Johannesburg Metro Editor
GOVERNMENT has established a new environmental policing unit with the same investigative and arresting powers as the police.
This move will see businesses or individuals who flout environmental legislation brought to book.
New regulations relating to the National Environmental Management Act, which were put in place this year, have given environmental authorities much-needed teeth to fight destruction of the environment by those who plunder natural resources or dump toxic material.
The environmental management inspectors unit has been set up to give the environmental affairs and tourism department the ability to enforce the law. There is an increased chance of arrest and there are heavy penalties.
Gauteng has become the first province to launch its environmental management inspectors unit. Members completed an intensive training course run by the department and the University of Pretoria.
The programme was supported by the environmental agencies of England and Wales as well as the Environmental Protection Agency of the US.
The new unit, succeeding an earlier group known as the Green Scorpions, will have powers of search and seizure, will be able to set up road blocks, issue enforceable compliance notices and carry out routine inspections. Fines of up to R5m can be issued for contraventions.
This gives environmental management teams the capacity to prevent abuse.
Gauteng conservation and environment MEC Khabisi Mosunkutu said yesterday that the unit heralded a new period for environmental management.
“It will convey a positive and firm message to the Gauteng community that they now have a force exclusively dedicated to ensuring no one will, with impunity, degrade the environment and compromise our health.
“The honeymoon for environmental criminals is coming to an end. The (inspection units) are well trained and sufficiently well motivated to deal with (them).”
The units were set up to comply with constitutional obligations. These say South African citizens have a right to a clean environment that is not harmful to their health and wellbeing.