http://www.iol.co.za/news/crime-courts/ ... QGwsPmG_UUEzemvelo faces R5m fine
March 9 2015 at 10:43am
By Tony Carnie
Durban - The Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife environmental conservation agency is facing a fine of up to R5 million for its involvement in another illegal development project done without prior environmental authorisation.
The R3.5 million tourist lodge development, inside the Ezemvelo-controlled Hlathikhulu Forest, near Jozini, is also mired in controversy over “sub-standard workmanship” and structural stability.
Although it was supposed to incorporate rustic log cabins, the development ended up with prefabricated wooden “wendy houses” nailed precariously on to gum poles.
And when members of the board of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife called for a detailed report on the stability of the structure, its projects unit head bluntly refused to provide any information because he said the board had been “misinformed” and was trying to place the blame on his department unfairly.
While the company that built the lodges is listed as Mabhucu Construction Suppliers of Marble Hall, Mpumalanga, Ezemvelo’s partnerships and projects manager, Ntsikelelo Dlulane, is listed as the contact person for the project’s “owning agency”.
Yet when former Ezemvelo chief financial officer Bonga Ngoma questioned the stability of the wooden cabins and called for a detailed report in August 2012, Dlulane responded:
“I am not in a position to give you the report. I am of the opinion that you have not gathered the facts correctly and would therefore afford you the opportunity to do that prior to engaging in any discussion.
“I also note with great disappointment that even the honourable board member Ms Di Dold has made deliberations about this project without facts, or she was misinformed.”
Dold raised concerns in her capacity as a board member after she inspected the partly completed lodge in 2012 during a site visit by Ezemvelo’s conservation committee.
Dold, whose term of office as a board member has since expired, confirmed to The Mercury she had raised several concerns but said she did not feel at liberty to disclose further information about confidential discussions of the board.
However, Ezemvelo has now applied to the national Department of Environmental Affairs to rectify the construction work, after the fact, which was done illegally without the environmental authorisation required under Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Regulations.
Ironically, the project was funded by the national Department of Environmental Affairs social responsibility office.
Ezemvelo is already facing separate criminal charges and hefty fines for its involvement in the illegal drainage of the Balamhlanga wetland near Jozini last year – also without prior environmental authorisation.
According to a new background information document on the illegal Hlathikhulu Forest camp project, several parts of the development were not authorised in terms of EIA and conservation laws.
Barry James, the independent environmental consultant who was appointed by Ezemvelo to seek official rectification of the illegal project, said a decision would now have to be taken on whether to demolish the whole camp, or to repair it before it was marketed to the public.
James said that while the environmental impacts of the project were “not significant” and could be mitigated, “the issue at stake is that the lack of procedural correctness in this matter has set a precedent for uncontrolled and unauthorised development in other protected areas managed by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife”. He has called for an independent architect’s report.
Ishaam Abader, the head of authorisations and compliance in the national Department of Environmental Affairs, said Ezemvelo was now liable for an administrative fine of up to R5 million and the application to rectify illegal development would not necessarily be approved.
l A public meeting will be held at the site at 10am on March 17 to discuss the future of the development. For more information, e-mail Barry James at firstname.lastname@example.org
or telephone 033 330 4984.
Body ‘applying for rectification’
Ezemvelo’s spokesman Musa Mntambo said: “It is true that Ezemvelo is the landowner. It is also important that I indicate to you that the building of a log cabin can be done within a short space of time. Ezemvelo is applying for rectification not because it is liable for the encroachment that happened during the building of the cabins.
“When we realised the encroachment we stopped the project and demanded that it be rectified.The implementing agent went missing and we could not allow the illegal ‘buildings’ to stand idle. A steering committee was established consisting of the Ezemvelo division responsible for EIAs and the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA). The steering committee recommended that Ezemvelo should apply for rectification which we have now done.”
He insisted that Dlulane’s Partnership and Projects Unit (PPU) was “never involved”.
“It only became involved when the project was complete and DEA wanted to hand it over to Ezemvelo. The PPU went to investigate the quality of the project at the request of the board. The unit was not happy with the quality as well as the encroachment. It informed DEA of its unhappiness and requested that DEA instruct the implementer to resolve the issue.”
Nevertheless, Mntambo confirmed that Dlulane was suspended from Ezemvelo after a disciplinary hearing late last year in connection with a separate issue.
Dlulane had since returned to work after “normal disciplinary processes as governed by the Labour Relations Act”.
Humphrey Sithole, listed as the managing director of the Mabhucu Construction company that built the wooden lodges, could not be reached for comment.