National Environmental Laws A/B [B35-2007]; Africa Institute for Environmentally Sound Management of Hazardous & Other Wastes Agreement: briefing

NCOP Land Reform, Environment, Mineral Resources and Energy

17 March 2008
Chairperson: Rev P Moatshe (ANC, NW)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism briefed the Committee on the ratification of the International Agreement establishing the Africa Institute for the Environmentally Sound Management of Hazardous and other Wastes (the Agreement). The basis of the Agreement was the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal. The aim of this Convention was to minimize the generation of hazardous wastes in terms of both quantity and degree. The Committee unanimously adopted the agreement.

The Department also briefed the Committee on the National Environmental Laws Amendment Bill. The amendment was aimed at improving the effectiveness of Environmental Management Inspectors (EMI). The amendments aimed to ensure a comprehensive legislative mandate for EMIs, to clarify their status as peace officers, and to add a penalty for a criminal offence for failure to comply with a compliance notice, and rectifying certain incorrect cross-references in the Environmental Conservation Act relating to the illegal discarding or disposal of waste. Members asked questions of clarity on the designation of EMIs, asked why the Air Quality Act was still not in effect, the wording the penalty provisions, the training given to EMIs and why there were so few in some provinces. Questions were also asked about consultation, who paid for the EMIs, and when the Provinces would be briefed. Members commented that Bills were frequently referred to this Committee long after the Portfolio Committees, meaning that this Committee was placed under pressure, had discussed them.

The Minutes of the previous meeting were adopted. 

Meeting report

Ratification of the International Agreement establishing the Africa Institute for the Environmentally Sound Management of Hazardous and other Wastes (the Agreement): Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT) Briefing
Ms Judy Beaumont, Director: Law Reform and Consultation, DEAT, briefed the Committee on the Ratification of the International Agreement establishing the Africa Institute for the Environmentally Sound Management of Hazardous and other Wastes. The basis of the Agreement was the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal. The aim of the Convention was to minimize the generation of hazardous wastes in terms of both quantity and degree of hazardousness. Article 14 of the Basel Convention provided for the establishment of Regional Centres for the implementation of the Convention. South Africa had been approached to host the Regional Centre for English speaking countries. Four such Regional Centres would be established in Africa. The legal establishment of the Center required ratification by five countries. Pending the ratification of the Centre, an interim centre was set up as a section 21 company. The interim centre operated for three years but was plagued with problems relating to long-term financial sustainability. The end result was that it had been put into liquidation, and hence the need for the establishment of a new centre.

The Agreement had been signed by eleven countries in 1993. The objective of the Agreement was to establish the Africa Institute. Once established, the Africa Institute would play a key role in facilitating the implementation of the Basel Convention and other chemical agreements by African countries. The Departments of Foreign Affairs and Justice had been approached for legal opinion on the implications of South Africa ratifying the agreement. The conclusion was that no provision in the Agreement was in conflict with the domestic law, nor in conflict with international law and South Africa’s other international obligations.

No questions were asked by the Committee

The Committee unanimously adopted the Agreement.

National Environmental Laws Amendment Bill (the Bill): DEAT briefing
Ms Joanne Yawitch, Deputy Director General, DEAT, gave with a briefing on the National Environmental Laws Amendment Bill. The Bill was aimed at improving the effectiveness of Environmental Management Inspectors (EMIs). The inspectorate was not only represented at national and provincial level but would also be at municipal level. There were 866 EMIs across the country. Training of inspectors and operating procedures were standardised. Ms Yawitch noted that the Department had embarked on ensuring compliance in the ferro-steel industry and had completed eleven baseline compliance inspections. Many companies were becoming more environmentally conscious. Mittal Steel was spending R150 million on environmental improvements. The object of the Bill was to amend the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA) and other pieces of national environmental legislation to provide for more effective compliance and enforcement. This would be achieved by ensuring a comprehensive legislative mandate for EMIs, and clarifying the status of EMI’S as peace officers. The Bill would add a penalty for a criminal offence for failure to comply with a compliance notice. It would also rectify certain incorrect cross-references in the Environmental Conservation Act relating to the illegal discarding or disposal of waste. EMIs currently enforced three pieces of legislation: the NEMA, the Biodiversity Act and the Protected Areas Act. The Bill proposed to include in the mandate of EMIs the Atmospheric Pollution Prevention Act (until the Air Quality Act fully commenced), the Environment Conservation Act (until repealed) and the provisions of the Air Quality Act (AQA) already in effect.

