects and its effects on banking costs, as distinct from immediate short-term relief most of which was in place already as far as consultation with their own clients was concerned

However, she said, the proposed impact assessment on debt relief to attempt to measure outcomes on the proposals for both the private sector and public service sectors was now essential.

Final mix

In conclusion, she said that there was a need for correlated action by all role players since there were many different players, consumer groupings and regulators involved and the views must be heard again of the various entities granting and dealing with credit when the Bill is in final stages of the Bill.

Consumer bodies dealing with debt relief should also be asked to comment, she said. Ms Gibson concluded by saying that there had to be a better understanding how debt was incurred by different South African groupings, why it was so easily incurred and to identify the most appropriate remedies and options that were available to various groups and cultures.

PMQ & A

Questioning from MPs was direct bearing in mind that the proposed Bill was to be a parliamentary submission for tabling. One MP noted that most debtors were litigating against creditor providers whereas it was the collector, such as a state department, that had wittingly or unwittingly entered an illegal garnishee and not necessarily the credit provider.

It was also suggested as not ideal that in some retail-to-consumer arrangements, the credit provider sold the debt to the debt collector in the first place. Then it was the debt collector who arranged the garnishee order and worked on a collection fee.

Ms Gibson responded that this kind of situation had to be accepted and, furthermore, it was not of consequence, providing the credit provider who granted the credit was registered and obeyed the rules and the arrangements fell inside of what was to be allowed in the Bill.

Dave Macpherson (DA) asked about the progress regarding the fraudulent EAOs and asked for a list of the deregistered credit providers who were still operating despite the restraint. Ms Gibson said she would supply such a list to the committee which would be confidential but such a list existed.

Debt collectors

Ms Nomsa Motshegare, Chief Executive Officer: National Credit Regulator (NRC), also said that the “policing” of credit providers could not be controlled with existing legislation but that on the sale of debt, debt collectors were required to register with the NCR to allow monitoring. NCR had a mandate to ensure that the purpose of pensions should not be to pay off debt but to cater for retirees’ welfare

Charmaine van der Merwe, Parliamentary Legal Adviser, entered the discussion to say that not everything that debt collectors did was illegal, by any means, but it was incumbent upon any regulated debt collection profession to reported shady arrangements in credit provision, especially if it involved a legal application.    Sadly, she said, reckless lending could not be reported because it was a matter of opinion and in most cases the facts were unavailable to governance authority.

Learning money

Chairperson, Joan Fubbs asked for the number of teachers involved in debt education in government service since there were many consumers who resigned from the workplace in order to cash in their pensions and pay off debts resulting in skills being lost to the country. Ms Gibson advised that this was a problem that existed throughout South Africa and in any country.

On the issue of rigged auctions, which subject had arisen in earlier meetings, Fubbs said, that although banks were proven to be complicit in some cases, consumer conduct needed also to be addressed in this area since consumer fraud and unmanageable debt had arisen. The committee said this would have to be once again investigated.

Around in circles

MPs warned that in providing for stricter conditions on loans, it might become more difficult for the poor to secure credit. Chairperson Joan Fubbs said that all were aware of this problem but she charged that the most serious issue facing her Committee were poor people losing their homes because they had become jobless, a poor economic climate and unavoidable debt with school fees added to food costs. Frivolous debt was not the issue under discussion, she said.

Department of Justice will now see through the associated Bills and the question of debt relief moves to a final wording with approval of Treasury and ending with hearings. Being a parliamentary Bill, the NEDLAC process will be short-circuited.
Previous articles on category subject
Treasury proposals on debt control approved – ParlyReportSA
Credit regulations to squeeze racketeers – ParlyReportSA

Posted in Finance, economic, Home Page Slider, Labour, Trade & Industry0 Comments

Fresh Cybercrimes and Cybersecurity Bill tackles Internet fraud

…  Revised Bill criminalises cybercrimes …

posted 5 Aug… A new Bill designed to give powers to the State Security, Defence, Police and Telecommunications Ministers to intervene in many aspects of South Africa’s key economic, financial and labour environments and zeroing in on cybercrimes and related offences, is in debate.  It also calls upon the financial sector to assist in tracking down fraudsters.

Offences include the circulation of messages that aim at economic harm to persons or entities; that contain pornography or could cause mental or psychological stress; the Bill calls upon the private financial and communications sector and, more specifically, electronic service providers to assist with its objectives. The Bill will also change much in the way how government and SOEs go about their business to reflect the current call for electronic security.

The revised Bill is re-write of that originally tabled in 2015 and rejected as too convoluted and wide ranging on issues that could cause unintended consequences.

