Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel.   Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL
Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL

PRESIDENT Jacob Zuma has signed into law six acts, including the Infrastructure Development Act designed to fast track large economic and social infrastructure projects that could include the proposed and controversial nuclear build programme.

Detractors say the new law is unconstitutional, arguing that it cuts through the spheres of government, especially the powers of provincial and local governments that have the constitutional mandate to deliver infrastructure for service delivery.

The other acts signed into law by Mr Zuma on May 30 were the National Environmental Management Laws Third Amendment Act, the National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Amendment Act, the Determination of Remuneration of Office Bearers of Independent Constitutional Institutions Laws Amendment Act, and the National Water Amendment Act.

The Infrastructure Development Bill was introduced in Parliament late last year by Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel.

The portfolio committee on economic development held public hearings on the bill in January, when Parliament was in recess. Mr Patel said the government planned R827bn in projects in the next three years, and the law would ensure it got " bang for its buck".

The law gives legislative effect to the Presidential Infrastructure Co-ordination Committee established five years ago. That committee’s role is to co-ordinate, integrate and accelerate project implementation, devise a single common National Infrastructure Plan that will be monitored and centrally driven, identify those responsible and hold them to account. It also seeks to develop a 20-year planning framework.

Mr Patel has said infrastructure development is a key job driver. The African National Congress’s (ANC’s) manifesto for this year’s election promised to create 6-million jobs by 2020. On Sunday, ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe said energy topped the list of its objectives for the new five-year term.

The government has 18 strategic infrastructure projects in the pipeline, including unlocking Waterberg coal mining deposits, and developing green energy generation and the Durban to Johannesburg transport corridor.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) petitioned Mr Zuma not to pass the law, saying it was not constitutionally sound. DA spokesman on economic development Kobus Marais said it gave the minister of economic development such wide ranging discretionary powers that it undermined the roles of provincial and local governments and diminished parliamentary oversight.

"I expect it will be challenged in terms of constitutionality, and the provinces will most certainly consider that option.

"We (the DA) will see what our options are and seek legal advice."

Centre for Environmental Rights executive director Melissa Fourie said affected communities and civil society organisations’ concerns were not taken into account, nor were recommended improvements.

"As a result, what we now have is legislation that is impractical, particularly in relation to time frames.

"We also think that it is misaligned with our constitutional and environmental law frameworks, and shows a complete disregard for the views of affected communities," said Ms Fourie.