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Bheki Dlamini
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Our toothless legislation is responsible for pollution!

17 May 2014, 19:00

While the government is quick to judge the outcomes of the Nkandla Report and subsequently drag the public protector to court, the conduct of some organisations in this country is unashamedly tolerated. Don't judge me, some of my best friends are in government.

The promulgation of the National Environmental Management: Waste Act (59 of 2008) signalled the intent of our government to tackle the growing global environmental concerns.

The content of this piece of legislation was drafted such that it would shake even the bravest Director of a company. The breach of the regulations carried penalties such as steep fines and possible imprisonment of Directors.

Companies rallied various departments to ensure compliance. No one wanted to be arrested for throwing a banana peel on the side of the road. That’s dramatic, but the point is, while employed by a then environmentally conscious organization or so I thought, it was our responsibility to ensure that the company complied with all pertinent legislation.

Well, only until we realized that compliance was going to cost far more than a team of highly reputable legal minds could ever cost the organization. At that point, it was goodbye compliance and hello defence mode.

In a few weeks, a solid piece of legislation became porous beyond measure. I couldn’t believe it. I can never forget the moment the definition of the word “waste” was questioned and used as a scapegoat. That was it. The Directors were safe and the law made redundant.

Don’t get me wrong; there are many responsible executives out there, executives that would ensure compliance instead of burying the problem.

There’s a piece of land that was illegally used as a waste disposal site by the company. When the Waste Act was passed, the site was to be permitted for closure, according to the requirements of the act, but it was then discovered that the exercise would cost a fortune.

Solution? Declare the material disposed on the site as anything else other than waste and voila, you are compliant, courtesy of the legal team.

I have heard many times before that South African legislation is among the best in the world. If the enforcement was just as good, we wouldn’t worry about the contamination of the underground water resources, especially in a water scarce country.

 Till this day, what lies in that piece of land scares me.

I can’t help wondering when will our government do things right. The citizens of this country cannot continue to be bullied by unethical companies.

Then again, what can I expect from a government that challenges the work of another department, in court?

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