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Archive for the ‘PLATO’ Category

The announcement of the appointment of members to the Geomatics Council by Gugile Nkwinti, the minister of rural development and land reform, has been broadly welcomed by the geomatics community. A revisit to a paper by former PLATO president, Paul Marshall, entitled “The way forward for PLATO as a statutory body in the transitionary period towards the new SA Geomatics Council” provides some answers as to what lies ahead.

The first meeting of the Geomatics Council needs to take place within 30 days of the 22 May 2015 publication in the Government Gazette, and this date will then be the commencement date of the new Geomatics Profession Act. Members of the Geomatics Council have been appointed for four years as opposed to the previous council term of two years.

The main difference between the new Act and the 1984 Act is that the new Geomatics Council will becontrolled by the minister while the PLATO council was answerable to the minister. The Geomatics Council is required to meet twice a year as opposed to the previous arrangement of once a year, and it will be funded to a much larger extent by the department. The PLATO council was self-funded and was therefore largely independent of state funding. The new Geomatics Council is obliged to honour all existing commitments made by the PLATO Council.

One of the first new responsibilities of the Geomatics Council will be the publishing, within 90 days of its first meeting, of a code of conduct for its members. Until this new code of conduct is drafted and approved by the minister, the existing PLATO rules will remain in place. Should a conflict between the new Act and the existing rules occur, the Act will prevail. Marshall warned in his paper that while this arrangement will alleviate some of the immediate pressure to draft the code of conduct, it could lead to this matter not being treated with the necessary urgency.

The current Education Advisory Committee is likely to remain in place until a suitable Education and Training Committee is established. Marshall advised in his paper that this committee will need suitable and sufficient permanent members, and will need the backing of the minister to properly carry out its functions, especially the two yearly accreditation of qualifications at institutions offering surveying, mine surveying and geo-information science.

The establishment of a continuing professional development (CPD) programme is a specified duty of the new Geomatics Council and as such it will have much more authority when it comes to enforcing participation in the CPD programme.

A major challenge for the new Geomatics Council is that the Geomatics Act provides for the publishing of a recommended tariff of fees.  While this has generally been viewed as a positive development, the drafting of a “One Tariff Fits All” for the geomatics industry was identified by Marshall as being one of the more difficult tasks to be faced by the new Geomatics Council.

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Land surveyors are up in arms about a notice issued by the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform in November last year which called for comments on the Draft Regulations for the Planning Profession Act (Act No. 36 of 2002). Land surveyors’ objections to the draft regulations are focused mainly on the exclusive reservation of work for professional and technical planners and the requirement for existing land surveying professionals to obtain certification from the South African Council for Planners (SACPLAN) to undertake specified planning work.

The proposals in the draft regulations have stirred outrage in the land surveying profession which has traditionally carried out work that, once the bill is enacted, will be reserved exclusively for town planners. Many land surveyors see the draft regulations as impacting on their right to practice as land surveyors. They strongly object to the proposed restriction of current land surveyors, and the prevention of future land surveyors, from undertaking functions that have been part of their normal professional duties for decades.

Over the last hundred years or so, surveyors across South Africa have advised and assisted property owners with the preparation and submission of applications for a wide range of planning work related to land and development rights on land. These include building line departures, special consents, removal of restrictions, permission to subdivide or consolidate, as well as servitudes and rezonings. For as long as land surveying has been recognised as a profession, it has been commonly accepted that these tasks are a part of a professional land surveyor’s duties. In addition, land surveyors have also been instrumental in creating the large volume of legislation controlling land use and development, as well as the submission and administration of applications.

The draft regulations also seek to remove the individual land owner’s right to make their applications on their own behalf. Many land surveyors assist land owners, who are unable to afford the full professional services of town planners and land surveyors, with their individual applications for consent. The draft regulations are seen as depriving land owners of their fundamental right to deal with their own land development issues and forcing them to make use of town planners when it is not necessary. This is viewed as being restrictive to development, particularly in rural areas where people are not able to afford the services of town planning professionals let alone find one in their area. In addition, if planners are to be involved in minor subdivision, rezoning, relaxations and so on, the cost to the owner or client will make it uneconomic to proceed, leading to even more unsolved land problems.

Property development is one of the main drivers of growth in South Africa, and housing delivery and rural development have long been identified by government as priority projects. How will the proposed work regulations assist government in meeting its targets in these areas when the draft regulations will disqualify many skilled professionals from doing the work required to drive property development and housing delivery?

The draft regulations provide no reasons as to why work reservation for the planning profession is necessary. In the absence of these reasons, many land surveyors are of the opinion that the motivation behind the draft regulations is jobs for planners, which they believe to be inherently anti-competitive.

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Reading through the submissions at the recent parliamentary public hearings into the Geomatics Profession Bill, it was evident that GISSA, SAGI, IMSSA, and PLATO had common concerns about the somewhat indifferent consultation process, the inadequate defining of the geomatics profession, and the representivity of the new geomatics council.

Most parties making submissions expressed their frustration with the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform (DRDLR) saying that comments submitted on previous occasions were not acknowledged, no feedback was provided and there was no evidence of the comments having been incorporated into the Bill. Even the parliamentary committee members expressed concern at the apparent lack of consultation. In addition, common complaints were that calls for comments were made over holiday periods with short time periods allocated for responses.

Effective consultation is a two-way process, and it is concerning that insufficient attention has been paid to the consultation process. The lack of consultation is evidenced by the fact that the definition of the geomatics profession is inadequate. Several organisations expressed concern at the over emphasis of land surveying at the expense of other disciplines. Understandably, GISSA expressed concerns about the definition of “geomatics practitioners” being biased towards surveying practitioners, while IMSSA and SAGI expressed concerns about the Bill failing to adequately describe the other geomatics disciplines such as mine surveyors and engineering surveyors.

