The Environmental Assessment Practitioners Association of South Africa (EAPASA) supports the efforts of the South African government in fighting the spread of the coronavirus and the COVID-19 disease in our society. The pandemic has affected the South African workforce in both the private and public sectors.
In the environmental assessment industry, directions were issued by Barbara Creecy, minister of forestry, fisheries and environment, to undertake the administration of environmental impact assessments (EIAs) and related processes during the lockdown. In terms of these directions, no new applications or appeals were to be submitted or processed during alert level 4. These directions will soon be updated.
The board of EAPASA is concerned about the financial sustainability of environmental assessment practitioners (EAPs) during this time. The suspension of environmental authorisations and other environmental legal processes have impacted on EAPs, developers, planners, architects, engineers and contractors due to delays in processing applications for development projects, many of which South Africa needs to alleviate poverty and create jobs.
The EIA process has been blamed in the past for delaying development in our country. EAPASA strongly recommends as we move to lower levels of lockdown, developmental activities should not be delayed by outstanding environmental authorisations and other environmental legal approvals. It is crucial that EIA processes should be allowed to continue, particularly for projects related to the provision of services and infrastructure with a public-interest focus.
As the construction sector resumes work from 1 June 2020, the associated professional services provided by EAPs to such projects are essential, as officers for occupational health, safety and the environment, and must also be allowed to resume. As per the principles of the National Environmental Management Act, the needs of society (health, development), economy (livelihoods) and the environment must be balanced.
The Electronic Communications Act specifically allows for documentation to be distributed and submitted electronically, and the same Act acknowledges the legal status of electronic signatures. To date EAPs have had to comply with the authorities insisting on the inclusion of “original” signatures on documents.
All necessary consultations with authorities can be conducted via email and phone, or using technology for virtual meetings such as Skype, Zoom or Teams. By acknowledging new ways of doing business in the forthcoming directions, the environmental authorities can facilitate the safe and productive return to work of EAPs in both the private and public sectors.
Full thanks and acknowledgement are given to the Environmental Assessment Practitioners Association of South Africa (EAPASA) for the information in this article.