One of the key legal mechanisms available to enable decision-making that promotes sustainable development is the environmental authorisation requirement in terms of the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA), Act 107 of 1998. The regulations for Environmental Impact Assessment and Environmental Management Frameworks were published in terms of NEMA. The implementation of the regulations identified a range of legal, institutional capacity and professional challenges in the system. The effective implementation of the environmental authorisation systems in South Africa relies directly on the competence and ethics of environmental assessment practitioners (EAPs) in government, parastatals and private consulting practice. These practitioners play pivotal roles within the decision-making process which is aimed at promoting more sustainable development in South Africa. Quality assurance and ethics in environmental assessment practice is a recognised prerequisite for effective governance towards Sustainable Development in South Africa.

 

A voluntary certification system for EAPs - the Interim Certification Board  - has operated since 2001.  In the planning for the succession of the ICB the following key challenges were identified:

  • Enormous historical inequities in access to opportunities in education, training and professional work require that the registration system be equitable.
  • The absence of registered qualification standards in terms of South Africa's National Qualifications Framework has meant there has been no accepted equitable basis for the establishment or assessment of professional competencies for environmental assessment practice.
  • Government officials who play a regulatory review role in environmental assessment need to be included within the registration system.
  • A range of professionals such as planners, environmental scientists and managers, engineers, and landscape architects, etc. practicing as EAPs, each with their relevant professional qualifications and registration systems, has to be accommodated.

 

South Africa's environmental authorisation requirements are evolving into more strategically and proactively geared and streamlined approaches.  These evolving approaches will enable sustainability targets to be embedded into strategic government investment planning and decision-making, and are also likely to require commensurate evolution in terms of professional quality assurance.


Background to the establishment of a Registration Authority for EAPs in SA

In November 2005, the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) and the Interim Certification Board (ICB) for Environmental Assessment Practitioners of South Africa (representing 17 organisations) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). This MoU and associated budget has enabled a broad Consultative Process for the establishment of an Environmental Assessment Practitioners Association which is proposed to act as a Registration Authority for environmental assessment practitioners (EAPs) in South Africa as provided for in Section 24H of the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA), Act No. 107 of 1998, as amended.

 

In order that the proposed Registration Authority performs an effective quality assurance role in environmental assessment practice in South Africa, the following outcomes were required:

  • The establishment of a representative and recognised association that would establish a Registration Authority and agreed   registration system that is legally competent in terms of section 24H of NEMA as amended.
  • The registration of a qualification for environmental assessment practice within the National Qualifications Framework (NQF) in collaboration with the South  African Qualifications Authority (SAQA), which was completed in 2008 (this has expred and needs to be updated).
  • The conclusion of relevant enabling legal mechanisms making it compulsory for EAPs to be registered, to be implemented  when the Minister appoints EAPASA as a registration authority for EAPs in terms of Section 24 H of NEMA.

 

The purpose of the Consultative Process has been for broad agreement on the purpose, function and structure of a Registration Authority; its constitution; Code of Ethical Conduct and Practice; the registration criteria and process; and, the sanction processes. These are the key elements that were addressed in an application to the Minister in applying to be recognised as a Registration Authority (RA) for Assessment Practitioners in terms of Section 24H of NEMA.

 

The process has focused on engaging professionals active in the field of environmental assessment (EA) practice. The process has specifically engaged stakeholders in the content a proposal document which details the constitution, registration process and criteria, code of conduct and sanction processes, structure, and draft 3-year business plan of the Association.

The Consultative Process has -

  • circulated a first draft Proposal setting out the key elements (January 2006),
  • conducted provincial workshops (February and March 2006)
  • a  National Stakeholder Conference (March 2006.).

 

A Working Group was mandated at this conference to revise the Proposal. Draft two of the proposal was circulated in October 2007 for comment and a second National Stakeholder Conference was held in November 2007 to discuss this draft. On the basis of comments received on Draft two and an extension of the Working Group's mandate, a Final Draft Proposal was compiled in November 2008 and reviewed by the Department of Environmental Affairs' legal department. This Final Draft proposal was advertised for a final round of stakeholder comment in February 2009.

 

The Working Group held six work sessions to conclude the Final Draft Proposal and proposed that EAPs move forward to establish the Environmental Assessment Practitioners Association of South Africa. EAPASA was launched on 7 April 2011. A Board was nominated and selected in November 2011 and formally founded in terms of its constitution in February 2012.


Development of a Qualification for Environmental Assessment Practice

The South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) and the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) agreed on a Joint Implementation Plan (JIP) for the development of a qualification for Environmental Assessment Practice. A nomination call was broadcast for a Task Team of subject matter experts to assist in the development of the qualification. Fourteen nominations were received and forwarded to SAQA. From these nominations, SAQA selected a Task Team for the generation of the qualification. The Task Team held four working sessions and a draft qualification, Advanced Certificate: Environmental Assessment Practice was published in the Government Gazette for comment in April 2007. The qualification was finalised by the Task Team on the basis of comments received and was registered in terms of the National Qualifications Framework on 26 November 2008.


Enabling the legal mechanism that will make it mandatory for EAPs to be registered

On receipt of the proposal from the Board, the Minister may appoint EAPASA as a Registration Authority and in such case will then publish a notification of the registration authority's recognition and a date by which all EAPs practicing in South Africa will need to be registered.