Implications of the Legal Metrology Bill for the geomatics sector

October 28th, 2013, Published in Articles: PositionIT

Peter Newmarch

by Peter Newmarch, SAGI president

The Legal Metrology Bill applies to measurable products and services, measurements in trade, health, safety and the environment, and any measuring instrument used for a prescribed purpose. The Act is, amongst other things, intended to protect consumers against any short measure. The day this bill is passed, it will apply to any measurement, prescribed or not. (Don’t be confused by the “prescribed purpose” of the bill, this only applies to the measuring instrument.) The Act would require any person who provides a measuring service or product to register with the DTI under this Act.

Before going into further detail on the bill and its likely impact, it is important to note that at our most basic function, we provide a measuring service. We can be measurers by way of a land surveyor, an engineering surveyor, a photogramatrist, a remote sensing specialist or a GIS specialist. Further we produce in many cases a measuring product – a map.

The key provision affecting us would be Section 33 which basically states that any person who directly or indirectly makes any false, incorrect or untrue declaration or statement or wilfully misleads any person as to the quantity, expressed by number or in terms of any measurement unit, of any item in connection with its purchase, sale, counting or measurement or for any other measurement of a legal nature on the basis of number or measurement, is guilty of an offence. It shall not be an offence if such difference is permissible in terms of this Act.

There should never be false or untrue declarations, but it is possible for there to be incorrect statements or declarations. As surveyors we make measurements and have to make certain adjustments to eventually produce diagrams and maps. If such diagram or map is not within a certain percentage of reality (as this bill’s regulations would define), this would be a criminal offence. And the criminal sanction is up to 10 years in jail.

If one specified a contour line and this contour line did not represent the reality, that would be a crime. If, based on various remote sensing measurements, say infrared and near infrared, one interpreted certain diseased crops and made a statement to this effect, and if the locational accuracy of this was not within a certain tolerance, that would be a crime.

The criminal provisions relate to “any person”, whether licenced or not. So the estate agent would no longer be able to sell a 200 m2 house, unless actually measured. The tribal chief could no longer allocate a piece of land that is based on an area or distance for a person’s homestead unless it has been surveyed. GIS data could no longer simply just be captured as it would have a double edge sword – on the one hand criminal provisions relate to the capture accuracy, and the company providing a final map of this captured data could also be committing a criminal offence if it is not a true and correct reflection of reality.

As built plans would in future have to be based on an actual survey. The days of an engineer simply rehashing the design and palming it off as an as built will come to an end. A map is a statement of reality and similarly every aspect will have to be correct, pre-project as well as post-project.

The Bill goes further and deals with matters of repairs and verification of measuring equipment as well as dealing with matters of importation or manufacturing of any product or service. People who download a satellite image for onward selling may have to register as an importer, while all geomatics people will also fall into the manufacturing category as well, as we sell maps.

While this is still a Bill, what was startling to myself was that the only people providing comment in parliament were representatives from SAGI and the SA Scales Association. SAGI supports the aims and objectives of the bill, and in order to get the best deal for geomatics people, we will be engaging the department to ensure standards are in due course created.

I see many downstream impacts for geomaticians. From how we conclude contracts, what we deliver, internal quality controls, branding and quite a number of new business areas that we can leverage to the profession’s advantage. Personally though, I find it very worrying that a murderer or rapist gets a shorter prison sentence than somebody who makes an incorrect statement or declaration!

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