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South Africa

Environmental Management Information Portal (ZA0019)

Overview

At-a-Glance

Action Plan: South Africa’s Third National Action Plan 2016-2018

Action Plan Cycle: 2016

Status: Inactive

Institutions

Lead Institution: Department of Environmental Affairs

Support Institution(s): State Information Technology Agency; Mintech Working Group 7

Policy Areas

E-Government, Environment and Climate, Extractive Industries, Land & Spatial Planning, Open Data, Records Management

IRM Review

IRM Report: South Africa End-of-Term Report 2016-2018, South Africa Mid-Term Report 2016-2018

Starred: No

Early Results: Did Not Change

Design i

Verifiable: Yes

Relevant to OGP Values: Access to Information Technology

Potential Impact:

Implementation i

Completion:

Description

Main objective: Development of a portal that will provide public access to information on sensitive environments.

Brief description: The portal will integrate spatial data on biodiversity, ecosystems, water, agriculture, protected areas, conservation areas, air quality priority areas, important bird areas and other environmental data to identify and map environmentally sensitive areas at a national level. Users of the portal will be able to view and interrogate the data in map format.

Intended results: This commitment will allow easy and unrestricted access to spatial environmental data. It will support the right to information. The envisaged screening report that the public can generate from the portal will provide access to and use exactly the same information base being used by government officials. The technology that will be deployed will, for the first time, allow government officials and the general public to see on a map where major developments are being proposed or have been approved. Citizens will be able to determine if such developments have the potential to impact negatively on their environment, or if it supports or compromise environmental sustainability and livelihoods.

Challenges: Transparency\Accountability\Participation\Technology innovation.

Ambition: Phase 1 of the project, to be completed at the end of March 2015, will enable users to access a range of environmental spatial datasets through one portal instead of several portals. Access to data will be easier than before. Users will be able to identify environmental sensitive areas, identify areas of high environmental potential, and obtain information describing these areas in more detail.

Phase 2 of the project, to be completed in the 2015/2016 financial year, will allow users to generate environmental sensitivity reports for any area in South Africa. These reports are prescribed in the 2014 EIA regulations. Such reports will enable government officials and the public to consider, in a more transparent way, what the potential impact of major developmental projects on the environment will be, and if any sensitive environments will be affected.

Phase 2 will also integrate the portal with the Coordinated and Integrated Permitting System (which deals inter alia with Environmental Authorisations under the Environmental Impact Regulations). The Coordinated and Integrated Permitting System is currently being developed by the Department of Environmental Affairs in collaboration with the State Information Technology Agency. This integration will on the one hand enable government departments to accurately determine the footprint associated with environmental authorisations, and on the other hand enable the public to see exactly where major developments that may have impacts on communities are planned or taking place.

Phase 3, to commence in 2016/2017, will further expand the portal to include marine and coastal datasets which are currently not available.

The portal will allow the public, developers and government officials to interrogate the same environmental datasets, generate environmental reports based on the same underlying spatial information end hence promote openness and transparency. Once fully integrated with the Coordinated and Integrated Permitting System, users will also be able to see visually where development applications have been approved, or where developments are being proposed. The public will be empowered to keep track of development proposals in any particular area in South Africa.

IRM Midterm Status Summary

4. Integrated Environmental Management Information Portal

Commitment Text:

Development of a portal that will provide public access to information on sensitive environments.

The portal will integrate spatial data on biodiversity, ecosystems, water, agriculture, protected areas, conservation areas, air quality priority areas, important bird areas, and other environmental data to identify and map environmentally sensitive areas at a national level. Users of the portal will be able to view and interrogate the data in map format.

Phase 1 of the project, to be completed at the end of March 2015, will enable users to access a range of environmental spatial datasets through one portal instead of several portals. Access to data will be easier than before. Users will be able to identify environmental sensitive areas, identify areas of high environmental potential, and obtain information describing these areas in more detail.

Phase 2 of the project, to be completed in the 2015/2016 financial year, will allow users to generate environmental sensitivity reports for any area in South Africa…. Phase 2 will also integrate the portal with the Coordinated and Integrated Permitting System (which deals inter alia with Environmental Authorisations under the Environmental Impact Regulations).

