The role of environmental consultants in municipal environmental decision making :|ba discourse analysis of the strategic environmental assessments (sea) of the Kwadukuza and Rustenburg municipalities.
Van Niekerk, Michael.
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Traditional approaches to policy analysis focus on the outcomes of environmental policy making and the relationship between the state and general public in the policy process. These approaches often overlook the policy process itself and the role of professionals, such as environmental consultants, as they are appointed by government to undertake work on behalf of the state. Environmental consultants are commissioned to work on projects, such as a Strategic Environmental Assessments (SEAs), in South Africa because of the complexity of the policy process and lack of capacity in government, especially at the local level. Although the local level is seen as the platform for reconstruction and development, service delivery, and economic growth in South Africa, local government faces several challenges in terms of individual, institutional, and environmental capacity constraints. These challenges create a situation in which there is not sufficient capacity to develop effective environmental policies. In the context of these capacity constraints, the state relies on the skills and experience of environmental consultants to manage the environmental policy process. The aim of this research is to use a discourse analysis of the KwaDukuza and Rustenburg SEAs to understand the role of environmental consultants in the policy processes which inform municipal environmental decision making. The focus of this research is to interpret the role of environmental consultants and to understand the environmental policy process within the context of the challenges facing local government. In order to achieve this aim, the research focuses on two dimensions of environmental policy making. The first dimension of policy making examines the discursive concepts actors use within the new discursive spaces emerging at the local government level. The second dimension of policy making analyses the discursive spaces in which the environmental policy process plays out. The empirical analysis of the KwaDukuza and Rustenburg SEA policy processes are used to understand the environmental policy process and examine the role of consultants within emerging deliberative policy making processes. Evidence collected from the interpretation of the KwaDukuza and Rustenburg SEAs show that several discursive concepts emerged during the SEA policy processes. The concepts included an ‘ecological modernization’ discourse, story lines such as ‘balance brown and green issues’, and policy vocabularies such as an ‘environmental’ policy vocabulary. The concepts were found to be instrumental in the way actors define, interpret, and determine legitimate solutions to particular environmental problems. The three SEAs were also interpreted as a performance using four concepts; scripting, staging, setting, and performances. The evidence shows that these concepts can be used to understand the way actors position themselves and exert power in the policy process. The key finding of this research is that environmental consultants play an influential role in the policy process due to a lack of capacity in local government on complex projects, i.e. a SEA. The role of environmental consultants in these policy processes to manage the process and produce the policy document. The consultants are responsible integrating existing data, specialists’ reports and issues from the public participation process into the policy. Environmental consultants therefore strongly influence the discourses which frame the policies that ultimately inform and guide municipal environmental decision making. Although the evidence indicates that environmental consultants are appointed to undertake the majority of the work, the public officials play an important role in steering the project and ensuring that the policy includes government issues, aligns with existing policies and plans, and is what the municipality needs. The public officials are therefore not only influenced by the discourses of the environmental consultants, but the imperatives, such as economic growth, of the local, provincial, and national spheres of government.
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