Subtheme 5: Quality Assurance and Independence of Environmental Assessment Practitioners
* Angela Andrews of the Legal Resource Centre compiled this summary of the Specialist Report.
The following constitutes a summary of a report written by consultants to the EIAMS process and does not reflect the views of the Legal Resources Centre.
Original Report by MLA Sustainability Matters: Marlene Laros
There is inadequate provision for ensuring the quality, independence, and certification of Environmental Assessment Practitioners (EAPs).
Under NEMA, the Minister of the DEA may require all EAPs involved in an environmental authorisation to be registered with a registration authority (RA). Currently there is no legal requirement for EAP registration; however, on 7 April 2011, the Environmental Assessment Practitioners’ Association of South Africa (EAPASA) was launched and will apply to the Minister to be recognised as the official registration authority for EAPs. EAPASA was formed in a joint effort between the DEA and the Interim Certification Board (ICB) of the Environmental Assessment Practitioners of South Africa (EAPSA).
The 2010 EIA Regulations lay out criteria that EAPs conducting an EIA must meet, including independence, expertise, and disclosure of any information that might influence the final decision or the objectivity of any reports. The Regulations also allow the decisionmaking authority to investigate and suspend an EAP who does not comply. In certain circumstances, an EAP may apply for exemption from the Regulations.
EAPASA Final Draft Proposal
EAPASA will cover EAPs in many different sectors and levels of government. It would require EAPs to achieve a formal certificate of competence in order to register. The DEA and South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) in 2008 established a standardised qualification system (Advanced Certificate: Environmental Assessment Practice), which will be the certification required to register with EAPASA. EAPs are evaluated along three criteria: substantive knowledge (formal education, or recognition of prior learning), skills and competence (experience), and ethics. The Advanced Certificate allows for Recognition of Prior Learning for those already working in the EIA field before the qualification system was established. Applicants must have at least 3 years experience and have conducted at least 3 EAs for which the applicant has been primarily responsible. Once registered, EAPs must re-register every 5 years, keep up with Continuing Professional Development requirements, and adhere to the EAPASA Code of Ethical Conduct and Practice. EAPASA allows points toward professional development through pro bono work.
Establishing a mandatory registration authority is an important step forward, but it is not a complete solution to all problems in environmental assessment. Other efforts are needed to strengthen the key components of quality assurance (professional competence, peer review, and a code of ethics tied to a disciplinary process).
1. EAP role is unclear: There is debate over whether EAPs should make specific recommendations to the decisionmaking authorities on whether projects are desirable or what the best environmental alternative is, or should present only the environmental impacts of various proposals. EIA Regulations require EAPs to provide a reasoned opinion, and the EAPASA Code of Ethics requires EAPs to carry out their activities in accordance with principles of sustainable development.
2. Current regulatory system does not improve environmental outcomes: Current regulations are too focused on administrative procedure, making the process inefficient and focused on meeting minimum requirements rather than shaping good practice. Once an application process has begun, applicants are unwilling to change the proposal due to time delays; thus, the focus is mostly on mitigating impacts. This subtheme report suggests that authorities be afforded more discretion to decide if an activity requires an EIA. More attention must be paid to implementation, monitoring, and enforcement in order to review the accuracy and quality of EIAs and the decisions made in reliance on it.
3. Independence and Objectivity: EAPs are usually hired and paid by the developer, which can undermine independent judgment on the environmental impacts of the project. Suggestions include establishing a roster of EAPs from which developers can choose, to prevent long-term client-consultant relationships, and paying EAPs through government or other independent bodies.
4. Gaps in Quality Assurance: The current EAPASA scheme is based on formal certification, experience, and ethics. In the future, there may be a need to expand requirements to specialist areas as well. In addition, EAPASA does not cover other practitioners involved in the EIA process, such as public participation professionals, environmental control officers and inspectors, and city planners.
5. Formal Education and Training: Programmes at educational institutes should become accredited with the EAPASA qualification system so that its graduates may be able to register. There is also a need for more learnerships, mentorships, and internships so that recent graduates can gain the experience necessary to register.
6. Peer or Expert Review: Currently, independent review of EIAs is on an ad-hoc and post-hoc basis. It is up to the decisionmaker’s discretion whether to require it, and it is done usually to advise the authority after the assessment has already been done.
7. Transformation: EAPASA has required certain levels of race and gender representation, includes a proposal for an internship and mentorship programme to grant access to new environmental practitioners, and is otherwise committed to developing a transformation strategy.
Proposals & Risks
1. Improving competence:
- Develop skills development strategy to address needs in the environmental management sector.
- Encourage educational institutes to become accredited with EAPASA, targeting architecture and planning programmes as well as environment and science.
- Develop learnerships, internships, and mentorships to address identified needs in environmental assessment and aimed at transformation of the sector.
- Monitor and research assessment processes to measure their effectiveness.
- Establish performance indicators for EAPASA.
- Risks: EAPASA may not be approved by the Minister as the official registration authority; educational institutions may be slow to cooperate; the internship programmes may not find enough work placements.
2. Institutionalising review:
- Compile list of activities or environments for which external peer review is mandatory, without limiting decisionmaker’s discretion to request independent review for any project.
- Evaluate existing guidelines for selecting an independent reviewer and develop improvements.
- Monitor and research the review system to measure effectiveness.
- Risks: Independent review will be costly.
- Monitor all EAP exemptions from EIA Regulations and assess the quality and objectivity of the work.
- Support implementation and enforcement of EAPASA Code of Ethical Conduct.
- Risks: If EAPASA is not be approved by the Minister as the official registration authority, its Code of Ethics will not be binding.
4. Investigating Future Registration Needs:
- Investigate adding a technical-level EAP category.
- Investigate the possibility of a Council for Environmental Professions under which a wider range of general and special practitioners could be registered.
- Risks: Other professional bodies may see this as impinging on their domain.