Phase 3, to commence in 2016/2017, will further expand the portal to include marine and coastal datasets which are currently not available.

Milestones: Open the portal for public access; Allow users, including public, to create environmental screening reports in accordance with the 2014 EIA Regulations; Integrate the portal with the Integrated Permitting System; Add marine and coastal datasets to the portal and make available for access to the public

Responsible institution: Department of Environmental Affairs

Supporting institutions: State Information Technology Agency, Mintech Working Group 7

Start date: April 2015 .

End date: March 2017

Context and Objectives

Environmental governance and regulation is a shared national and provincial constitutional competence, while local authorities also have constitutional mandates related to the environment.[Note177: Schedule 4A and 4B, Constitution of the Republic of South Africa. ] Environmental regulation is itself multi-faceted with separate regulatory systems for environmental impact assessment, air quality, waste, water, mining, coastal areas, and protected areas, among others.[Note178: See also National Water Act, 1996; the National Protected Areas Act, 2003; the Air Quality Act, 2004; the National Waste Act, 2008; the Integrated Coastal Management Act, 2014; and the Spatial Planning and Land Use Management Act, 2015. ] There are thus environmental datasets within and across different government departments, creating a need for an integrated portal providing aggregated environmental information across sectors.

Commitment 4 addresses this problem through continuing the development of an integrated and publicly accessible portal of environmental management information. This commitment is a continuation of one contained in both the first and second action plans focused on establishing the Integrated Environmental Management Information Portal.[Note179: Independent Reporting Mechanism (IRM) South Africa Progress Report 2013 – 2014 (Open Government Partnership) 35. ] At the time of the formulation of the commitment in 2015, an Environmental Management Geographical Information Systems webpage was already in existence.[Note180: 'Welcome to Environmental GIS', Department of Environmental Affairs, https://egis.environment.gov.za. ] As reported in the second IRM progress report, this portal is live and allows access to disaggregated datasets on protected areas, land cover, the oceans and coast, renewable energy projects, and environmental management frameworks. However, the portal as assessed at the end of the second action plan remained an online repository of disaggregated environmental information.

Activities for this commitment include further development of systemic features of the existing portal, such as opening the portal for public access and allowing users to create screening reports. They also incorporate enhancing portal information by adding marine and coastal datasets, as well as integrating the portal with a pre-existing portal on commercial developments. The activities range between medium and high specificity, because while the commitment language describes activities that are objectively verifiable, not all the deliverables are clear, such as the details of screening reports. The commitment is relevant to the OGP values of access to information and technology and innovation for openness and accountability, as it involves both the development of a system for the public disclosure of data as well as the disclosure of open data, and the technological requirements that underpin this.

Once operational the updated portal will provide a national level mapping of environmentally sensitive areas and allow users to view and interrogate the data in map format. It will also allow for civil society users to add their datasets, but will be accompanied by an obligation to keep the information regularly updated.[Note181: Ms Marlanie Moodley, EGIM Director, Department of Environmental Affairs, interview with IRM researcher, 22 September 2017.]

The potential impact of this commitment is moderate due to the integration of disparate datasets on environmental information (some of which are already openly accessible) and the provision of comprehensive and timely information on the environmental sensitivity of particular areas. It also has potential to reduce interpretive disparity in the regulatory requirements required for developments in particular areas that arise from a decentralized system of environmental permitting. However, by failing to provide for the integration of broader public-private systems of environmental sensitivity mapping the commitment remains limited in scale and scope.

Completion

This commitment is substantially completed. So far, some of the information on the existing portal is now available to download in a GIS format. Some datasets are up to date, for example, the Protected and Conservation Areas Database includes a data release for the first quarter of 2017.

