Weather bill clause creates confusion
A clause in the draft South African Weather Service Amendment Bill creates the impression that it is a crime to issue any severe weather warning, the environmental affairs portfolio committee has heard.
“In the debate in the last three weeks, it has become quite clear that the use of the wording that is used in this (section 30A) clause (1) seems to be far too open-ended,” the environmental department’s chief director of air quality management, Peter Lukey, said.
He said the clause, which prohibits anyone from issuing a severe weather warning without permission from the weather service, could create the wrong impression.
“In actual fact, what is happening here is that we are criminalising the actual act of issuing a warning, rather than looking at what we were really concerned about, which was the intention of it all.
“If a warning was issued, in the interest of the public, then that is important for us.”
Lukey told the committee – currently holding public hearings on the bill – the focus should be on acts undermining the public interest.
False, misleading weather information could result in panic, injury, shops and schools closing, mobilising emergency services and evacuation.
Committee chairperson Johnny de Lange agreed there was a need for the weather service to be the only authentic voice, while conceding that citizens could not be stopped from using their voices.
De Lange said the wording of the bill should perhaps be revised to focus on the potential impact of a false weather warning.
Lukey said a definition of the term “severe weather” should be considered as it had created confusion.
When the bill was first drafted, the dictionary definition of severe had been considered adequate, he said.
The committee should also remove the term “air pollution-related” from the clause, as it was erroneously included.
Lukey said the bill was meant to encourage people to speak to the weather service and disseminate their information through the agency.
“It’s really important that people start communicating with our weather service,” he said.