Wednesday, 27 February, 2008

groundWork asks for public protection against the DEAT

groundWork has approached the Public Protector to intervene in DEAT’s push for incineration. For many years, groundWork has been calling on government to have a clear policy about the incineration of waste, especially hazardous waste. groundWork is opposed to incineration as the burning of waste emits toxins, including two of the most dangerous known to man, dioxin and furan, and heavy metals into the air. These emissions have been scientifically proven to cause disease within both people and animals. In addition, once something has been burned up it is lost forever, and this is wasteful of resources.

In mid-2007 DEAT began a “National Policy Development Process for High Temperature Thermal Waste Treatment”. Because it was the stated intention of the DEAT to run the process of policy development parallel to the development of guidelines about what can be burned and how, it was clear that the policy decision had already been made: waste is to be burned. Civil Society nevertheless involved itself fully in the process and, because no funds were made available by DEAT, groundWork has paid for many people from communities affected, or potentially affected, by waste incineration to go to Pretoria to participate in the meetings. In addition, groundWork contracted an international expert on incineration, Alan Watson, to evaluate and comment on the process and made his report available to the DEAT.

At the last meeting it was made clear by the DEAT that our participation has had no effect and delegates were informed by Chief Director Nolwazi Cobbinah that “DEAT does not have to respond and give reasons as to why they do not consider your comments”.

Given our grave concern regarding incineration, and our doubts as to the legitimacy of the current policy process, groundWork has prepared a submission to the Public Protector, asking him to investigate the DEAT and its attitude towards incineration and public participation. Specifically, we request him to intercede on the following grounds:

  1. Incineration is a violation of our constitutional right to a healthy environment. We believe that the DEAT is betraying this right because of industry pressure;
  2. Maladministration of resources resulting in fruitless and wasteful expenditure, as it is clear that the process was simply for show and had no purpose other than to pretend at public participation;
  3. As the DEAT was well aware that the process was simply for show, they have dealt dishonestly and improperly with public funds by employing such funds in the project. Our understanding is that the overseas consultants employed by the DEAT have cost a great deal of money and we suspect that industry might have funded aspects of their consultation to the DEAT.
  4. The individuals within DEAT who are responsible for the policy process have a long history as supporters of incineration. These individuals were involved in the permitting of the Aidsafe Incinerator which has recently been shut down because of unsafe operating conditions, and the Thermopower Heat Treatment plant that is currently being investigated by the Green Scorpions because of health impacts on their staff and neighbours. We believe that this personal bias is not in the public interest and has resulted in flawed policy outcomes.
  5. The DEAT has not consulted with community people who live adjacent to these cement kilns and, in fact, only proposes to consult in March 2008. The decisions, however, have already been taken. groundWork had to bring people to Pretoria to participate in the last government meeting we had in order to ensure that their voices were heard.

“A process of public participation which simply ignores the public is both wasteful of resources and dishonest”, says Bobby Peek, Director of groundWork. “The Constitutional Court has said that government has a duty to consult with people before it makes decisions. I am sure that this also means that it has a duty to listen to those people, and to act on what those people tell it.”