ANC 'rushing' crucial Bill through
Critics say the rush to process this legislation is part of the ANC's attempt to ram a large number of laws through parliament in record time this year - laws that include controversial legislation like the changes required to make the disbanding of the Scorpions legal.
The National Environmental Management Amendment Bill now being finalised by parliament's portfolio committee on environmental affairs and tourism has generated significant controversy, mainly because it attempts to resolve one of the country's biggest "green" problems: mitigating the impact of prospecting and mining, particularly in highly sensitive areas like wetlands.
The Bill comes after an agreement between Environment Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk and his Minerals and Energy counterpart, Buyelwa Sonjica, on the environmental management of mining, which until now has been excluded from the national environmental management system that is the responsibility of Van Schalkwyk's department.
In essence, the agreement is that there will be one environmental impact assessment (EIA) system for all development in the country - including mining and prospecting - which falls under the flagship environmental legislation, the National Environmental Management Act (Nema).
While Sonjica will retain her existing mandate to approve initial applications, Van Schalkwyk will still have the final say because he will be the appeal authority.
In terms of the agreement between the two ministers, this will be the first step in what is envisaged as a three-year process that will ultimately lead to the transfer of all EIA responsibility, including mining, to Van Schalkwyk's department. It is this agreement that the portfolio committee last week invited comment on, with a deadline of Thursday this week.
Gareth Morgan, the DA's environmental spokesperson, said he was "very happy" the minerals and energy department would now use the national EIA guidelines for mining, although there would be a delay of months before this came into effect. He also said there was "major pressure" from the government executive to get the Nema Bill passed - "as (is the case) with practically every other Bill before parliament at the moment".
"In the past four years, parliament passed about 100 Bills. In the next two to three months, parliament will attempt to pass a further 100 Bills."
Morgan said he had argued in an earlier portfolio committee meeting that the committee was "being held to ransom by the executive" around the passing of the Nema Amendment Bill. "There has, in my view, been good progress made on this Bill, which started in mid-October last year with public hearings.
"I argued there was no need to rush the Bill, and the chairman (Langa Zita) to his credit, has attempted to slow it down, but now we are reaching the end point.
"The question is: why did the executive, which is the starting point for legislation in our system, wait to table all these Bills at the end of 2007. And now it wants them passed. Who is controlling the legislative process - parliament or the executive? This Nema Amendment Bill is a case study of the strength of parliament relative to the executive."