The Department of Environmental Affairs has announced that it will make environmental licences automatically available to the public, without requiring submission of a request in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA).
This follows the Centre for Environmental Rights' (CER) longstanding campaign for automatic, online public access to environmental licences and compliance data, including its Promotion of Access to Information (PAIA) reports.
This announcement is a huge and long-awaited victory for transparency in environmental governance and the CER commends the Minister and DEA for its commitment to open governance and realisation of the Constitutional rights to access to information, just administrative action and environmental rights.
The announcement comes just ahead of Freedom Week, a series of civil society events celebrating democracy and freedom between 27 April and 3 May 2016 and signals a shift in environment authorities’ approach to citizen engagement in environmental governance.
Environmental licences and permits set out the conditions under which environmentally harmful operations may be conducted. The CER has long argued that the public has a right to know what those conditions are and to monitor compliance with them. However, until now, it has in many cases been extremely difficult for members of the public, civil society and the media to access these documents. Failure to comply with these conditions may lead to suspension or withdrawal of licences and is usually a criminal offence under environmental laws.
The permits listed in DEA’s new notice published under PAIA’s section 15 include environmental authorisations, waste management licences, atmospheric emission licences, Biodiversity Act permits and general permits for boat based whale watching and white shark cage diving.
While the CER regards this decision of the DEA as a significant victory, it sees this as a first step towards the longer-term goal of automatic, online public access not only to environmental licences, including those held by the Department of Water & Sanitation and the Department of Mineral Resources, but also to reports and data that demonstrate whether companies are complying with environmental licence requirements.
The DEA’s notice under section 15 of PAIA indicates that members of the public can email Phumzile Sabeka at az.vog.tnemnorivne@akebaSP
, for copies of these licences in relation to specific facilities, and that certain information may be redacted in accordance with PAIA.