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SOS Rhino : In the News :  Greens reject environment bill as sloppy

Greens reject environment bill as sloppy


Too much power in minister's hands'

Science Correspondent
Tamar Kahn
Business Day 1st Edition
Feb 07 2003

CAPE TOWN Conservationists have criticised the draft Biodiversity Bill, which aims to overhaul the management of SA's unique heritage of flora and fauna, describing it as sloppy, outdated, and weakened by glaring omissions.

The draft bill, which was published for public comment late last month, contains wide- ranging provisions intended to give effect to international agreements on biodiversity, and to stem SA's alarming loss of endangered species.

SA has the highest density of threatened plants and highest extinction estimates in the world, according to the World Conservation Union.

" The biggest problem with the draft bill is that it doesn't mainstream biodiversity conservation with existing legislation for example, there is no link to the draft Protected Areas Bill (which governs national parks)," said the Botanical Society's policy specialist, Mark Botha.

He also said the bill placed too much discretionary power in the hands of the environmental affairs and tourism minister with regard to the National Biodiversity Institute that was to be established, and that the institute would not have the necessary teeth to fulfil its mandate.

Botha said it would be better if the institute had its functions clearly assigned to it.

Under provisions in the draft bill, the existing National Botanical Institute will become the National Biodiversity Institute, responsible not only for plants but also for animals.

The office of the deputy director-general in charge of biodiversity within in the environmental affairs and tourism department office responded to Botha's criticism by saying that the Biodiversity Institute had to be answerable to the minister because it was a statutory body.

Independent policy analyst Rachel Wynberg said that the draft bill's efforts to regulate "bioprospecting" the hunt for plant and animal resources with commercial potential were flawed and failed to incorporate fundamental principles of international agreements to which SA was a signatory.

For example, the Convention on Biodiversity stipulates that the holders of traditional knowledge must give "prior informed consent" before resources can be collected and commercialised, but this concept was not spelt out in the draft bill, she said.

The department said it welcomed comments on apparent omissions from the legislation, and urged critics to submit their comments to the department before the period for public comment ended on February 26.

Wynberg said benefit-sharing agreements struck between "holders of traditional knowledge" and commercial entities had to be approved by the minister, but the bill did not ensure that other groups such as research institutions and communities engaged in bioprospecting were included in these benefit sharing agreements.

Markus Bergener, a programme officer for the international wildlife trade monitoring organisation Traffic, said that the bill contained "inadequate and unimaginative penalty provisions for offences committed in terms of a threatened or protected species".

The maximum penalty stipulated in the bill for a first offence is set at R250000 or a maximum prison term of two years.
" This is insufficient in light of the vast amounts of money that can be made in trading in wildlife (such as) abalone, rhino horn and rare birds," he said.



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