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Parliament Passes National Forests Amendment Bill

March 3, 2022

Parliament

Parliament has given the green light to the National Forests Amendment Bill and sent it to president Ramaphosa for assent.

In December 2021, the national council of provinces (NCOP) amended the bill and returned it to the national assembly (NA) for concurrence.

The bill was tabled in parliament in July 2016.

The portfolio committee on agriculture, forestry and fisheries called for comment on the bill in 2017.

The NA passed the bill with amendments and sent it to the NCOP for concurrence in August 2018.

The committee, during deliberations, introduced a new Chapter 6A on Appeal which focuses on right to appeal, composition and membership of Appeal Committee, vacancies in appeal committee, investigation and consideration of appeal by appeal committee and consideration of appeal by minister.

The NCOP sought comment on the bill at the beginning of 2019.

The bill lapsed at the end of the 5th parliament but was revived by the NCOP in October 2019.

In a briefing to the NCOP in June 2020, the forestry, fisheries and the environment department pointed out that the aim of the National Forests Act of 1998 is to promote sustainable management and development of forests and provide for the protection of certain forests and trees.

According to the department, amendments were necessary due to a need for changes, legislation is not static but moves with time, existing sections need to be enhanced and to make the legislation more responsive to the operational realities and challenges on the ground.

The department emphasised that the proposed legislation will not affect the current provincial mandate with regards to the management of forests.

The department also highlighted that the principal act already has various mechanisms to promote the use of forests for the benefit of all that will not be affected by the proposed amendments.

The aim of the bill is to amend the National Forests Act of 1998 and to:

• provide for clear definitions of natural forests and woodlands;
• provide for public trusteeship of the nation’s forestry resources;
• increase the promotion and enforcement of sustainable forest management;
• increase the measures provided for in the Act to control and remedy deforestation;
• provide for appeals against decisions taken under delegated powers and duties;
• reinforce offences and penalties; and
• provide for matters connected therewith.

The portfolio committee on environment, forestry and fisheries approved the NCOP’s amendments.

Meanwhile, the National Environmental Management Laws Amendment Bill has also been passed by parliament and sent for assent.

The bill was tabled in parliament in May 2017.

It was remitted back to the portfolio committee on environmental affairs in September 2018 prior to its second reading debate in the national assembly.

The committee adopted the bill in June 2018 and sent it to the NA for its second reading debate scheduled for 4 September 2018.

However, the former environmental affairs minister, Edna Molewa, wrote to the former speaker of parliament, Baleka Mbete, requesting the postponement of the second reading debate.

The bill was subsequently passed by the NA and sent to the NCOP for concurrence in November 2018.

It lapsed at the end of the 5th parliament but was revived by the NCOP in October 2019.

The bill seeks to amend a raft of environmental legislation including the National Environmental Management Act, National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act, National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act, National Environmental Management: Waste Act and the National Environmental Management Amendment Act.

It aims to provide clarity on certain matters and textual amendments.

The proposed legislation seeks to put in place a single application process for licences and permits and allow for the issuing of integrated licences and authorisations.

In terms of the one environmental system provisions, the bill seeks to provide for simultaneous submission of all environmental applications linked to mining activities and clarify that the mineral resources minister is responsible for implementation of the licensing system for waste activity flowing from mining operations.

During its deliberations, the portfolio committee introduced new provisions in the bill that were not contained in the tabled bill.

Amendments introduced by the select committee on land reform, environment, mineral resources and energy include new definitions on ‘environmental management instrument’; ‘financial provision’, ‘indigenous knowledge practitioner’; ‘indigenous knowledge practitioner’; ‘latent environmental impacts’ and ‘mining activity’.

New clauses include clause 23; clause 25; clause 27; clause 38 and clause 88.

The portfolio committee on environment, forestry and fisheries approved the NCOP’s proposed amendments.