Too much power in minister's hands'
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it as sloppy, outdated, and weakened by glaring omissions.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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.