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Increase in reporting of environmental crimes, DFFE reports

14th December 2023

By: Schalk Burger

Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

     

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The 2022/23 financial year saw a 52% rise in the number of complaints reported through various channels to the national, provincial and municipal departments, as well as to State-owned entities, which is indicative of the increase in public awareness of green, brown and blue crimes in South Africa, the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) says.

Despite greater awareness of environmental crimes among the general public, the impact of these crimes on South Africa and its citizens remains a cause for concern.

"Addressing environmental crimes in South Africa continues to require cohesive intervention at all levels of government to effectively address increasingly complex matters, ranging from the pollution of water and air to the smuggling of threatened and other key species locally and internationally," the department says.

The 2022/23 National Environmental Compliance and Enforcement Report (NECER) highlights the successes and challenges experienced by the Environmental Management Inspectorate, known as the Green Scorpions.

The majority of these complaints relate to illegal dumping, waste, water pollution and poaching incidents. There was also a fluctuation in the reporting of certain types of incidents.

For example, the number of reports on poaching increased to 387, followed by a significant increase in illegal dumping and waste complaints from 46 to 146, and reports of contraventions relating to water pollution from 51 to 155 in 2022/23.

Further, the report shows positive conviction results with a 55% increase in successful convictions from 58 to 91.

In addition, we are seeing more fitting sentences being handed down for environmental crimes, such as sentences of 63 years imprisonment without the option of a fine for a rhino poaching-related case, and a R10 -million fine handed down to a municipality for pollution and waste offences.

Additionally, there was a 7% decrease in the number of criminal dockets registered, from 952 in 2021/22 to 885 in 2022/23, while the number of dockets handed over to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) also decreased by 6% in the year under review from 391 to 359.

The total number of admission of guilt fines issued increased slightly from 1 091 to 1 211 over the reporting period, reflecting an 11% yearly increase.

However, the total value of admission of guilt fines paid decreased from R408 730 to R308 750. The NECER report reflects an increase in the number of plea and sentence agreements concluded, rising from six in 2021/22 to 18 in 2022/23.

The Green Scorpions arrested 662 people for a variety of environmental offences in the reporting year.

The collaboration between the Inspectorate and the different key role players is pivotal in achieving these successes.

"The Green Scorpions serve as government’s response to ensure the implementation of innovative and effective strategies to address activities causing environmental harm, amid rising risks associated with environmental crimes," the DFFE says.

"The Inspectorate has worked under an increasingly challenging environment over the past 17 years that is continuously changing.

"However, the opportunity exists to extend government’s implementation of the national environmental strategies through the design of an all-of-government compliance and enforcement model, informed by lessons learned from past experiences and which considers the reduction in resources available within the government institutions making up the Inspectorate," the department adds.

Meanwhile, the NECER report indicates a 6% decrease in the overall number of environmental management inspectors nationally, although there was an increase of 6%, to 130, in the number of field rangers who protect the natural resources in the country’s network of protected areas.

The Inspectorate has 3 215 environmental management inspectors, including 2 829 from national and provincial authorities and 386 from municipalities.

Additionally, the number of proactive inspections increased by 61% in the past financial year to 3 226, while the number of reactive inspections decreased by 45% to 1 084.

The report indicates that 4 330 facilities were inspected of which 52%, or 2 235, were related to pollution, waste and impact assessment, or brown, legislative requirements, 42%, or 1836, were in the biodiversity and protected areas, or green, sub-sector, and 6%, or 259, were related to integrated coastal management, or blue, issues.

The total number of non-compliances found during inspections increased to 5 421 from 4 987 in 2021/22, with 3 400 in the brown, 1 785 in the green and 236 in the blue sectors.

In the 2022/23 financial year, a total of 4 128 inspection reports were finalised, which is an 11% increase on the previous year, the DFFE says.

Edited by Chanel de Bruyn
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor Online

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