First NEMBA criminal case: Developer found guilty
State vs Granada Home Builders (Pinetown Case 601/02/2017)
Laws take effect when they are enforced. See the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act (NEMBA) beginning to take effect. Read how collaboration between members of the public, the Department of Environment Affairs (DEA) and the Courts led to a successful prosecution under NEMBA and the eradication of a serious infestation of alien invasive species. Community conservation at work!
The Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) Biosecurity Compliance Monitoring unit in KwaZulu-Natal in 2016 received a complaint about a property infested with invasive species. On 12 May 2016, an inspection was conducted by the Environmental Management Inspectors (EMIs) known as the Green Scorpions (a network of environmental enforcement officials drawn from many spheres of government). During the inspection, EMIs observed listed invasive plant species such as Syringa, Bugweed and Castor-oil plant. These plants posed a serious fire hazard to the neighbouring properties, and nearby residential owners were concerned they would lose their properties in the event of a wildfire. The offending property was not fenced off, was adjacent to residential complexes and was accessible to the public. The property also served as a hiding place for local criminals.
The infestation of listed invasive species may impact on the value and productivity of land. In addition, invasive species reduce water flow and water quality, lead to extinction of species, cause erosion and destroy animal habitat.
A pre-directive and final directive were issued in terms of section 73 (3) of the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act (NEMBA) to Granada Home Builders. However, the recipient of the directive failed to comply with a directive which instructed it to (within thirty (30) working days of receipt of the final directive) submit to the Department of Environmental Affairs a detailed work programme for the clearing and eradication of the species on the site. Despite therefore providing a number of opportunities for Granada Home Builders to address this matter, the listed invasive species were not cleared and eradicated from the site. Accordingly, a criminal investigation was initiated and the finalised docket was handed over to the National Prosecuting Authority to make a decision on whether or not to proceed with a prosecution.
On 1 September 2017, the criminal case against the accused, Mr Valaithum Chetty (who is the sole member of Granada Home Builders cc) was finalised in the Pinetown Magistrates Court. The accused appeared on charges relating to environmental offences. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to R50 000 or 2 years imprisonment suspended for 5 years on strict condition that he would not contravene the NEMBA.
This case illustrates the important duties of landowners set out in the environmental legislation, including the obligations to report listed invasive species occurring in their properties to the competent authority (DEA), to take steps to control listed invasive species, to prevent spreading of listed invasive species and to take all required steps to prevent or minimise harm to biodiversity. As a result of the enforcement action, Granada Home Builders have come into compliance and the accused spent approximately R350 000 in rates, environmental reports and the removal of invasive species from the property.