Public Hearings on Infrastructure Bill: Municipalities

Municipalities, business decry infrastructure bill
BUSINESS DAY LIVE BY PAUL VECCHIATTO, 15 JANUARY 2014, 07:27

THE constitutionality of, and the need for, the Infrastructure Development Bill was questioned by the South African Local Government Association (Salga), Business Unity South Africa (Busa), the Western Cape provincial government and the Centre for Environmental Rights during the first day of public hearings in Parliament on Tuesday.

They pointed out their fears that the draft law in its present form would add another layer to the bureaucratic process to obtain approvals for infrastructure projects rather than reduce red tape. The bill would confuse the roles and responsibilities of all three spheres of government, and its intentions and objectives were ill-defined, they said.

The organisations also complained that they were not consulted sufficiently on the bill and did not know if their input had been accepted by the Department of Economic Development.

The bill proposed its own time frames for the approval of projects and ignored other established legislation such as the National Environmental Management Act and the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act.

Centre for Economic Rights executive director Melissa Fourie said the bill’s time frames were out of sync with other legislation. It proposed 250 days for the approval of a project, but the National Environment Management Act stipulated 300 days.

However, African National Congress (ANC) MPs rejected those viewpoints, saying the bill was necessary to fast-track infra-structure development.

Consultations had been carried out and the round of public hearings was part of that process, the MPs said.

Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel introduced the draft legislation to the National Assembly last November. The bill is important to the ANC as infrastructure development is one of its key drivers of economic growth and job creation.

The bill also aims to give legal weight to the Presidential Infrastructure Co-ordinating Commission, which is chaired by President Jacob Zuma.

Salga was concern that the bill would give the commission broad powers that went beyond infra-structure. It said the commission ’s powers might constitute interference with the authority of municipalities as it could decide on the awarding of tenders.

Salga’s economic development and planning specialist Marx Mupariwa told the committee that the top-down authority of the commission would be unconstitutional as its powers would override municipal plans that were informed by community needs.

Busa member Lorraine Lotter said the bill did not define what private sector projects were, and in effect added another bureaucratic layer to the series of approvals needed.

“What we are saying is there is a need to cut down on the number of approvals needed, but this is not the way.”

Western Cape provincial government director of environmental affairs and development planning Paul Hardcastle criticised the bill for being unclear on what it needed to achieve.

“It is very difficult to suggest paragraph by paragraph what the alternatives are because it is so unclear on what the intention is,” he said.

Mr Hardcastle said there was no need for the bill as the various spheres of government had improved their abilities to deal with issues such as environmental impact assessments. What was really needed was to strengthen the human capacity.

The South African National Roads Agency and the Industrial Development Corporation came out in support of the bill although they suggested some tweaks that included clearer project time lines and legislated sanctions for those who did not meet them.

The hearings continue on Wednesday.

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