KATIMA MULILO – Law enforcement agencies have different interpretations of the Environmental Management Act. This follows an article published in New Era last week about the Zambezi River being turned into a free car wash, thus posing an environmental hazard.
The Ministry of Environment’s Morgan Saisai told New Era it was not acceptable to wash vehicles at the river. “When we talk of environmental ownership it is not only about washing cars but also those washing clothes – every water source should be protected, not to be polluted, so it is the responsibility of everyone to make sure that such things are not undertaken,” said Saisai.
Saisai added that when people are found washing their cars or clothes in the river they could be held liable to pay a spot fine of N$500 on admission of guilt.
“By law their cars can be impounded and the person can be tried in court through the Environmental Management Act. It is only that people who enforce the law – the police – are the umbrella body but they don’t acquaint themselves with some of the environmental laws,” underlined the senior official.
However, the police public relations officer in the Zambezi Region, Kisco Sitali, contradicted Saisai, saying the law is silent when it comes to people washing cars or clothes in the river or engaging in recreational activities at the river.
“On our side it is not a problem, the law is silent on it… However, it could be in the by-laws in the town’s set-up, but it is not general. We are just worried about their safety that maybe they might be caught by crocodiles, that they can drown, but not necessarily that they are not supposed to be there,” stated the regional police spokesperson.
He added that it could be a moral but not a criminal offence.
“”Those could be just environmental guidelines – some people confuse a criminal offence and ordinary guidelines. When you commit an offence you can be arrested. But in our culture we have moral laws. For instance, if you give something to an elderly person without clapping your hands, they will say you don’t have respect, but you cannot be arrested for that. That is where we should put a difference,” said.
Saisai however stood his ground and stressed that water pollution is a criminal offence like any other, and people should be arrested for that.
“If spilling oil in the ocean is a criminal offence how is spilling oil in the river not an offence? It is the duty of a nature conservator or a peace officer to arrest people who pollute the environment. Should I find them washing cars at the river I will arrest them myself,” said Saisai.
Saisai stressed that the Environmental Management Act 7 of 2007 is very clear that damage to the environment must be prevented and activities which cause such damage must be controlled.
Although the act doesn’t state how much a person should pay when found guilty of polluting the environment, under the principles of environmental management subsection (2) it states that “a person who causes damage to the environment must pay the costs associated with rehabilitation of damage to the environment and to human health caused by pollution.”
The act also advises that “community involvement in natural resources management and the sharing of benefits arising from the use of the resources, must be promoted and facilitated.”