The creation and replacement of jobs has been a mammoth task in the former mining town of Selibe Phikwe with some commentators blaming the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process.
Recently the Selibe-Phikwe West Member of Parliament (MP), Dithapelo Keorapetse, was quoted in a media report saying he would table a motion in Parliament seeking the amendment of the Act. Keorapetse decried that the lengthy process of conducting an environmental impact assessment deters potential investors. He lamented that it exacerbates the hardships experienced by the town’s residents following the untimely closure of BCL. The former copper and nickel mine of BCL went under liquidation in 2016, leaving around 6000 employees jobless. The MP suggested that the EIA processes be waivered so as to urgently respond to the socio-economic crisis of the town.
However, Botswana Environmental Assessment Practitioners Association (BEAPA), whose board regulates the quality of environmental assessments in the country, disputes this, highlighting that detailed EIA process is generally standard internationally and therefore comparable with other countries.
“The practice of environment assessment is just over a decade old in Botswana. Naturally any change comes with resistance and the subject of environment assessment has not been spared of negative perceptions and skepticism. BEAPA in partnership with Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) continue to educate the public on the EIA process. The structures and systems are being interrogated, redesigned and adapted over time to meet Botswana’s own sustainable development aspirations. So as a country we are essentially learning as we implement,” explained Elmah Nthebolan, BEAPA Board Chairperson, responding to Sunday Standard questions.
She said practitioners can help fast track the EIA process by producing quality reports that would be deemed adequate by the Competent Authority. This would necessitate constant capacity building of Practitioners in international best practice. However, the services of practitioners require intervention of key players such as developers and the Competent Authority. The efficiency of their processes has a direct impact on the turnaround times for delivery of EIA services.
She elucidated further that the process can take over a year in some projects. However, these are more of an exception than the norm. The issue of the turnaround time for EIAs is a challenging one in that there are quite a number of factors at play and therefore cannot be explained from one perspective, she said.
“Key players in our view include: firstly, the review timelines stipulated in the instrument that currently guides the process of EA Act. The statutory review time periods for the different stages of the EIA study make a cumulative total of 4.5 months. Secondly, the timing of the prospective developer/investor in terms of when they start the EIA process is also critical. More often than not, developers only initiate the EIA process as an afterthought and at an advanced stage of project implementation. This is usually a cause for undue delays,” she said adding that it is advised that the EA requirements of a project be thought about at the conceptual stage or project planning stage.
While she did not want to state whether socio-economic situations like unemployment due to mine closure can inform the decision of Minister responsible to waive EA Act, referring this publication to the Ministry, she submitted that “The EA Act was enacted by Parliament to protect the environment for current and future generations. Thus, it is our considered view that while the Minister is empowered by Section 3(3) of the Act to grant waivers; he invokes the powers conferred upon him only in exceptional cases.”
She said that it might be advisable for planners involved, in both economic and physical development, to consider adopting assessment tools such as the Strategic Environment Assessment (SEA) at planning stages. This will help carry out wholesale environmental assessment that ensures among others; that developments or land zoning and ultimately allocation is done in accordance with land suitability thus minimize the need for detailed EIAs, she expounded. Where SEAs are conducted, land use will be in line with capacity of the receiving environment and high-level environmental management frameworks will be available with project implementation calling for less onerous tools such as Rapid EIAs. Nthebolan emphasised the fact that her Board only regulates members and cannot provide redress for non-members.