Address by Deputy Minister Makhotso Sotyu, MP, during the first annual general meeting (AGM) of the Environmental Assessment Practitioners Association of South Africa (EAPASA)
Midrand, Gauteng Province, 17 November 2020
Thank you master of ceremonies;
Board members (former and current);
Registered environmental assessment practitioners;
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is with great pleasure that I join you today at the Environmental Assessment Practitioners Association of South Africa’s (EAPASA) first Annual General Meeting.
This year marks three years since the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries appointed EAPASA as the sole registration authority in terms of Section 24H of the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA).
This appointment was aimed at advancing the practice and quality of environmental assessment in South Africa by the professionalisation and transformation of the environmental sector. The professional registration of environmental assessment practitioners – or EAPs - ensures that environmental assessment processes are administered and managed by suitably experienced, qualified and credible individuals.
The department has an important mandate to manage, protect and conserve South Africa’s environment and natural resources and promote sustainable development. I believe that professionalisation enforces our mandate as it calls for greater levels of performance monitoring, transparency in decision-making and most importantly, accountability in the private and government sector which is in line with our efforts in building a capable and developmental state.
It is my considered view that the professionalisation and regulation of the sector will improve the quality of the decisions we make on applications, as both the regulator and consultants will have a highly competent cohort of assessment practitioners that are bound by the same set of rules. This will breathe a lot confidence on the environmental impact process as the regulated community will see a unified force of highly skilled professionals working in harmony towards our ultimate aim of sustainable development.
From a transformation point of view, I am convinced that the establishment of such a professional body will attract a lot of talent from previously disadvantaged upbringings. Working in tandem with our department’s Special Needs and Skills Development Programme which, amongst others, provides assistance to people who cannot afford the costs of doing an environmental impact assessment as required in regulation 47 of EIA Regulations, 2014. The Special Needs and Skills Development Programme is an initiative that contributes to job creation and skills development by recruiting and training young graduates to gain essential work experience. This is done through a structured skills development programme which engages and exposes them to various environmental assessment tools. This is inclusive growth, it is skills development, it is real investment in young people and above all, it is transformation in action.
The National Development Plan (NDP) makes it clear that collaboration and coordination are essential in overcoming social and economic divides and improving people’s quality of life.
The appointment of EAPASA is for a period of five years, having commenced on the in 2018. EAPASA has committed, for the 5-year period, to a number of tasks that forms part of its implementation plan that have been closely monitored by the DEFF.
These include, amongst others:
The rendering of a full package of registration services in terms of Section 24H of NEMA that also contributes towards the transformation of the environmental assessment profession;
Ensuring all applicable Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE) legislative frameworks and requirements are complied with; and
Ensuring effective, efficient and transparent systems of operational, risk management and financial internal controls whilst cultivating a culture of ethical conduct and the setting of appropriate values.
Since its establishment, EAPASA has made numerous achievements including:
Being recognised by the Executive Committee of the South African Qualification Authority (SAQA) as a statutory professional body and registered the professional designation environmental assessment practitioner on the National Qualifications Framework Act, 2008;
Creating a transformation charter and strategy which aims to promote the transformation of environmental assessment practice in South Africa through the empowerment of black, female and disabled professionals;
Developing an online registration system aimed at making the registration process for all applicants easy and efficient; and
Collaborations with other recognised institutions that have been a benchmark for success for EAPASA with signed memorandum of agreements (MoAs) with institutions such as the South African Council for Natural Scientific Professions (SACNASP), a Statutory Council in accordance with the National Scientific Professions Act.
As a department, we committed to supporting EAPASA as the registration authority for a period of five years from 2018 and we appreciate and celebrate EAPASA’s achievements in the environmental sector thus far.
EAPASA’s achievements have laid a sound foundation and will contribute greatly to our department’s long term plan to have a practical and sustainable solution for registration from an operational and financial perspective.
The National Environmental Management Laws Amendment Bill, which is currently considered by the National Council of Provinces (NCoP), has now incorporated the transformation principle of recognising and promoting the full participation of Black Professionals in the environmental sector. EAPASA has an important role to ensure that there are enough black environmental assessment practitioners registered to enable the practical implementation of this principle.
A CSIR study highlighted that EAPASA cannot be financially sustainable as a standalone entity and the fees alone that is levied for applications for registration will not be enough to sustain the entity financially in the long term.
As part of government’s initiative to be more cost effective and ensuring that public entities are viable we are currently investigating the possibility for the environmental practitioner profession to be governed as part of the functions of an existing registration body. A concrete plan and the timeframes have not been finalised yet. However, it is not the intention to re-invent the wheel. The work that EAPASA has done so far and the systems built must be continued with. All interested and effected parties will be consulted and their views will be considered before the finalisation of any plan. It is also foreseen that if we go on this new envisaged route, legislative amendments will be required. While this work is ongoing, the work of EAPASA must proceed as usual.
In the meantime, we are busy amending the section 24H regulations to address immediate implementation challenges and a consultation process in this regard will commence in the new year. We are confident the road we have built towards the professionalism of the environmental sector is promising and fruitful.
In order to ensure a suitable future for registrations, we encourage all EAPs to register with the relevant registration body whilst we as the department go through the extension period for the Section 24H Registration Authority Regulations amendment process.
It will be insincere of me not to reflect on one of the biggest challenge we have had to confront in our journey towards a professional sector. The department has had to extend mandatory registration period by 24 months from February 2020, to allow for government to create the much needed clarity and ready itself to comply with the law.
We are aware that this postponement has created serious consternations, but we are of the view that this was a responsible decision to take, informed by a consultation process.
This journey can only be a successful one if we all work together and we can realise our goals by drawing on the energies of our people, building capabilities, enhancing the capacity of the state, and promoting leadership and partnerships throughout society.
I thank you.