Badly needed

Despite placing considerable onus upon the private sector to assist, the IT industry seems to be guardedly welcoming the debate which is about to commence. The original and rejected Cybercrimes and Cybersecurity Bill was tabled in Parliament last February.

The main comment circulating seems to be that this later version is more specific than its earlier counterpart, provides more clarity and has less weight placed upon tedious operational management factors in state structures designed to fight cybercrime.

The Bill is the product of the Department of Justice and Constitutional Affairs (DoJ) and from what has been said, Deputy Minister John Jeffreys seems to be the state official still running with the legislation. He said at a media briefing some months ago, “This Bill will give the State the tools to halt cybercrimes and trained teams to bring to book those who use data as a tool for their crime.”

Not meant

Originally, when the Bill was tabled in 2015 it caused a storm of controversy. Whilst its objectives to catch criminals and stop the growing invasion institutional attacks were understood, unintended consequences for the media were not foreseen. The new Bill acknowledges that journalists and whistle-blowers have protection under the Protected Disclosures Act.

However, the somewhat draconian powers of seizure of data granted to the authorities will still no doubt worry many service providers insofar as interlocking the proposals into the Protection of Personal Information (POPI) Act and the Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication-Related Information Act (RICA) are concerned, it has been suggested in hearings.

However, the Minister and other ministerial portfolios concerned, appear to have weighted their decision upon the growing threat of international cybercrime and have continued to call for service providers to assist with the issue caused by a late start.

SA under limelight

Some IT forensic reports indicate that sub-Saharan Africa has the third highest exposure to incidents of cyber fraud in the world and according to those who published this fact, they also claim that incidences of cybercrimes and cybersecurity breaches are escalating globally at 64%, with more security incidents reported in 2015 than 2014 for South Africa.

South Africa is known to be a specific target for cybercrime involving unlawful acquisition of sensitive data relating to clients and/or business operations due to a very high reliance on internet connections by commerce. Large data storage packages proliferate in SA, it is suggested, ranging from the JSE to the banking sector.

ATMs, bank transfers

In the case again of South Africa as part of sub-Sahara Africa, wire transfer fraud accounts for 26 percent of cybercrimes, far ahead of the global average of 14 percent, South Africans being defrauded of more than R2.2bn each year it is estimated.

Banking and financial institutions in South Africa, it is noted in the preamble to the Bill, are particularly exposed, the Reserve Bank having stated back in 2016, “It would be remiss of us in our duty if we ignored the growing risks emerging from the financial services sector’s increasing reliance on cyberspace and the Internet.”

Definitions

The Bill now before Parliament criminalises unlawful and intentional conduct regarding data, data messages, computer systems and programs, networks and passwords and creates as crimes “cyber fraud, cyber forgery and cyber uttering”.

It criminalises malicious communications – namely messages that result in harm to person or property, such as revenge porn or cyber bullying. The police are given extensive investigation, search and seizure powers in the Bill and an array of penalties, including fines and imprisonment apply, including various prescribed in terms of the Criminal Procedure Act, 1977.

No FICA-type warrants.

It is notable that cyber-crime powers of search and arrest remain with SAPS and not any specific structure or system set up by the new Bill to monitor instances of cybercrime or detect suspicious data attacks.

There remain, however, quite onerous obligations on electronic communications service providers and financial institutions, not only to assist in investigations of cybercrimes but also to report instances of cybercrime. A “framework of mutual co-operation between foreign states” is established in respect international investigation and the prosecution of cybercrime.

Crime fighting structures

The Cybercrimes and Cybersecurity Bill also establishes a Computer Security Incident Response Team, as did its predecessor, to establish contact with the private sector alongside with the already functional Cyber Security Hub responsible to the Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Service.

Finally, on structures, the Minister of Defence is to establish and operate a Cyber Command and appoint a General Officer Commanding.

The Bill also provides for the declaration of what is termed as “critical information infrastructure possessed” by financial institutions – for example databases upon which an attack could possibly represent a national threat.    Debate will no doubt flow around who and who not should report and upon what exactly.

The crimes defined

For the technically minded, the Bill In terms of the Bill, the following activities are criminalised: unlawful securing of access to data, a computer programme, a computer data storage medium or a computer system; unlawful acquisition of data; unlawful acts in respect of software or hardware tools; unlawful interference with data or a computer programme; unlawful interference with a computer data storage medium or computer system; unlawful acquisition, possession, provision, receipt or use of password, access codes or similar data or devices.

