The Green Scorpions, which have been mandated to protect the environment by enforcing legislation, have in the past financial year maintained, and in some instances, even increased the level of compliance and enforcement activities.
This according to the statistics outlined in National Environmental Compliance and Enforcement Report, which was officially released on Monday.
Environmental crimes include illegal dumping of hazardous waste, illegal deep-sea fishing, smuggling of ivory and illegal property developments.
“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,” Deputy Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, Makhotso Sotyu, said.
Sotyu was addressing the 9th Environmental Compliance and Enforcement Lekgotla being held in Gauteng from 14 to 17 November 2022 under the theme: “Facing Uncharted Waters: New Challenges and Solutions For The Green Scorpions”.
“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,” she said.
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 National Environmental Management Act (NEMA) incidents, including toxic spills and illegal dumping,” the Deputy Minister said.
Sotyu commended the increases in environmental compliance and enforcement activities, which were achieved despite budget decreases.
This achievement comes at a period when the country’s economy experiences a step down and other priorities compete for resources, limiting the ability to fill key posts and fund daily operations.
The annual report noted 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.
The Deputy Minister encouraged the Environmental Management Inspectorate to seek new and innovative solutions to overcome the challenges of budget constraints and continue to protect the environment in a manner that it is not detrimental to the health and wellbeing 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,” Sotyu said.
These include the development of a new national Compliance and Enforcement Strategy, improvement in cooperative governance, both with other regulatory authorities, as well as with furthering partnerships with the non-governmental and private sectors.
They were also encouraged to share best practises with other Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries, implement the elevated use of information-technology to optimise compliance and enforcement efforts, as well as the upskilling on key skills in the development areas.