As the destruction of wetlands continues in Harare, calls have been made for the amendment of the country’s Environmental Management Act to limit powers of the responsible Minister.
By Edgar Gweshe
Under Zimbabwe’s Environmental Management Act, the responsible Minister has powers to allow or stop developments on wetlands and environmentalists are concerned that the Minister can utilize his or her discretion to the detriment o the environment.
The development has been attributed to the destruction of wetlands in Harare with several cases being before the courts as environmentalists try to appeal against environmental degradation as a result of development being prioritized ahead of the need to protect the environment.
Speaking at a breakfast meeting for legislators organized by the Harare Wetlands Trust (HWT) last week in Harare, human rights lawyer, Fiona Lliff said it was high time wetlands are regarded as water sources rather than pieces of land.
“Protecting wetlands implies protecting the right to water and wetlands need to be treated as water sources rather than pieces of land. Also, you will find out that there is too much power vested in the Minister responsible for the environment and that needs revisiting.
“The issuance of Environmental Impact Assessment certificates also needs revisiting if we are to protect our wetlands from further destruction,” said Lliff.
On the issuance of the EIA certificates, there is concern among environmentalists that the current framework where the fee charged by the consultant is paid by the developer creates conflict of interest for the consultant.
Speaking at the same event, Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA) Acting Director, Shamiso Mtisi challenged legislators to enact legislation that protects the environment.
He said wetlands should be declared as ecologically sensitive areas.
“Members of Parliament have a role to represent their communities and this also applies to councilors. In the same vein, citizens should be able to object to any form of development that leads to degradation of the environment,” said Mtisi.
Member of Parliament for Mabvuku-Tafara, James Maridadi blamed rowdy politicians for environmental degradation including the destruction of wetlands.
He said there was need to ensure that the law is applied without fear or favour.
“We all know that people behind the destruction of wetlands are land barons and we all know who the land barons aree as well as who protects the land barons,” said Maridadi.