Critical analysis of the independence of environmental assessment practitioners in South Africa.
Buthelezi, Gugulethu Patricia.
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Environmental Assessment Practitioners (EAPs) are at the centre of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process. Their competence and ethics, therefore, are crucial in facilitating the EIA process. This research aims to analyse the extent to which the current South African (SA) EIA regulations ensure EAP independence. The key findings from other professions that place emphasis on independence reveal that factors such as financial interest, prior relations and managerial advisory services, competency, contractual arrangements, close personal relations and government and political influence interfere with independence. In the SA context, the independence of EAPs continues to be debated even after vigorous changes in the EIA regulations. The recent regulation of the EAP profession in SA marks a much-needed intervention. However, it does not guarantee EAP independence while they are still being appointed by the project proponent. Results from Kenya and Botswana do not expressly state in their EIA regulations that they have EAP independence. It appears that international practice places more emphasis on the views and opinions of the affected communities during the public participation process rather than EAP independence. In parallel, Intervenor Funding is adopted to provide financial assistance to the affected communities to encourage their participation during the EIA process in order for the process to be objective. Thus, there is still potential to strengthen EAP independence in SA. In order to achieve the desired outcome of independence, the Competent Authority (CA) must appoint EAPs on behalf of the project proponents rather than allowing EAP-client relationships. Moreover, adoption of the Intervenor Fund concept, where EAPs will be compensated for their services, is a concept that SA should consider.