Land surveyors are just one element of the equation making up the geomatics profession and it is very concerning to see that despite there being several periods where comments have been invited, the Geomatics Profession Bill has still not adequately dealt with the matter of defining the various disciplines within the geomatics profession.

Understandably, the inadequate definition of the geomatics profession has in turn led to concerns regarding the make-up of the new geomatics council. Complaints were made about the disproportionate representation of professional land surveyors on the council and several parties requested that the new council needs to be representative of the different disciplines making up the profession.

What is wrong with the suggestion that the recognised voluntary associations be allowed to nominate representatives to the new geomatics council? Who better to understand the challenges being faced by the various disciplines, than the very geomatics professionals involved in those disciplines.

Pleasing everyone who has provided commentary on the Geomatics Profession Bill is obviously not going to be possible. At the very least, however, it is important to address the issues of being truly consultative, drawing up an inclusive definition of geomatics professionals, and ensuring that the new council is representative of the various disciplines that it will be representing.

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During the course of this year, it has been interesting to hear people debating the need to keep the geospatial professions relevant and to heighten their perceived value to a range of key players in the private and government sectors.

It is increasingly clear that surveyors’ specialised and hard-earned measurement skills are under threat as surveying  tools become simultaneously easier to use and increasingly accurate. At the recent Institute of Mine Surveyors of South Africa Conference, mine surveyors were advised to counter this trend towards “push-button” technology by carving out a special role for themselves as geodata managers and to identify how they can use their specialised surveying skills to contribute to their organisations’ productivity, safety and efficiency. Land surveyors have also been cautioned against allowing themselves to be marginalised. Karl van Rensburg has encouraged land surveyors to counter this trend by providing a more complete service to their clients and by getting more involved in pre- and post-survey activities (see September, October and Nov/Dec issues of PositionIT).

Technology waits for no man, and surveyors need to look towards this future, identify the business opportunities therein, and grasp them with both hands. Not to be left out in the cold, people working in the GIS field also need to be looking to the future and the implications of technological advances in their sphere of specialisation. They too need to identify ways to offer more value to their organisations and/or clients. As geospatial software and equipment becomes increasingly user-friendly, people who are able to analyse geospatial data and use it for the benefit of their organisations and/or clients, are the ones who will have the most relevance in the workplace of the future.

GIS practitioners need to assess their skills and ask themselves whether there is going to be a need for their skills in the future work place.  Are they simply going to be users of software and equipment or are they going to be the experts who know how to use geospatial data to build our economy and society? Clearly there is a lot at stake and participants in the geospatial sector, whether surveyors or GIS practitioners, need to be paying serious attention to their individual identity as professionals and the status of their profession as a whole.

Following this line of thinking, I would like to encourage people to actively participate in PLATO’s CPD programme. I realise that many people working in the geospatial sector are rattled by the new programme and its requirements. However, a  closer look at the rules will reveal that the conditions are not too onerous. True the need to comply with the CPD programme has come at a time when many people are feeling overcommitted and financially constrained, however, with some strategic planning one should be able to meet the requirements of the programme, while improving one’s skills, keeping up-to-date with new technologies, networking with colleagues and identifying new business or job opportunities.

People who are not registered with PLATO should not let this hold them back from participating in the various CPD-approved activities. After all participation in industry platforms and associations is an investment in yourself.

 

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The introduction of Occupation Specific Dispensation (OSD) by government for various occupations involved in the public service, including that of GIS,  will bring with it benefits to South Africa’s GIS profession. Once implemented OSD will put in place proper career pathing models for GIS professionals working in the public service and provide for dual career paths in terms of which GIS professionals and specialists can progress to levels where they earn salaries that are equal to or higher than that of managers without moving into management or supervisory posts.

The catch is that to benefit from OSD, public service GIS employees will be required to register with Plato, the professional statutory body for surveying and GIS. This is good news for what is a relatively new profession as compared to the more traditional professions of doctor and lawyer.

Increasing the numbers of registered GIS professionals in South Africa will help to raise the status of GIS within both the public and private sectors and help increase the influence of  GIS professionals within their own organisations. Only GIS professionals truly understand the tremendous capabilities of GIS and the power that it has to enhance planning and service delivery levels across all spheres of government. That the business world is catching on to the combined power of location and business intelligence testifies to the power of GIS in enabling efficient planning and implementation of projects.

Individuals already registered or involved in the process of registering with Plato, must be congratulating themselves on having made the effort to register when there was no reason compelling them to do so. Individuals who have not yet registered with Plato may find the idea of going through the registration process rather daunting, but the end result – becoming a registered GIS practitioner – can only bring benefit. Many GIS tenders and job advertisements now call for applicants to be professionally registered and being registered with Plato makes one eligible to apply for these opportunities instead of missing out.

GIS is a relatively new profession but individuals working in this arena have to make an effort to keep up with software developments and industry trends if they want to keep at the forefront of GIS. People who will need to further their studies to facilitate registration with Plato need to bear this is mind and adopt the mindset that improving their career prospects will enable them to develop career paths in a range of organisations.

GIS technology is advancing all the time and individuals resisting the opportunity to improve their skills must seriously ask themselves what they are doing in this profession. Technology waits for no man, GIS professionals included.

South Africa needs skilled workers and any initiative that encourages people working in the geographic information sciences to develop their skills and attain professional status needs to be embraced.

 

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