The name has been coined by the press and it is likely to stick as long as the legislation lasts, but are the more than 600 Environmental Management Inspectors (EMIs) roaming South Africa really 'Green Scorpions'? If you ask the department of environmental affairs, the overriding authority of the Environmental Management Inspectorate, there are some fundamental differences between the 'Scorpions' and the 'Green Scorpions'
There are three main differences - as a directorate of the national prosecuting authority, the Scorpions are part of a single institution, while the Green Scorpions are a network of environmental enforcement officials drawn from many spheres of government. Secondly, EMIs don't only chase down green criminals, they can also issue notices that force offenders to comply with environmental legislation.The last difference is that while the Scorpions can investigate and prosecute offenders, the Green Scorpions can't go as far as the courts - they have to hand over their criminals to the national prosecuting authority to do their prosecution for them. Despite these differences, the Green Scorpions truly have a sting in their tail. For the first time in South African history, the EMIs will form a national network of environmental officials who will share intelligence, experience, standardised training and procedures in order to enforce South Africa's new environmental laws.In the course of their duties, they can enter premises to do routine inspections to check for compliance, they can seize evidence, question witnesses, take samples, establish roadblocks, arrest people and issue compliance notices. Currently, the vast majority of appointed EMIs are employed by Sanparks, with about 600 Sanparks employees from around the country having undergone training and having passed the EMI exam and been issued with EMI identity cards. The Sanparks Green Scorpions are specially designated to enforce the National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act of 2004.The next set of Green Scorpions to be designated this July will be environmental employees of the Gauteng provincial government. Only people who are employed by the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (Deat), provincial environment departments, municipal government or other quasi-government bodies such as Sanparks, Sanbi or the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park Authority can be designated as EMIs. The main acts that the EMIs are mandated to enforce are the National Environmental Management Act (Nema) and all its promulgated regulations, the Biodiversity Act, the Protected Areas Act and the new Air Quality Act.
The primary areas of enforcement will include biodiversity, protected areas, pollution and waste, coastal and marine and environmental impact assessment. There will be several levels of EMIs each of which has different powers when it comes to investigating and enforcing environmental legislation.
In accordance with Nema, the South African Police Services also has most of the powers of the inspectorate. As the green crime-fighting force is a first for South Africa, the department of environmental affairs is still developing and improving some of their training programmes, but the training is already bringing people from different environmental fields together to learn from each other's experiences.
Offenders disregard Green Scorpions at their own peril - the act that allows for the creation of the EMIs also makes it a criminal offence to give false information to them or to hinder them in their duties. On the other hand, if a person gives a Green Scorpion evidence that leads to an offender being fined, the whistleblower can be awarded up to a quarter of the value of the fine.
To help ensure that any green criminals that the EMIs bring to book are properly dealt with, the enforcement branch of the department of environmental affairs has collaborated with the justice college to train prosecutors in the ins and outs of the new environmental laws. It is also creating a forum for magistrates to get together to discuss with each other how to deal with environmental legislation and crimes.