THE Environmental Management Agency (EMA), says fining offenders including corporates and local authorities for environmental crimes is not deterrent enough as the amounts have been eroded by inflation and is instead advocating for restoration penalties.
At the moment offenders are made to pay fines for crimes ranging from level one to 14 and yet the degradation and damage inflicted on the environment often remains unattended.
Speaking on the sidelines of the National Wetlands Policy management guidelines consultative workshop in Bulawayo on Tuesday, Environmental Management Agency (EMA), director general, Mr Aaron Chigona, said there was a need to urgently review the existing penalties so as to effectively clamp down on environmental crimes.
“Environmental crimes are from level 1 to 14. Those found guilty of committing level 14 crimes are currently paying $120 000, which approximately translates to US$1200 and when those people are found guilty, they just pay the fine and walk scot free,” said Mr Chigona.
“We are now advocating for environmental restoration penalty because the issue of fine is not doing anything good to our environment as they are not deterrent enough.
“If someone disturbs a wetland, they should meet the cost of restoring it because the process of restoring a wetland is too expensive.”
For example, Mr Chigona said the Bulawayo City Council has been continuously discharging sewer into Matsheumhlope and Umguza rivers with adverse impact being felt by communities downstream.
“The people affected should ask Bulawayo to restore the water to its original form,” said the EMA boss. He criticised the habit by individuals and firms accused of environmental crimes to claim that offences were committed due to issues beyond their control and easily get away with it through fines.
“Environmental crimes should not be treated like any other crime… we want the same to apply to environmental crimes and do things right if you are found on the wrong side,” said Mr Chigona.
“If you are found littering in Bulawayo or elsewhere, we will assume that you are the one who has been littering the whole of Bulawayo. You will be given a task to pick up all litter in the city.”
Permanent secretary in the Ministry of Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry, Mr Munesu Munodawafa, said the EMA fines had become insignificant in view of inflation movements.
“The fines that EMA now charges, if you recall, were taxed in USD but when there was conversion to 1: 1 with a bond note, they were denominated in the Zimbabwean dollar equivalent.
“But now with the changes in exchange rate the figures have almost remained static as the Zimbabwe dollar equivalent at that stage. So, therefore, you will find fines like 150 bond, 200 bond or less than a thousand and those fines are certainly not deterrent,” said Mr Munodawafa.
“We are hoping within the context of this policy formulation, one of the issues that we will also attend to remains to the whole issue of fines payable and beyond the fines the actions to be taken because in some cases it’s not a question of fining someone but it’s a question of asking someone to remove whatever they have started doing”.
According to the Environment Management Act (20:27) of Zimbabwe a Wetland is defined as an area of land, which is saturated by water either seasonally or perennially. Zimbabwe is a semi-arid country reliant on rainfall and wetlands for the replenishment of underground water reserves, rivers and streams. The main causes of wetland degradation are veld fires, deforestation, illegal mining activities and Agricultural activities. The Government is working on measures to ensure efficient sustainable management of wetlands to impact on food security.