Environmental legislation has mushroomed over the last few years to the extent that there are now over 500 offences that company directors can be held personally and criminally liable for.
That’s according to Clarissa Molteno, an attorney at pan-African legal services group, Bowman Gilfillan.
“Penalties range from the proverbial slap on the wrist to a fine of up to R10 million, 10 years in jail or both,” she said. “In addition, a guilty party could also have to pay a fine amounting to the monetary value of any advantaged gained, or likely to have been gained by committing the offence.”
Typical environmental offences range from the more obvious like pollution of a water resource, to the more innocuous like not getting required authorisation from the necessary government or regulatory bodies for activities not considered “green”.
Company directors and employees alike are largely unaware of the full extent of the environmental legislation. “To fully ascertain their potential liability, companies should do a proper legal due diligence of the particular laws that affect their operations,” said Molteno.
Since 2010, there has been a 122% increase in the number of non-compliances noted during inspections by Environmental Management Inspectors, the co-called “Green Scorpions” who are charged with investigating suspected contraventions of environmental legislation.
There have already been instances where companies and directors have been prosecuted for environmental offences, and fines of up to R4 million have been imposed, as well as additional orders for rehabilitation amounting to an estimated R50 million to R100 million.
“In light of the increased legislative arsenal of environmental legislation, the failure by companies to proactively and regularly assess compliance could have the effect of significantly raising the cost of doing business,” said Molteno.
Statement issued by Bowman Gilfillan