Minister gets tough on nature crimes

MINISTER of water and environmental affairs Buyelwa Sonjica is concerned with the decrease in the number of convictions for environmental crimes.

Between April 2007 and March 2008, the number of convictions on crimes against nature stood at 748 but this figure has decreased to a mere 258 convictions between April 2008 and March 2009.

Announcing contents of the National Environmental Compliance and Enforcement report in Pretoria yesterday, Sonjica said this was cause for concern especially because 4661 cases were reported to the environmental police Green Scorpions in the period under review.

"Many cases have experienced substantial delays within the prosecution system, confirming the urgent need for dedicated court to deal with these types of cases," she said.

The minister said the process of re-establishing the environmental courts have already started.

"Officials within relevant departments are now working on the details and processes which will be submitted to the (relevant) ministers for consideration. It is envisaged that the establishment of dedicated courts (including dedicated prosecutors) would have a profound impact on the fight against environmental crime," she said.

Sonjica added that besides rhinos and elephants, poachers would go for anything from spiders to snakes.

Sonnyboy Bapela, department of environment and tourism chief director for regulatory services, said the environment courts were established in 2003 and discontinued in 2007 despite an 80percent environmental crimes conviction rate.

The National Environmental Compliance and Enforcement report has revealed that the number of admission of guilt fines nearly doubled from R744706 in 2007/08 to R1,4million in 2008/09.

The report also showed that the crack down on the cement manufacturing sector identified dust pollution as the major problem.