Deputy Minister Sotyu: keynote address during 9th National Environmental Compliance and Enforcement Lekgotla (ECEL)
14 November 2022
Thank you, mayor, for welcoming the attendees of the 9th National Environmental Compliance and Enforcement Lekgotla to your municipality. I trust that the lekgotla participants, who have travelled from all parts of the country to be here, will engage in constructive and meaningful deliberations during the course of this week in seeking common outcomes that will improve their compliance and enforcement activities during these challenging times.
In the past two years, COVID-19 has heightened human suffering, undermined the economy, turned the lives of billions of people around the globe upside down, and significantly affected the health, economic, environmental, and social domains. Its impact is being felt in all facets of our lives and has not left you, as the Environmental Management Inspectorate untouched, so I would request that we observe a moment of silence in recognition of all those members of the Inspectorate that succumbed to COVID 19 during 2020/2021.
This year, 2022 represents a significant milestone for environmental compliance and enforcement in South Africa. It marks seventeen years since an amendment to National Environmental Management Act created the Environmental Management Inspectorate, commonly known as the Green Scorpions, in our statute books. This legislative development pulled together existing efforts in the green, brown and blue subsectors into a single, cohesive and effective compliance and enforcement framework.
Colleagues, as you are aware the theme for this year’s lekgotla is “uncharted waters: new challenges and solutions for the Green Scorpions” - the theme was wisely chosen to highlight the increasingly challenging and dynamic environment, in which you, the Green Scorpions are required to fulfil your duties.
The World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Risks Report was released in January 2022; and provides a comprehensive analysis of the key risks predicted to arise from current global economic, societal, environmental and technological conditions. This report finds that respondents to the global risks perception survey perceive societal risks—in the form of “social cohesion erosion”, “livelihood crises” and “mental health deterioration”—as those that have worsened the most since the pandemic began. For the next five years, respondents again signal societal and environmental risks as the most concerning. However, over a 10-year horizon, the health of the planet dominates concerns: environmental risks are perceived to be the five most critical long-term threats to the world as well as the most potentially damaging to people and planet, with “climate action failure”, “extreme weather”, and “biodiversity loss” ranking as the top three most severe risks. Their projected effects are extensive, and include intensified rates of involuntary migration, natural resource crises, pollution harms to health, geopolitical resource contestation, social security collapse and livelihood and debt crises.
South Africa has, over the past two years, already begun to feel the devastating impacts of these risks. For example, heavy downpours in KwaZulu-Natal over only a two day period in April 2022 caused South Africa’s worst and most deadly natural disaster to date: a flash flood so rare and devastating it has a one in 300-year probability of recurring. The dire situation in this province was exacerbated by the extensive environmental damage caused by the hazardous chemical spill resulting from social unrest at the UPL facility as well as wide-spread pollution resulting from non-functional waste water treatment infrastructure.
In addition to the apparent adverse health impacts of COVID-19 pandemic, it has also had significant impacts on the state of the environment, with a decrease in certain types of environmental non-compliances, balanced by a significant increase in others, including unlawful land occupation in and around protected areas/state forests.
Despite these obstacles, I am heartened to note that the Green Scorpions have, through your resilience and the desire to protect the environment, maintained, and in some instances, even increased your level of compliance and enforcement activities in the past financial year. This is evidenced by the statistics outlined in National Environmental Compliance and Enforcement Report, which will be officially released later this morning.
Criminal investigation of environmental crimes has increased by 7.6% in the past financial year, with 952 criminal dockets registered. A total of 1091 admission of guilt fines to the value of R408 730.00 were paid – an increase of 6.6% -- while 838 people were arrested. There was an increase of 262.5% in the number of convictions for environmental crimes, showing a hike from 16 to 58 in the past financial year. Six plea agreements were entered into and 129 warning letters were issued.
In 2021/22, 4 171 facilities were inspected as part of the compliance monitoring function of the Green Scorpions. Of the 4 171 inspections, 2 918 were to check compliance with environmental authorisations and/or permits, strategic and routine inspections, and 1 253 were reactive probes triggered by complaints. At total of 1 123 inspections related to Section 30 NEMA incidents, including toxic spills and illegal dumping.
These increases in environmental compliance and enforcement activities are to be commended, especially in light of the significant budget decreases experienced by the Green Scorpions as the country’s economy experiences a step down and other priorities compete for resources, limiting your ability to fill key posts and fund daily operations. In fact, the annual report notes a decrease of more than 5% in the number of national and provincial Environmental Management Inspectors (EMIs) from 3 158 in the 2020/21 financial year to 2995 in the last financial year.
Under these difficult circumstances, where the Green Scorpions are still expected to give effect to Section 24 of the Constitution (despite diminishing human and financial resources), it is imperative that you, the Environmental Management Inspectorate, seek new and innovative solutions to overcome these obstacles and continue to protect the environment in a manner that it is not detrimental to the health and well-being of the country’s citizens.
It is against this backdrop that the programme for the 9th National Environmental Compliance and Enforcement Lekgotla will provide you with an opportunity to freely explore potential solutions and how they can best be implemented. These include the development of a new national Compliance and Enforcement Strategy, improvement in cooperative governance, both with other regulatory authorities, as well as furthering partnerships with the non-governmental and private sectors, sharing of best practises with other Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries, the elevated use of information-technology to optimise compliance and enforcement efforts; as well as the upskilling on EMIs on key skills development areas.
I wish you all everything of the best over the next few days and trust that you will actively participate in the discussions to inform decisions on how to strengthen and enhance the work of the Green Scorpions in a manner that allows you to forge a way forward in the uncharted waters that you currently face.