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Minister calls for more convictions for enviro crimes

by BuaNews Online
on 07 Apr 2008
BuaNews Online
BuaNews Online

The discrepancy between the number of criminal dockets opened for environmental criminal activity and the number of actual convictions for these crimes is a concern.

This is according to the Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism Marthinus van Schalkwyk, who was speaking at the opening of the 8th conference of the International Network for Environmental Compliance and Enforcement (ICNECE) in Cape Town.

The conference is a global network of more than 4 000 compliance and enforcement professionals from over 150 countries, who are working in governmental organisations, the judiciary, in international institutions, non-governmental organisations and academia.

On Monday Mr van Schalkwyk said it has been three years since government set up the Environmental Management Inspectorate (EMI), also known as "Green Scorpions", to focus on environmental crimes.

There are now almost 900 green scorpions.

According to the latest National Environmental Enforcement Report of the EMI, the minister said that South Africa's environmental inspectors probed more than 1 756 dockets in 2007/08.

Reported arrests by these inspectors, he said, have increased from 898 in 2006/07 to more than 2 612 in the previous financial year.

At the same time, reported convictions of environmental criminals have increased from 134 in 2006/07 to 746 in 2007/08.

However, he said: "I remain concerned to see the discrepancy between the number of criminal dockets and arrests, and the actual number of convictions on environmental criminals.

"This indicates an urgent need for more effective investigations."

Environmental crimes include mining in a protected area, hunting or gathering a listed threatened or protected species without a permit, driving on a beach without a permit and fishing of certain species without a permit or operating a waste disposal site without a permit.

Mr van Schalkwyk said: "We still need more [environmental] inspectors, and better trained and equipped inspectors."

South Africa's environmental management inspectors were aware that formal partnerships with other enforcement agencies are key to successful enforcement, the minister told delegates.

In respect of such partnerships, he said, the department is on the verge of signing a formal Standard Operating Procedure with the South African Police Services.

This will allow South Africa's Environmental Management Inspectors to carry their own criminal dockets or case files, and to hand these over to the National Prosecuting Authority for investigation.

While he conceded that this will of course add to the responsibilities of the inspectors, it will also allow for "the more effective and efficient prosecution of environmental crime".

The Inspector-General for International Enforcement Cooperation of the Dutch government, Gerard Wolters, told the delegates that most indicators of global environmental quality continue to decline, and new threats have emerged.

Mr Wolters, who chaired the conference said: "Today's world faces increased vulnerability to climate change, increased pollution, and loss of natural resources.

"These hazards threaten to undermine the many advances by human society in recent decades and the rich values that have been present for many centuries," he said. - BuaNews

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