Although substantial progress has been made on almost all milestones of this commitment, completion has been delayed. As Ms Marlanie Moodley, EGIM Director of the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) explained, substantial progress in implementing the first two phases of the Integrated Environmental Management Information Portal (integration of governmental datasets and user screening reports) has been made but the system has not yet gone live due to outstanding technical issues.[Note182: Ms Marlanie Moodley, EGIM Director, Department of Environmental Affairs, interview with IRM researcher, 22 September 2017.] Marine and coastal datasets (192 in number) have not yet been pulled into the Integrated Environmental Management Information Portal, but the Ocean and Coasts Department within the DEA is on board to use the portal and a project team with the DEA is working on this task.[Note183: Ms Marlanie Moodley, EGIM Director, Department of Environmental Affairs, interview with IRM researcher, 22 September 2017.] A date for opening the updated, integrated portal to public access (allowing for integrated searching from a single GIS interface) has not yet been set. It is anticipated that this will take place by mid-January 2018, which means the commitment is on track for completion by the second year of implementation.[Note184: Ms Marlanie Moodley, EGIM Director, Department of Environmental Affairs, interview with IRM researcher, 22 September 2017.]

Another issue influencing the timeline has been the failure to secure the Department of Mineral Resources’ (DMR) buy-in to the use of the Integrated Environmental Management Information Portal. This potentially undermines the objectives of the new system. As the competent authority for environmental applications related to mining is the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR), the DEA cannot obligate the DMR to specify the use of screening reports from this portal. Ms Marlanie Moodley, EGIM Director in the DEA, said that the DMR uses a different information system and has yet to be convinced of the benefits of the new initiative.[Note185: Ms Marlanie Moodley, EGIM Director, Department of Environmental Affairs, interview with IRM researcher, 22 September 2017.]

The integration between the Integrated Environmental Management Information Portal and the Integrated Permitting System is proving to be more difficult than anticipated and is proceeding slowly. Despite the setbacks, the expectation is that this phase of the project will also be completed by the second year of implementation.[Note186: Ms Marlanie Moodley, EGIM Director, Department of Environmental Affairs, interview with IRM researcher, 22 September 2017.]

Early Results

The updated Integrated Environmental Management Information Portal and new features are still under development and have not yet gone live. When asked about the new system an environmental assessment practitioner and an environmental civil society organisation had no awareness of its existence.[Note187: Reece Alberts, Centre for Environmental Management, North-West University, email communication with IRM researcher, 28 August 2017; Melissa Fourie, Executive Director, Centre for Environmental Rights, WhatsApp communication with IRM researcher, 25 August 2017. ]

Failure to secure the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) use and support of the new portal does not augur well for the transformative impact of the commitment, as the DMR’s authorization of mining in sensitive areas has been highly contentious and the subject of a number of court review applications.[Note188: 'Mabola Protected Environment', Centre for Environmental Rights, https://cer.org.za/programmes/mining/litigation/mabola-protected-environment.]

Next Steps

The commitment should be implemented in the remaining period of the action plan. As this commitment has already been carried over twice and is nearing completion it is not recommended that it should be taken forward in the next action plan.

IRM End of Term Status Summary

4. Integrated Environmental Management Information Portal

Commitment Text:

Development of a portal that will provide public access to information on sensitive environments.

The portal will integrate spatial data on biodiversity, ecosystems, water, agriculture, protected areas, conservation areas, air quality priority areas, important bird areas, and other environmental data to identify and map environmentally sensitive areas at a national level. Users of the portal will be able to view and interrogate the data in map format.

Phase 1 of the project, to be completed at the end of March 2015, will enable users to access a range of environmental spatial datasets through one portal instead of several portals. Access to data will be easier than before. Users will be able to identify environmental sensitive areas, identify areas of high environmental potential, and obtain information describing these areas in more detail.

Phase 2 of the project, to be completed in the 2015/2016 financial year, will allow users to generate environmental sensitivity reports for any area in South Africa…. Phase 2 will also integrate the portal with the Coordinated and Integrated Permitting System (which deals inter alia with Environmental Authorisations under the Environmental Impact Regulations).

Phase 3, to commence in 2016/2017, will further expand the portal to include marine and coastal datasets which are currently not available.

Milestones: Open the portal for public access; Allow users, including public, to create environmental screening reports in accordance with the 2014 EIA Regulations; Integrate the portal with the Integrated Permitting System; Add marine and coastal datasets to the portal and make available for access to the public.

