Shifeta cracks the whip

The environment minister says it is critical that the policies, plans and programmes of government do not have significant adverse impacts on environment health.

29 November 2018 | Environment

Environment minister Pohamba Shifeta says all invalid licences, permits or authorisations granted without an environmental clearance certificate (ECC) must be withdrawn by 1 December.

Shifeta said proof of withdrawal must be submitted to the office of the environmental commissioner by Saturday. He said this gives officers who have violated the law by permitting activities without proof of an ECC a last chance. Shifeta was speaking in parliament this week on the challenges associated with implementing the Environmental Management Act.

He stressed that the process for acquiring an ECC is very important, in terms of ensuring the protection of the environment.

He said the undertaking of an environmental impact assessment (EIA) or scoping allows for the process of identifying, predicting, evaluating and mitigating the biophysical, social and other relevant effects of development proposals, prior to major decisions being taken and commitments being made. He said it is very important that this process is carried out, as it allows for the ministry to better plan and put in place mitigation measures to minimise impacts.

“If in the past, sand mining companies and operators had applied for environmental clearance certificates, it would have been possible to restrict that industry to certain areas and avoid it infringing on people's homesteads and crop fields, as well as damaging the environment.”

Shifeta said it would also have been possible to impose conditions on ECCs that would have compelled companies to undertake some rehabilitation measures once they had exhausted the resource.

The location of a number of green scheme farms in elephant migratory routes is another challenge that could have been avoided, he said.

According to Shifeta this could have been flagged, had a proper EIA been done. He said the recent cases of severe damage being caused by elephants to these farms are regrettable and a considerable setback to the efforts to enhance food security and boost socio-economic development through the green schemes. Shifeta said another example is small farming units in communal areas, where human-wildlife conflict could have been avoided, had the land reform ministry first obtained ECCs for all these activities.

“Furthermore, we are also aware of the exploitation of our forest resources in the Kavango West, Kavango East, Zambezi and lately the Ohangwena Region, from where high value timber is being exported with almost no local level value-addition or beneficiation.”Shifeta said his ministry called an urgent meeting with the agriculture ministry to address the issue and informed it to withdraw all timber harvesting licences granted without ECCs. “I am happy to announce that the agriculture ministry complied and all timber harvesting licenses have been withdrawn as of 26 November.” Shifeta said it is critical that the policies, plans and programmes of government do not have significant adverse impacts on the health of the environment.

“In order to enforce the Environmental Management Act and compliance with its regulations, the environment ministry, as part of its mandate, has to take serious measures to protect the environment from further damage”. He said one of the measures will be to name and shame those officers who granted invalid authorisations on behalf of competent authorities. He therefore called on all organs of state that have granted invalid licences, permits or authorisations to withdraw them with immediate effect.

“Failure to withdraw such authorisations is tantamount to furtherance of the commission of crime by those proponents who are in position of invalid documents.” He further said to date no organ of state had submitted an environmental management plan to the environmental commissioner.

However, the ministry is now working with focal persons from the different listed organs of state to address this situation. “Capacity of staff, lack of awareness among stakeholders of the Act and systemic inefficiencies are other challenges faced in the implementation of this Act.” According to Shifeta the ministry continues to take measures to address these challenges, but the lack of capacity to enforce the Act through on-the-ground inspections in the regions remains a concern.

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