Media Statement of Mr. Khabisi Mosunkutu, Gauteng’s MEC for Agriculture, Conservation and Environment, on
the Implementation Programme of the National Environmental Management Second Amendment Act, presented at
a media briefing held at the Diamond Corner Building, Johannesburg on the 8th March 2005

It is a pleasure to once again have this opportunity to talk to our stakeholders, the media included, about our Department’s programme of action. Presenting my Department’s priorities for the 2005/2006 financial year, after the Premier’s 2005 opening address to the Gauteng Provincial Legislature, I remarked that that here are people, big industry in particular, who put profits and their other narrow self-serving interests above the health and wellbeing of our communities. I warned that the days of their unscrupulous activities are numbered. Issuing this warning, I promised that our actions will be consistent with National environmental legislations.

We said then that there are no untouchables when it comes to protecting the wellbeing of our communities and in promoting sustainable ecosystems.

Today we are here to talk about one of the tough measures that we will soon utilise to further contribute to sustainable social and economic development and to promote sustainable communities and sustainable ecosystems.

Essence of the Act

The 2002 United Nation report on Biodiversity and Sustainable Ecosystem Management states, among others, that of the 1.2 billion people living in extreme poverty, about 900 million are dependent on biodiversity. The reports further say that 50% of the world’s wetlands have been drained and about 24% of mammals are under serious threat. In this report, the United Nations says that biodiversity is essential for life on earth. South Africa, and Gauteng in particular, is not unaffected by the United Nation’s report.

We have investigated and clamped down on unscrupulous developers and entrepreneurs whose business poses veritable threat to our health, life and the future of our environment and its ecosystems. Media has featured reports of construction on wetlands, of ecologically sensitive land being destroyed to open way for exclusive residential areas. Industrial operations that discharge noxious gases to the environment and other emission negatively impacting on water used by our people have also been featured in the media. Less lenient measures against those who defile our environment have not been very helpful. The sad reality, however, is that the sustainability of our ecosystem and our quest for a better life in a sustainable environment has been, and still is, under severe threats, particularly because of activities carried out by uncaring industrialists and land developers.

Now, with the National Environment Management Second Amendment Act, Act No 8 of 2004, which came into force on the 7th January 2005, we believe that the culprits will start paying somber attention to our right to an environment that is not harmful to our health and wellbeing. The velvet gloves are now off.

What the Act says

Apart from providing more stringent mechanisms for enforcing environmental legislation and penalizing none compliance, this Act gives the wrongdoers a window period of six months to rectify their activities and comply. The Act stipulates that unauthorized commencement or continuation with activities identified n terms of Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Regulations, unless rectified by an application and endorsement by the relevant MEC, now face penalties of up to R5 million and or 10 years jail term. It must be emphasized that offender who does not utilize the window period provided to rectify his/her activities will be committing a criminal offence and will not be immune from the harsh penalties imposed by the Act. With the powers invested on us, we now can also direct that such harmful practices must also cease and the environment be rehabilitated, in addition to the other stiff penalties. The Act also provides for an administrative fine not exceeding R1 million for those who wish to rectify and legitimize their operations. I wish to emphasise the point that all those who commenced or continue with unauthorized activities as required by EIA procedures are fully embraced by this Act. It should further be emphasized that application for rectification will not automatically result in authorization. Where the activity illegally undertaken has result or is resulting in substantial detrimental impact on the environment or human health or well-being, this office may direct the applicant to cease and rehabilitate. Non-compliance with such a directive will be an offence in terms of the Act and may result in the severe penalties that I have mentioned earlier.

Implementing the Act in Gauteng

Being quite earnest in our own efforts to also contribute to socio- economic development in the Province and to encourage individuals and companies to apply for rectification and legitimization of their activities, we have elected not to rigidly apply the provision of the Act that allows us to impose an administrative fine of R1 million. Rather, we shall treat each case on its merit. However, the end of the window period for voluntarily disclosure and to come clean and apply for rectification remains as directed by the Act ? 7th July 2005. Beyond this period, we shall strictly adhere to the provisions of the Act. To assist applicants, we are establishing a special unit ? the S24G unit, so named after section 24 of the Act ? to assist applicants. This office shall be in operation from the 10th of March 2004.

Booklets to familiarize applicants and the public shall soon be in circulation, before the end of March 2005. To further complement the advertisements that have been placed in various media, we shall also engage, with your help, in more media interviews - explaining and helping interested parties to comply.

What are the listed activities identified in terms of the Act

I earlier alluded to the fact that the development of land in most cases and initiation of most industrial activities should first undergo EIA scrutiny for authorization. I also alluded to activities that are identified in terms of EIA regulations. It should be noted here that these regulations are applicable in respect of activities identified in Government Notice No. 18 261 of the 5th September 1997 under s section 21 (1) of the Act as amended.

The activities listed in these regulations can be broadly divided into 5 categories, namely those who deals with construction and upgrading of structures and infrastructure, those dealing with the transformation of land, those dealing with interference of ecosystems and biodiversity, those related to industrial processes, and those dealing with the treatment and disposal of waste. To illustrate this allow me to give a few examples of activities cited in the Government Notice:

Scheduled processes covered by the regulations also include: I have not exhausted the details of activities and processed covered in the Government Notice. Interested parties are encouraged to obtain these from the Government website and from the booklet I earlier referred to. Our offices are also available to assist in this regard.

In conclusion, I wish to appeal to all our stakeholders, entrepreneurs in particular, to approach our offices for assistance. Individuals who suspect that their activities may be suspect are also encouraged to come forward and verify their standing.

We all have an obligation to ensure that we protect our communities’ right to an environment that is not harmful to their health and well-being. We also have an obligation to protect the environment for the future generation. With regards to these rights and obligations there can never be ‘untouchables’. It cannot be that we should continue embracing the dubious distinction of being amongst the world’s top 20 highest greenhouse gas emitters.

I want to assure those who believe that we are bluffing or imagine that their immense resources will make them immune, that not only will they be courting a long jail term of up to 10 years and a fine of up to R5 million. They will actually be dicing away their business opportunities.

I thank you.

Media Statement of Mr. Khabisi Mosunkutu, Gauteng’s MEC for Agriculture, Conservation and Environment, on
the Implementation Programme of the National Environmental Management Second Amendment Act, presented at
a media briefing held at the Diamond Corner Building, Johannesburg on the 8th March 2005