21 April 2022.
Compiled by Cosmas Sunguro
Some community monitors are facing a plethora of challenges in accessing the Environmental Impact Assessment certifications and any material related to the management of the environment from the offices of the Environmental Management Agency (EMA). This was revealed during a training by ZELA on Independent EIA monitoring in Arda Transau on 20 April 2022. This training attracted officials from EMA and Mutare Rural District Council, community leaders, and community monitors from ZIDAWU and Arda Transau Relocation Development Trust (ATRDT).
The main objective of the training was for participants to learn and share experiences on Independent EIA monitoring. As such, Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) processes continue to be a critical process in the diamond mining host communities. The need to carry out independent audits on mining companies is identified as critical to ensure that there is accountability among those involved in the mining activities. It is further necessary for the communities to understand the environmental impact assessment reports and critically analyse them for purposes of carrying out continued assessment of project implementations.
While some inroads have been made in ensuring that the environment is protected, it was noted that community monitors have been on the receiving end. There is a challenge when trying to access that information particularly when one approaches EMA offices. Participants cited the limited access to the documents despite having made a formal application to access them. A member from ZIDAWU recalled an incident when they had to be given access without taking photos of the document. In that case, a ZELA official emphasized the need to continue providing capacity building to ensure that the communities do not only end at the sight of EIA certificates but demand the EIA reports and Environmental Management Plan (EMP) which is an annex to the EIA document, these documents bring about more information in terms of a development project implementation and measures it promised to take to mitigate environmental damage.
Community monitors face the challenge of accessing information from EIA documentation that is voluminous to read and technical to understand whilst doing their independent EIA monitoring tasks. While the information is said to be readily available at EMA offices, it was highlighted that the information is given with limited access. Section 62 of the Constitution provides ” access to information “. Whenever information is available, it is too technical, and the language is not simplified for ordinary citizens. In response to that, the EMA official said it all depends on the request and purpose indicated on the letter of request. It was agreed that members will submit the issue of limited access so that it can be addressed in the EMA amendment bill that is underway given that an EIA is a public document.
The task of community monitoring is sometimes branded as political as it tends to expose some officials who are in the habit of taking advantage of the monitoring exercises. However, it was highlighted that some monitors tend to mix their work with politics, especially in areas like Chiadzwa where the communities are polarized such cases are a common feature. The problem then emanates when a community monitor approaches offices and officials may be skeptical of their request for information. Sometimes victimisation is a common sight as some monitors face intimidation. Accusations of corruption were also highlighted during the workshop although this could not be substantiated by evidence. However, this cannot be ruled out in the sector fraught with illicit financial flows. Short cuts become a phenomenon.
Distance is proving to be a barrier to monitors as information is centralized in Mutare town hence is not easily available without traveling. Given the ever-rising transport cost, it becomes an imminent barrier to access EIA information. In that case, decentralization was said to be the solution. According to section 264(1) ” Whenever appropriate, governmental powers and responsibilities must be devolved to provincial and metropolitan councils and local authorities which are competent to carry out those responsibilities efficiently and effectively”, for now, this Devolution has not been enough as accessibility remains a challenge. A suggestion was also made that some of the information be available on the EMA website to ease the issue of mobility.
This workshop came at the right time when the EMA ACT is being amended and there is an increase in the number of mining activities especially the small-scale miners and artisanal miners. It is important to be armed with information and evidence to conduct monitoring. As a way forward, it was agreed that engagement with all stakeholders is important including having regular workshops of this nature.
ZIDAWU Information Desk