By Majirata Latela
The National Environment Secretariat (NES) has responded to suggestions that it takes too long to issue Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) clearance certificates, by warning that big projects that commence without such certificates could still be halted and have their permits revoked.
An EIA is a process of evaluating the likely environmental impacts of a proposed project or development, taking into account inter-related socio-economic, cultural and human-health impacts, both beneficial and adverse.
According to the Environmental Act of 2008 section 108(3), the courts may order that any licence permit or other authorisation given under this Act and to which the offence relates be cancelled. The Act further stipulates that if the permit is not cancelled, the court may also issue an environmental restoration order against the accused.
The Act according to Section 4(1) (a)(b) and also (2) shows that every person living in Lesotho has a right to scenic, clean and healthy environment and has a duty to protect and also inform the NES of all activities that are prone to affect the environment.
Moreover, every person may where the right referred to in subsection (1) is threatened as a result of an activity or omission which is causing or likely to cause harm to human health or environment, bring action against the person whose activity or omission is causing or is likely to cause harm to human health or the environment.
NES, through senior environment officer, ‘Mammeli Makhate, has reiterated that all projects that are subject to clearance are listed in the Environmental Act First Schedule, and it is therefore mandatory for them to get an EIA clearance certificate before commencement.
“The implications of someone not doing a clearance certificate amount to the owner of the project being sued. Again if we receive a tip off that someone has commenced a project without being cleared, we may start investigations to get reasons why an EIA was not done or why a clearance certificate was not issued.
“In a case where there are compelling and convincing reasons why an EIA was not done, we may suspend the stop the project without cancelling the license, and allow the person to do it and obtain a clearance certificate before resuming.
“Yes, there have been cases where people start a development without the EIA and we have made them aware that it is compulsory to do it and give them time to do it,” Makhate said.
All projects that that are subject to the EIA process, she said are listed in the first schedule of the Environment Act of 2008. She said the process of obtaining a clearance certificate takes less than two months depending on the kind of report the company or consultant will have provided.
In September, theReporter reported that the Parliamentary Social Cluster heard how many companies involved in cannabis farming started operations without having conducted an environmental impact assessment (EIA).
It also emerged that this anomaly was compounded by the fact the National Environment Secretariat, which is responsible for enforcing this requirement, is not represented in the national narcotics body which entrusted with overseeing the cannabis industry and advising the ministry of health on polices.
It has previously been reported that some cannabis companies were guilty of destroying the top soil which is responsible for supporting plant growth and survival. Other reports suggest that one of the long term effects of cannabis farming could be degradation of soil quality as a result of pesticides used in the production of cannabis, or emergence of new mutant species of pests.
On the other hand, the Social Cluster also learned that cannabis farming laws do not specifically make an EIA a mandatory part of the business.
One source close to the paper has also indicated that, yes, cannabis industry has really brought a lot of problems as most if not all the companies that pioneered the business did not get the EIA clearance certificates and, when approached, some would complain that getting one takes too long and the lassitude of the ministry of health, which is responsible for issuing licences, did little to help the situation.
The source also confirms that in the case of cannabis, some companies were given the chance to provide EIA reports and were issued clearance certificate.
Meanwhile, the ministry of health’s legal officer, ‘Masello Sello, has acknowledged that the pilot companies that were given cannabis licences did not have all the requirements including the EIA clearance certificate. She also showed that there are companies that started before the relevant regulations were made.
“In their case, we already had the Drug of Abuse Act of 2008 which permitted that we could issue licences before having regulations. The regulations also are not a must to have, as the law stipulates that the minister ‘may’ order that regulations be made.
“It is government’s discretion whether to issue out licences or not, just like in South Africa now when they are already giving people licences without a legislation; however, because our country already had the law we issued piloting licences in accordance with what the principal law says.
“I am saying that those rumors that we issued licences without EIA are unfounded and not true, as all those piloting companies which were given licences were given the chance to do all the requirements as per the regulations; all those companies later (in 2018) applied for the EIA clearance certificates which promptly issued,” Sello said.
Following the ushering in of a new government which saw Motlatsi Maqelepo replacing Nkaku Kabi as minister of health, the new minister promised that he will be doing his own investigations into the issuance of licences as it is already clear that there were some corrupt practices in the issuing of the licenses.
“I have been told that the issuance of licences happened in two different offices and I have asked the offices to give me copies of the licenses so that we can conduct reconciliation and know the number of licences that have been issued.
“We also need to do some due diligence of how the licences were given and whether the right procedures were followed in their issuance. Most of the people who will renew the licences will be interrogated so that we can get to the bottom of things like whether they met the conditions for receiving the licenses,” Maqelepo said.