Western Cape to scrap vacant 'commissioner of environment' post after 20 years

2018-03-12 16:40
Helen Zille. (File, Beeld)

Helen Zille. (File, Beeld)

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Cape Town – The Western Cape government is set to scrap the position of commissioner for the environment, created 20 years ago, but never filled.

This incensed a young advocate, Winston Erasmus, who was called to the bar just two weeks ago and decided to take on the Western Cape government for failing to appoint an environment commissioner, who he argued could have helped prevent Cape Town's water crisis.

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In an urgent application on Monday, Erasmus asked the Western Cape High Court to declare the provincial government's failure to do so unconstitutional.

The case was thrown out of court with costs.

Speaking to News24 afterwards, Erasmus, who is the regional spokesperson of the ANC Youth League, said he was disappointed.

"This is a matter of public interest. The province is going to get rid of the environmental commissioner, a chapter 9 institution, without even having established the post," Erasmus said.

Zille, Bredell 'broke oaths of office'

Had there been a commissioner, Erasmus said the City of Cape Town would not have had a water crisis, as the commissioner would have ensured that demand management was conducted in time.

The environmental commissioner post was provided for in the provincial constitution in 1998, an independent ombud position that at the time was hailed by environmentalists as a type of "green knight". However, the office was never established.

Erasmus argued in papers that Premier Helen Zille and MEC for local government, environmental affairs and development planning Anton Bredell had "broken their oaths of office" by failing to appoint an environmental commissioner.

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He argued that the speaker of the Western Cape legislature, Sharna Fernandez, had failed to hold the executive accountable for failing to establish the office.

Erasmus said the matter was urgent because the court needed to make a finding before the Annual Performance Plan 2018 for Consideration of Vote 9: Environmental Affairs and Development Planning in the Schedule to the Western Cape Appropriation Bill to be tabled on Tuesday.

The budget, he said, made no provision for an environmental commissioner.

In replying papers, Zille said the reason the position of environmental commissioner had never come into force was because there had been "a suite of environmental and planning legislation" since 1998, which made the establishment of such an office redundant.

ANC 'disingenuous'

An environmental commissioner would therefore have duplicated the work of, and overlapped with, the functions of other organs of state.

The speaker argued in replying papers that if Vote 9 did not take place, the department of environmental affairs and development planning did not go ahead on Tuesday, the department, including CapeNature, would be without funding.

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"The consequences of that would be catastrophic," she said.

Zille commented afterwards that no similar post had been created in any ANC-run province, nor had the position been established when an ANC administration had run the Western Cape.

"It is disingenuous of the ANC to claim that the notion of a commissioner would have had any powers related to the augmentation of water under the current water crisis," Zille said.

*The public has until April 6 to comment on the Western Cape government's intention to amend the provincial constitution which would scrap the provision for an environmental commissioner. Further enquiries can be directed to Tembisa.Blom@westerncape.gov.za or 021 483 4451

Read more on:    da  |  helen zille  |  cape town  |  politics  |  environment

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