November 14, 2018

Briefs that show it all: Energy minister looking to invest in oil exploration in Africa

The Minister of Energy has indicated that the hunt for shale gas is back on the agenda. In response to a question from the DA asking what was the Government’s long-term plan to curtail rampant fuel price hikes, the Minister replied: “Time has come for us to remove any regulatory impediments to exploration. Linked to this is the need to urgently unlock the potential for shale gas in our country. This has been years in the making and the regulatory uncertainty meant investors could not make decisions.”

The Minister also revealed in a parliamentary question that he is currently engaging with his counterparts in Nigeria, South Sudan and Equatorial Guinea “as part of our intervention to mitigate future challenges”. Responding bluntly to the question, he said there are no short term fixes to fuel prices, and as there has so far been no sign of such reserves in South Africa, he was already engaged in talks with his counterparts in countries about the “need to invest in blocks producing crude oil particularly on the African Continent. This will require financial resources as exploration is quite a costly but necessary exercise.”

The Minister was clear that it was time to be “accelerating efforts aimed at the exploration of our country for oil and gas,” adding “an economy of our size cannot continue to operate without significant investment in oil and gas. Time has come for us to remove any regulatory impediments to exploration.” South Africa should be able to produce its own oil and gas, he said.

Asked about the possibility of building more oil refinery capacity in the country, he said that while South Africa has well-developed crude oil refinery infrastructure, complemented by a coal to liquid and gas to liquid capability, the demand for refined products such as diesel and petrol outstrips what all the refineries combined can produce.

He said existing refineries need to be upgraded but even then they will not meet demand and there will have to be investments in new refining capacity “which will not only service the national market but also the whole region”. He added that there is growing interest from international investors to partner with South African entities in building a new refinery.

2018 academic year nears a close, while students await NSFAS funds

In September, only weeks before university exams and the end of the 2018 academic year, a total of 3,242 students, who had been confirmed as eligible for funding from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) and who had signed agreements that they would receive financial aid for 2018, had still not received their payments.

The Minister of Higher Education and Training, Naledi Pandor, confirmed that their applications were “being processed for payment”. Pandor, who has actively been working with NSFAS to iron out ongoing payment difficulties, explained that the NSFAS system automatically generates a link for a student to sign their NSFAS Bursary Agreement once their registration data has been successfully matched to NSFAS data.

She said NSFAS was waiting for registration data from institutions for 9,194 students who are financially eligible, and there were 48,104 contracts that had been issued to students that remain unsigned.

A backlog of payments to students who had been promised funding to undertake higher education, and who have presumably had to subsist without financial aid for indefinite periods without receiving funds to which they were entitled, are “still in progress”, the Minister said in her reply.

Land reform will provide for a ‘variety of tenure forms’

 A rather blunt question by Patrick Lekota of Cope, aimed at the Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform, has helped clarify what the government intends to do about communal land that falls under traditional leaders. Or has it?

Referring to a media report which states that the ANC has committed itself to never be part of any attempt that seeks to tamper with the authority of the traditional leaders over the land of their ancestors, Lekotoa asked how the government intended to ensure legally secured tenure of land for traditional communities?

That’s a good question, and one to which many seek a straight answer. Here it comes, directly from the Minister:

“The Government’s position is that all the people residing on communal land should have legally secure tenure. The Government intends to initiate legislation that will provide for a variety of tenure forms that may be selected by people in communal areas in accordance with their preferences. Such tenure forms will include freehold and communal tenure.”

It sounds promising, except for the phrase, “in accordance with their preferences”. That may cause future headaches because it assumes all individuals have a choice.

Cogta reports on youth training opportunities

The Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs runs the Municipal Infrastructure Support Agent (MISA) capacity-building programme for young people who qualified from TVETs, technical colleges and universities with a civil, electrical, town planning or other related studies.

The most popular Misa programme has been the artisan sub-programme for building capacity to operate and maintain existing infrastructure. Between 2014 and 2016 this sub-programme registered over 400 apprentices, and 259 qualified as artisans. Intake for 2017/18 was 303 and for 2018/19 it was 230. Work opportunities have been offered by MISA to 100 young people.

That’s not all MISA offers. Its bursary scheme offered 164 young people bursaries for technical infrastructure-related studies and in the 2018/19 financial year MISA plans to award bursaries to 150 disadvantaged students studying towards town planning, and civil and electrical engineering qualifications. There is also a departmental Disaster Management Bursary Programme (NDMC) to contribute towards building capacity and skills enhancement in disaster risk management, with 41 bursaries awarded this year.

The department’s Community Work Programme, which is part of the government-wide Expanded Public Works Programme, has partnerships with institutions of higher learning that provide up-skilling to participants. Sixteen people graduated from North West University and another 55 participants receiving training from LGSETA. Young participants are also helped to establish their own cooperatives through training provided in partnership with the Reggio Emilia municipality in Italy.

SABC to embark on retrenchments without skills audit

The SABC failed to conduct a skills and salary audit of all its employees, including the Group Chief Executive Officer, Chief Operating Officer, Chief Finance Officer and other Group Executives, before announcing it would be retrenching staff as a cost-cutting measure.

Instead of making use of section 189 of the Labour Relations Act, which spells out how this is lawfully done, the SABC will determine which staff to retrench based on various criteria such as Last in First Out, critical skills, and restructuring of the organisation. But the Department of Communications assured Parliament that “the criteria to be used by the SABC in this process will be determined through a joint, consensus seeking consultation process with organised labour”.

SA has the world’s largest air pollution hotspot

According to the latest satellite data South Africa hosts the largest NO2 air pollution hotspot in six continents. It is located in Mpumalanga, comprises twelve coal fired power plants, with a total capacity of over 32 gigawatts, and is owned and operated by Eskom.

This information was released by Greenpeace following a groundbreaking analysis of satellite data from 1 June to 31 August this year. The satellite date is said to have exposed more details than ever seen before on the world’s hotspots across the six continents that were studied. Greenpeace’s analysis points to coal and transport as the two principle sources of air pollution.

“It has been reported before that the Witbank area has the world’s dirtiest air, and now this analysis of high tech satellite data has revealed that the Mpumalanga province is the global number one hotspot for NO2 emissions. This confirms that South Africa has the most polluting cluster of coal-fired power stations in the world which is both disturbing and very scary,” said Melita Steele, Senior Climate and Energy Campaign Manager for Greenpeace Africa.

The satellite data further reveals that Johannesburg and Pretoria are also highly affected by extreme NO2 pollution levels from nearby Mpumulanga due to regular winds that blow pollution from coal-fired power plants into the cities for about 28% of the year, and has been doing so for about 30 years.

Moira Levy

 

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  • Author: Moira Levy
Last modified on Wednesday, 07 November 2018 20:26

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