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Cape Town -
The City of Cape Town is being fined R200 000 by the provincial government for starting projects without getting environmental authorisation.
It is an offence to start work on a listed activity without first doing an environmental impact assessment (EIA) and administrative and criminal penalties can be imposed.
The Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning has imposed 10 administrative fines or penalties on the city for “unlawful activities”, ranging from R10 000 for constructing a road on a public open space to R50 000 for building too close to a wetland at Soetwater.
The fines, which are determined by the nature of the activities and their impact on the environment, must be paid before the department will give further consideration to the city’s applications.
According to a report submitted on Tuesday to the city’s mayoral committee, these administrative fines may be regarded by the auditor-general as “fruitless and wasteful”. This means that the money spent by the council on these penalties would be viewed as been “made in vain” and as expenditure that could have been avoided “had reasonable care been exercised”.
The council may ask the municipal public accounts committee to investigate each fine to determine whether there was wasteful expenditure.
In his report, Keith Wiseman of the city’s economic, environment and spatial planning directorate said activities were sometimes allowed to start without the necessary authorisation because of an emergency or unforeseen circumstances.
The city was fined R12 000 for constructing a rock revetment (embankment support) at Beach Road, Strand.
Wiseman said the city had to start the project without authorisation because the road was in danger of being swept away after the sea wall was damaged by a storm. This would have put several private properties along that stretch at risk.
Five surveillance masts were erected in Mowbray without first getting environmental approval because the city interpreted the newly promulgated National Environmental Management Act incorrectly, said Wiseman. Once the matter was cleared up, a full environmental impact assessment was done.
Wiseman said in his report that systems needed to be put in place to ensure that projects did not start without proper authorisation.
Lokiwe Mtwazi, the city’s executive director for community services, said in his notes on the report that the city had processes in place to prevent similar unlawful occurrences.
The city has appointed an environmental impact assessments officer and amended regulations for EIAs have significantly reduced the number of applications required before projects may start.
The city’s chief financial officer Kevin Jacoby said the fines should be reported as wasteful expenditure so that the city’s financial oversight committee could do its investigation.
Although the mayoral committee did not discuss the fines, mayor Patricia de Lille said: “This is quite a story. We must just pay.”