Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries releases 2018/19 National Environmental Compliance and Enforcement Report at annual summit

10 September 2019

The Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries has released the 2018/19 National Environmental Compliance and Enforcement Report outlining the work done by the Green Scorpions in the past financial year.

The Report was released yesterday at the 8th Environmental Compliance and Enforcement Lekgotla being held at the Mittah Seperepere Conference Centre in Kimberley in the Northern Cape.

The multi-stakeholder conference, taking place under the theme Facing the Future Together: The Green Scorpions ends on 12 September 2019. 

The 2019 Lekgotla brings together international, national, provincial and local authorities that are involved in environmental compliance and enforcement to discuss topics of common interest, to develop capacity, to make recommendations and to develop strategies to tackle the challenges facing the environmental compliance and enforcement sector. Attendees include stakeholders in the criminal justice system, including the South African Police Services (SAPS) and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).

The 13th National Environmental Compliance and Enforcement Report outlines the activities undertaken to ensure an environment that is not harmful to the health and well-being of the people who live in South Africa.  This report focuses on the activities undertaken specifically by the environmental authorities, and does not reflect the compliance and enforcement work undertaken by the related sectors, such as water, agriculture, forestry and fisheries, mineral resources, health, labour or the police.

There are presently 3 058  Environmental Management Inspectors, more popularly known as the Green Scorpions, working in 18 entities, including the environmental departments of national, provincial and local government, and entities such as SANParks, iSimangaliso Wetland Park, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, North West Parks, Eastern Cape Parks, CapeNature and Mpumlanga Parks and Tourism. 

Of these, 2 676 EMIs work in national and provincial government, and 382 in municipalities. While there has been a steady growth in the number of EMIs at local authority level in the past six years, the number of Grade 5 EMIs deployed as field rangers in national and provincial parks around the country has decreased slightly in the past year from 1 723 to 1 691.  

The financial year continued to display a similar pattern to previous years in relation to the most prevalent types of environmental crimes being detected by the various EMI Institutions. For the brown sub-sector, the unlawful commencement of environmental impact assessment listed activities continues to be the most common non-compliance, while in the green sub-sector, illegal hunting and illegal entry to national parks and other protected areas continues to be the predominant environmental crime.  The Department of Environmental Affairs and the Limpopo department of environment responded to 534 incidents relating to illegal possession of alien and invasive species and the picking of indigenous plants without permission.

With regard to ensuring conformity in the industrial sector, proactive compliance monitoring and enforcement work continued in relation to priority sectors with 4 530 inspections taking place during the past year – 152 in response to emergency incidents such as a hazardous fire or the release of dangerous chemicals into the air.   The sectors focused on included the ferro-alloy, steel and iron sectors, refineries, power generation facilities and identified landfill sites. 

Enforcement notices have been used by the Green Scorpions for a number of years to ensure that the damage caused to the environment is either eliminated or remedied as a first response to non-compliant behaviour.  The sectors targeted in the air quality sector in the past year, due to their inherent ability to cause serious environmental harm, included those facilities that have an obligation in terms of Air Quality legislation to report their emissions. Focused campaigns were undertaken in relation to crematoria, brick manufacturers and lime production facilities as well as those facilities required to submit climate change pollution prevention plans.

The level of compliance with the National Atmospheric Emission Inventory System and the Air Quality Act was reported to be as low as 25% at the end of February 2018.  In order to increase the level of compliance, 792 warning letters were issued across the different sectors.  As a result, reporting increased dramatically, and by the end of March 2018, the level of compliance was 80%. 

In the 2017/18 reporting period, biodiversity compliance and enforcement continued to focus on the high-risk species, such as rhinoceros, elephants, pangolins and cycads, while still ensuring that other species receive the protection from the Inspectorate.

In addition to pursuing the criminal prosecution and conviction of offenders of biodiversity legislation, the Green Scorpions had also been involved in a number of proactive international and domestic projects/ initiatives that seek to improve the capacity of the EMIs to combat these types of offences.

In support of Operation Phakisa: Oceans Economy, the Green Scorpions took part in a number of focused joint operations in the maritime environment.  The work of the Joint Compliance and Enforcement Programme of Phakisa, involving multiple law enforcement entities, resulted in the confiscation of abalone worth more than R21.3 million and rock lobster worth more than R675 000.  Equipment used in illegal activities worth more than R5 million, as well as other illicit goods, including drugs, were confiscated during the raids.

The illegal harvesting of marine resources remains critical, with poachers being more aggressive.  This has resulted in injuries, arson of state infrastructure and led to loss of life.  

The latest NECER indicates a decrease in the number of criminal dockets registered by the Green Scorpions, from 1 257 in 2017/18 to 1 028 in 2018/19,  alongside a slight decrease in the number of dockets – to 424 --  finalised and handed to the NPA for prosecution.   A total of 820 people were arrested. 

The value of the total number of admission of guilt fines increased to R312 930 in the past financial year, while the value of  Section 24G administrative fines almost halved to R5 983 518.00 in respect of activities commenced with in the absence of the necessary environmental authorisations.

To ensure compliance with environmental laws, 4 530 facilities were inspected.  During these inspections 5 263 non-compliances were detected – 5 037 for brown infringements, 12 in the blue sector and 214 in the green sector.  Of these, 735 were reactive and were triggered by complaints. A total of 2 453 were based on environmental authorisations and permits, while 1 215 were considered routine inspections on prioritised sectors.

Environmental authorities across the world are currently experiencing challenging times given the status of the global economy. This situation is exacerbated in developing countries, where the key priorities of government focus on economic growth, job creation and infrastructure development. This requires environmental authorities to develop innovative strategies to ensure that environmental compliance and enforcement supports these priorities, while at the same time, instils an appropriate level of respect amongst the regulated community for environmental law.

In developing a cohesive response to this balancing act, environmental authorities across all spheres of government in South Africa, and including the blue, green and brown sub-sectors, need to unify to meet the challenges that they face them in an uncertain and dynamic future. In this regard, the country can learn many valuable lessons from other African countries, which face similar socio-economic obstacles; and yet find ways to deliver effective compliance and enforcement services to their citizens.

Access the » National Environmental Compliance and Enforcement Report

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