Also included are cyber fraud; cyber forgery and uttering; cyber extortion and certain aggravating offences; attempting, conspiring, aiding, abetting, inducing, inciting, instigating, instructing, commanding or procuring to commit an offence; theft of incorporeal properties; unlawful broadcast or distribution of data messages which incites damage to property or violence; unlawful broadcast or distribution of data messages which is harmful; unlawful broadcast or distribution of data messages of intimate image without consent.

The Bill imposes a list of penalties and allows for imprisonment for up to 15 years for cybercrimes and the maximum fine that may be levied for failing to timeously report an incident or failing to preserve information is now capped at R50,000, far less than the extraordinarily high penalties for non-disclosure levied in the initial version of the Bill.

Necessary actions

The search and seizure powers granted in terms of the new Bill “do not represent increasing the state’s surveillance powers”, Deputy Minister, John Jeffries said, “But if the State cannot seize evidential material to adduce as evidence, it will be impossible to prove the guilt of an accused person.”

Any hearings will obviously focus mainly upon the onuses and impositions imposed in the Bill upon electronic communications service providers and financial institutions, known by an acronym in the Bill as “ECSPs”. A date for further parliamentary briefings by DoJ has yet to be scheduled.
Previous articles on category subject
Cybercrime and Cybersecurity Bill invokes suspicion – ParlyReportSA
Draft Cybercrime Bill drafts industry – ParlyReportSA
Lack of skills hampering broadband rollout – ParlyReportSA

 

Posted in Communications, Home Page Slider, Justice, constitutional, LinkedIn, Security,police,defence, Trade & Industry0 Comments

Government stirs on intellectual property plans

New approach to SA intellectual property 

……sent to clients Aug 1trademark logo6…. The Cabinet has agreed that a new intellectual property (IP) framework is needed and has asked that discussions commence with all stakeholders in order to set out a future IP policy for South Africa.

In 2013 the South African government released a draft IP policy which ran
into heavy weather because of ambiguities and anomalies at law. This previous attempt was rejected by Parliament.

dti-logo2Since that time, the private sector has complained of no movement from the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) on the subject, or even the Department of Justice and Constitutional Affairs.

Hidden agendas?

Suspicions existed that a lot more was written “between the lines” by DTI in the light of a feeling that government medical authorities, including the Minister of Health and a large number of public sector entities, were favouring the case for making it easier for generics to come on to the market in view of the wish to introduce national health insurance and cheaper medicines.

copyright graphicThe law courts, always sticklers in their respect for the international word of law, favoured, it seemed, external legal international precedent as the basis for a new approach.

Discussions with DTI surrounded their attitudes and their not so transparent views on the Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights agreement (TRIPS). However, that approach may have altered with DTI now more openly favouring Bi-lateral Trade Agreements (BITs).

Bad influence

In 2014, the whole question of IP policy became mired in controversy with a statement from a US-based lobby group based from Washington who surprised all by stating they were working with the local pharmaceutical
industry to influence the SA government and also the Department of Health (DOH) in particular in order to gain more ear to the international view. This was subsequently denied by the pharmaceutical world in SA (IPASA).

The whole matter appeared to inflame the incumbent Minister of Health, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, who will no doubt be a key player in the new discussions.
After this the 2013 proposals seemed to fall away. Parliamentary hearings were at the time controversial, to say the least.

The major complaints boiled down to the fact that there were no time frames in the government proposals; no regulatory impact assessment had been done; and there was no appearance of a follow through of the effect of the Bill on international commercial ties.

Expert patent lawyers complained of ambiguity and lack of clarity at law.

Where it stood

After some heated debates at the time it appears that TRIPS, despite BITs copyright symboleven then being a new DTI “hobby horse”, has been respected by DTI and the generalised view accepted by most that there would be compulsory local patent registration based on a localised validity acceptance and acceptance by a localised body of all medicines dispensed. The query remained, however, on the skills available to undertake such a policy and time lags.

Whether the originally proposed patents tribunal will have final say in dispute or the High Court of SA will no doubt now be debated, as well as the critical issue of the length and duration of registered patents in a transparent manner with experts and a broad based body to represent the private sector.
As before, probably a “workshop” will be called for to air views.
Previous articles on category subject
Impasse on intellectual property rights – ParlyReportSA
Intellectual property law still in limbo – ParlyReportSA
Intellectual Property Laws Bill goes forward – ParlyReportSA
Medical and food intellectual property tackled – ParlyReportSA

Posted in Home Page Slider, Justice, constitutional, LinkedIn, Special Recent Posts, Trade & Industry0 Comments


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