ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT MATTERS
The section 24 of the 1996 Constitution of the Republic of South Africa affords everyone a right to an environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being. It places a positive obligation to the state to take “reasonable legislative and other measures” to realize the right. Local municipalities comprise one of the spheres of government which is required to take legislative and other measures to give effect to this right by protecting the environment and ensuring ecologically sustainable development while promoting justifiable economic and social development. Accordingly, the primary legislation promulgated to give effect to this right is the National Environmental Management Act, 107 of 1998 (NEMA).
The Role of Ubuhlebezwe Local Municipality in Environmental Management
In order for Ubuhlebezwe Local Municipality to deliver on the above-mentioned right, the Municipality has established a dedicated Environmental Sub-unit within the Housing and Planning Unit under the Infrastructure, Planning and Development Directorate. The Environmental Unit has two qualified personnel who are responsible for ensuring that the Municipality provides the basic services in a sustainable manner as well as promoting a safe and healthy environment.
It has been noted that most communities perceive the environmental processes as hinderances or causing delays to service delivery. This perception may be attributed to the lack of understanding of the concept of environmental management and associated processes. The environmental information being part of the Municipal newsletter is one of the strategies used by the Municipality to enhance public awareness on the environmental management issues.
The Role of Local Communities in Environmental Management
The 2014 Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations, as amended in 2017, allows for the public to participate during the Environmental Impact Assessment process conducted within the Municipal area of jurisdiction. There are developments, projects or services that requires an environmental authorization (EA) before commencement. These are the projects that triggers listed activities under the 2014 EIA Regulations, as amended in 2017. Other projects require a water use license (WUL) before commencement. These are the projects that triggers Section 21 of the National Water Act No 36 of 1998. Some projects can even require both an EA and WUL before commencement. When such projects are to be undertaken, they are advertised in the local newpapers and the Municipal notice boards where local communities are requested to register as interested and affected parties (I&APs). The registered I&APs are updated on the progress of the project and they are afforded time (30 days for EA and 60 days for WULA) to review and comment on the project. Public participation meetings are also held for the proposed projects. Therefore, local communities have a right to participate in the planning, implementation and management of the developments, projects or services provided in their communities.