Discussion
Mr A Watson (DA, Mpumalanga) asked why the Air Quality Act was still not in effect. He further asked why it was necessary to have an amendment to NEMA until such time as the AQA came into effect.

Ms Yawitch noted that timeframes had been set for the Air Quality Act. By September 2007 a framework had to be set out, which was done by the Department. The Department was now setting ambient emission standards and setting emission standards for different industries. The SA Bureau of Standards (SABS) was required to publish emission standards and the Department was waiting for this process to be completed. Ms Yawitch said that it was the licensing provisions on the AQA that were outstanding. Other provisions were in effect.

Mr Watson referred to the NEMA penalty of  “A fine of R5 million  and / or 10 years imprisonment” and asked how it would apply to companies. An individual could be imprisoned but not a company. He suggested that perhaps it should state “R5 million or 10 years imprisonment”.

Ms Yawitch explained that the use of “and /or” was consistent with the Sentencing legislation. 

Mr F Adams (ANC, Western Cape) referred to the standard basic training that an EMI was given and asked how effective that training was. He also asked what steps had the Department taken to prevent possible corruption of EMIs.

Ms Yawitch said that there were different levels of EMIs. The more complex their job the more training was given. Training was given by the South African Police Service (SAPS), the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and the Justice College. The training  covered aspects relating to the environment, forensic analysis, prosecution, information gathering and conflict resolution. EMIs in general did not carry weapons and if the need arose, SAPS would be called in to assist them. She added that the training courses were now offered by universities and were accredited.
Ms Yawitch pointed out that there was an anti-corruption hotline and that an independent agency was tasked with investigating allegations of corruption. She said that EMIs worked in teams and that colleagues kept a check on each other. The Department was nevertheless aware of the possibility of corruption.

The Chairperson asked why the numbers of EMIs across the provinces differed. In some provinces there were more than in others.

Ms Yawitch said that it was up to provinces to put individuals up for training as EMIs. She said that the numbers in certain provinces were low and that the Department would like to see those numbers increase. She asked the Committee to encourage provinces to put more officials up for training as EMIs.

Mr L Van Rooyen (ANC, Free State) asked how the amendments would affect the provinces. He also asked what consultation had taken place over the amendments. Mr Van Rooyen further asked what the financial implications for the provinces were.

Ms Yawitch said that EMIs in the provinces would have greater clarity on their powers. She said that the amendments had been advertised before the parliamentary process and afterwards. There were very few comments received from the public. Ms Yawitch stated that there were no additional financial implications for the provinces. The amendments were of a technical nature.

The Chairperson asked who paid the EMIs in the provinces.

Ms Yawitch said that the Provinces paid for them. An EMI had to be a government official.

Ms N Oliphant (ANC, KZN) asked for clarity on the designation of inspectors as peace officers. 

Mr Mark Jardine, Deputy Director: Legal Research and Development, DEAT said that at present the legislation did not specifically state that EMIs were peace officers.

Ms Yawitch emphasized that EMIs could only use their powers in terms of NEMA or other environmental legislation.

Several Members raised concerns as to when the provinces would be briefed on the amendments. The concern was that time was lacking, as the current session of parliament was in the process of closing. It was therefore proposed that the briefings should perhaps be done in the week following the closing of Parliament, if the provinces were able to entertain this, or that alternatively briefings should be done within the first week after parliament reconvened.

Members also discussed the issue that Bills were often referred to this Committee long after the Portfolio Committees had dealt with the matter, with the result that this Committee had to deal with the bills in haste.

Adoption of Minutes
The Committee adopted its minutes from the previous meeting.

The meeting was adjourned.


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