South African citizens have the right to a protected environment and live in an environment that promotes health and safety to human wellbeing as stated in the Bill of Rights included in the Constitution of South Africa (DEAT, 2005). The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996 (Act No. 108 of 1996) places people at the focal point of environmental management (DEA, 2014b:65). Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is a systematic process that identifies and analyses the environmental impacts due to development activities and evaluates the impacts before an authorisation is considered (Therivel et al., 2005). EIA is a legal instrument established to ensure that this law is implemented in 1997 under the Environmental Conservation Act (DEAT, 2005).
The objective of an EIA is to minimise or if possible avoid negative environmental impacts rather than mitigate them from the beginning of a project (DEA, 2015:7; Madlome, 2016:6). The commencing of any of the aforementioned activities before obtaining authorisation by the competent authority concerned is prohibited and it is an offense.
Unauthorised initiation or continuance of activities recognised in terms of the Environment Impact Assessment Regulations may be corrected through an application to the relevant MEC or Minister, depending on who the competent authority will be for such authorization in accordance with the current delegations, in terms of Section 24G of NEMA, read in conjunction with section 7 (Transitional provision) of the National Environmental Management Amendment Act (Act No. 8 of 2004). This opportunity is limited to 6 months to correct.
The Section 24G Impact Assessment Process (S24G Process)
Step 1: A company or person determines whether they are at fault for the initiation or continuance of an activity that requires authorisation in terms of the EIA Regulations without the obligatory authorisation.
Step 2: An application for redress can be submitted to the department by hand.
Step 3: The application must be reviewed. This may comprise a site inspection to confirm information provided. The applicant will be informed of further information required to consider the application based on the evaluation of the application.
Step 4: The relevant MEC or Minister shall recommend the applicant on further information and procedural requirements by means of a notice. This includes the compilation of a report after suggested public consultation. The relevant MEC or Minister will also inform the applicant of the administrative fine payable and details of the account where fees are to be deposited. The penalty will be within the parameters above.
Step 5: The applicant follows the process recommended by the relevant MEC or Minister and pay the fine.
Step 6: The applicant submits the proof of payment of the fine and the required reports to the department. Reports submitted without exemption from payment or proof of payment will not be processed.
Step 7: The department must review the reports and advise the relevant MEC or Minister to inform his decision.
Step 8: The relevant MEC or Minister must inform the applicant of his decision. This decision may involve: issuing environmental authorisation; or instructing the applicant to cease the activity and rehabilitate the environment.
Step 9: The applicant must implement the decision of the relevant MEC or Minister.