The Specialist report by Rod Bulman of Phelamanga Projects delved into the responses to a questionnaire and lists 17 issues against which proposal are made. Here, these issues are listed first, and a subset of bullet points are collated from the comments submitted to the Ten Year Review of EIA and this process.
1. Assessment of each public participation process
The complaints about the conduct of public participation processes are valid in certain cases
2. Access to information
Access to information, reports, and the process itself is often problematic for I&APs.
The exploration of alternatives is often neglected.
o Inadequate exploration of alternatives leads to a poor understanding of the opportunity costs which go with an authorisation
4. Capacity building
Proposals are often presented in a manner that does not promote a clear understanding of the proposed development and the environmental implications.
There is a commonly held view that public participation is often undertaken by those with scientific expertise but without the required public participation skills.
o A lack of professional facilitation skills by those conducting the process
It is impossible to legislate for ethics, however it is possible to require adherence to a Code of Ethics.
o Doubt in the independence, ethics and conduct of the EAP
The independence of EAPs and public participation practitioners cannot be guaranteed by financial criteria only. The best way to improve independence is to make provision for peer review on demand.
A number of exclusionary practices have been mentioned. These are often unthinking and unconscious and have to be confronted. They include insensitive choice of
• language and technical terminology in documents such as BIDs, notices and advertisements,
• venues for meetings that are remote from places where I&APs live, times for meetings and events that clash with community timetables
o Barriers to access include language, format, volume, means of dissemination, complexity (ease of understanding)
o Meetings convened in languages, at times and in places which are insensitive to the affected community
o Means of communication not appropriate to the community profile
o Inadequate means of identifying and reaching communities, leaders, NGO, CBO, PBO and interest groups.
o Public participation fails to reach the youth, and they are a significant demographic and the part of society that will be impacted by decisions for the longest time
Meetings are often unproductive ways of achieving meaningful public participation.
o Meetings are not tailored to be productive and to achieve meaningful public participation
Some of the shortcomings in the methodology followed in current public participation processes stems from a lack of understanding of the nature of the affected communities.
o Lack of objectivity in reporting / too much emphasis on the proponent’s needs
o The process fails to ensure fair and sufficient engagement
o The requirement for public participation in strategic tools is inadequately defined and applied.
o The quality of the process is not assessed and there is no effective recourse when the process is poor
o The engagement has no lifespan beyond authorisation; the public live with the impacts during and after and a platform for continued engagement is required
o Professional findings and opinions are not adequately integrated into decision making
o Consultation and communication between departments and spheres of governments is inadequate and not transparent
o The public is not adequately informed of the probable and potential impact on the environment, nor are the implications of those impacts given context which are relevant to them (vs the proponent/development)
Mediation and alternative conflict resolution mechanisms could possibly be used, especially in situations where feelings are running high.
The use of mediation and conciliation is provided for in NEMA S 17.
However it is important that these techniques are not used in an attempt to mask flaws in the process or the proposed development. Neither should they be used to “sell” a particular development to the community.
o The process is open to abuse, and conflict resolution or mediation is not effectively used
12. Notification and communication
The often erratic and apparently selective methods of communication are often troublesome.
There is a perception that the practice of public participation is not governed by any principles
o The purpose and principles of public participation are misunderstood / misrepresented
14. Public participation specialist
Public participation is becoming increasingly problematic for all concerned.
o I&APs suffer from participation fatigue, community resources are stretched thin, and there is little consideration for parallel demands on the community resources
o Proponents experience the process as dragged out and used as a platform for unrelated issues.
15. Regulator competence
There is no quick fix for the shortage of capacity in the environmental departments in all three spheres of government. However the recommendations regarding competence and ethics outlined above are equally applicable to government officials.
16. Time frames and timing
There is confusion over the time periods to be observed particularly by I&APs, EAPs and proponents.
o Timeframes are not transparent, especially when there are delays (largely a communication problem)
17. Screening and flexibility
The issue of screening and flexibility is an issue that requires a great deal more discussion and investigation.