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Centre for Environmental Rights – Advancing Environmental Rights in South Africa

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Numbers matter: Join us in reporting violations of environmental rights

9 June 2014 at 12:02 pm

emi_posterThis is a call to join us in reporting violations of environmental rights to the National Environmental Crimes and Incidents Hotline on 0800 205 005 (even if you have reported that violation to other authorities in the past).

Underinvestment in compliance and enforcement

Together with many other organisations working to improve the realisation of environmental rights in South Africa, the Centre for Environmental Rights has long argued that government invests too few resources in compliance monitoring and enforcement of environmental laws.

How do we send a strong message to government – Treasury, in particular – that this perpetual underinvestment in compliance monitoring and enforcement of environmental laws in South Africa constitutes a violation of the state’s obligations to realise every person’s Constitutional right to an environment not harmful to health or wellbeing, and that this must be addressed without delay?

Need to ensure accurate government data on violations

Firstly, we need official data on reports of violations of environmental laws to reflect the actual scope of these violations across the country.

We know from our work here at the Centre that many people who are aware of environmental violations do not know what to do about them, as a result of which many violations do not come to the attention of the authorities in the first place. We also suspect that an element of fatigue is affecting the rate of reporting by concerned citizens and affected communities. The CER constantly hears anecdotal evidence of reports of serious violations – ongoing, unabashed marine poaching, or ongoing water pollution – being ignored, or pleas for investigation and enforcement action met with explanations of no capacity on the ground. In those instances, it is understandable that citizens lose faith in the process.

However, if we don’t report, government data on environmental violations does not reflect the reality on the ground, and the basis for the argument for further investment in compliance monitoring and enforcement remains weak. We therefore need to ensure that the demand for compliance monitoring and enforcement more accurately reflects the actual scale of environmental rights violations. As the saying goes – what cannot be measured, cannot be managed”.

Environmental Crimes & Incidents Hotline 0800 205 005

To achieve this, we want to focus on the Environmental Crimes and Incidents Hotline (0800 205 005), a 24 hour hotline that has been operated by an independent operator for the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) since about 2005. This hotline is the only reporting mechanism for violations of environmental laws that produce numbers that are published annually – in the National Environmental Compliance and Enforcement Reports produced by the DEA in around November every year.

When you call this Hotline, all the details of your report will be taken by a trained operator, and you will be allocated a reference number for your complaint. You can also email photographs to be linked to the complaint. You can choose to remain anonymous. On receipt of a complaint, the DEA refers reports either internally, or to the correct national, provincial or local authority, for action. With your reference number, at least in principle, you are also able to call the line again for feedback 6-8 weeks later. Urgent reports are escalated to managers who contact the DEA directly.

These are the numbers of cases reported to the Environmental Crimes and Incidents Hotline in the past few years:

  • 2009/10: 389
  • 2010/11: 612
  • 2011/12: 708
  • 2012/13: 680

Given the relative obscurity of the hotline, it is likely that many other reports of violations by the state, parastatals and corporates that we all see on a daily basis, are either not reported at all, or reported elsewhere. However, the Environmental Crimes and Incidents Hotline is the only mechanism where reports of violations are centrally collated, counted and published. It is therefore a crucial avenue for citizens to contribute to a more accurate picture of environmental rights violations in South Africa.

The Centre for Environmental Rights therefore calls upon our partners, supporters and concerned citizens and groups to join us in a concerted campaign, starting today, to dial 0800 205 005 to report all significant environmental crimes and incidents. The problem does not have to be new or recent – you can report violations that have been ongoing for a long time, or that you have reported in the past.

To ensure that compliance monitoring and enforcement of environmental laws are escalated and intensified, government must allocate more money and more people for compliance monitoring and enforcement of environmental laws. Please join us in providing those numbers, and take the time to dial the Environmental Crimes and Incidents Hotline on 0800 205 005.