- The Director of Public Prosecutions in Pretoria has declined to bring charges against the environmental consultants who helped Karpowership SA bypass environmental regulations.
South Africa’s National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) has declined to prosecute a criminal case linked to the contentious Karpowership SA project.
A case was opened in May 2021 by the Environmental Management Inspectorate (aka Green Scorpions) which investigates environmental crimes. It relates to Karpowership’s 2020 attempt to bypass the complex process of obtaining environmental permits.
At the time, the country was in the grip of the Covid-19 pandemic and Karpowership’s environmental consultants claimed that this “emergency” was a good reason to grant Karpowership an exemption under Section 30A of the National Environmental Management Act (Nema).
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Exemptions are for extreme cases where fast action – without first asking for environmental authorisation – can prevent an even bigger disaster.
Instead, consultants from Triplo4 Sustainable Solutions argued that Karpowership should be granted an exemption because its powerships would provide emergency power to hospitals, which would keep ventilators running during rolling blackouts, and those infected with Covid-19 alive.
Controversially, a senior official at the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) agreed and granted Karpowership the coveted exemption off the back of a verbal application.
But that soon unravelled when Hantie Plomp, the environmental consultant from Triplo4, was asked to confirm details of the emergency Karpowership would address.
“When the company had initially submitted their request it had indicated that the country’s electricity supply was under threat because of the increased pressure on the healthcare system as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak. The motivation for the request was to ensure an uninterrupted supply of energy to the healthcare sector, something which Eskom was unable to guarantee,” the department explained in a statement.
Instead, the DFFE suspected Karpowership planned to use the exemptions to bid for the upcoming Risk Mitigation Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme, which would not provide electricity for two years at least.
“[T]here was in fact no emergency situation,” the DFFE concluded.
Providing misleading information to secure a section 30A exemption is a serious offence: those found guilty face 10 years in jail and/or a R10-million fine.
The only legal question
It is not in dispute that Karpowership secured a section 30A exemption it did not deserve. The only question, in terms of the law, was whether the company’s environmental consultants “wilfully, knowingly or negligently” provided “incorrect or misleading information”.
“Should prima facie evidence exist of an offence, the department will bring the relevant information to the attention of the South African Police Service for further investigation and/or the Director of Public Prosecutions to commence a prosecution,” spokesperson Albi Modise told us at the time.
By May 2021, the Green Scorpions’ investigators were convinced that Triplo4 had a case to answer.
But after opening a case with the police and handing over a docket to the NPA, the case went quiet.
This is a small extract from a very in depth and well researched article written by Susan Comrie from the amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism.
Read more on this exclusive story from the amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism HERE