Responsible Institution: Department of Environmental Affairs

Supporting Institutions: State Information Technology Agency, Mintech Working Group 7

Start Date: April 2015

End Date: March 2017

Commitment Aim

This commitment, carried forward from both the first and second action plans, sought to establish an Integrated Environmental Management Information Portal to address the problem of disaggregated environmental datasets within and across government departments. While some of these datasets are publicly accessible on an Environmental Management Geographical Information Systems webpage,[53] the new portal was designed to be an online repository of disaggregated data (such as on protected areas, land cover, the oceans and coast, renewable energy projects and environmental management frameworks).[54]

Status

Midterm: Substantial

By the midterm, the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) made substantial progress in implementing the first two phases of the Integrated Environmental Management Information Portal through the integration of government datasets and development of user screening reports. A project team within the DEA also began integrating marine and coastal datasets into the new portal. Outstanding technical issues (for example, ensuring the portal functions with the Integrated Permitting System) prevented the portal from going live by the time of the midterm review, although the DEA anticipated setting a launch date for mid-January 2018.[55]

End of term: Substantial

By the end of term, the DEA had not yet launched the Integrated Environmental Management Information Portal. All milestones relating to this commitment therefore remained at the same status as the midterm review. The publicly-accessible Environmental Management Geographical Information Systems webpage remains active with updated datasets.

Although not initially conceptualised as part of Commitment 4, the DEA concentrated its efforts on developing a national screening tool.[56] The screening tool, launched in July 2018, is a geographically-based web application that draws on 180 datasets to enable government, civil society and the public to determine if an area is environmentally sensitive.[57] In particular, it allows a proponent intending to submit an application for an environmental authorisation in terms of the 2014 Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations to pre-screen their proposed site, down to the level of individual municipal erfs.[58] Under Regulation 16(1)(v) of the Regulations, a pre-screening report generated by the screening tool must accompany any application for an environmental authorisation.[59]

The DEA developed a webinar to outline the functionality of the screening tool in collaboration with the International Association for Impact Assessment.[60] A total of 262 people attended the 2.5-hour live event.[61] A recording of the webinar is available on the national screening tool site.

The DEA is also involved in the South African Environmental Information Metadata (SANEIM) Project. The SANEIM project aims to develop, populate and maintain a complete, current and accurate catalogue of metadata on significant environment-related information. The project is being undertaken with the South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON) and the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform.[62]

Did It Open Government?

Access to Information: Did Not Change

Although work on an Integrated Environmental Management Information Portal proceeded over the cycle of the third action plan, it resulted in no substantive change in access to information, as datasets at the end of term were available in the same format and on the same portal as they were at the start of the action plan’s cycle.

Strictly speaking, the screening tool is not relevant to Commitment 4. It is nevertheless a major step forward in access to environmental information as it consolidates information on environmental sensitivity into a single interface that is aligned with regulatory requirements. Previously, private sector applicants needed to sift through numerous datasets and government had no objective tool against which to test environmental sensitivity claims without working through the datasets themselves or conducting a site visit. Civil society and government actors alike have welcomed the screening tool as a positive change in the quality of environmental decision making. For example, in an email addressed to the DEA commenting on an information session on the screening tool, Ms Nicky McLeod, a Grade A control officer at the Gauteng Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and an environmental assessment practitioner,[63] and Marc Leroy, also a Grade A control officer at the Gauteng Department of Agriculture and Rural Development,[64] expressed satisfaction with the development of the screening tool to date. It remains to be ascertained whether stakeholders prefer the screening tool to the Integrated Management Information Portal, and whether the screening tool is intended to replace the latter.

Carried Forward?

At the time of writing this report (September 2018), South Africa has not finished developing its next action plan. Since this commitment has already been carried over twice and is nearing completion, and the screening tool has been launched, the IRM researcher does not recommend carrying it forward to the next action plan.

[54] Independent Reporting Mechanism (IRM): South Africa Progress Report 2016 – 2018, 46, https://www.opengovpartnership.org/wp-content/uploads/2001/01/South-Africa_MidTerm-Report_2016-2018.pdf.

[55] Ibid 47.

[56] Ms Marlanie Moodley, EGIM Director, Department of Environmental Affairs, telephone interview with IRM researcher, 29 October 2018.

[58] Ms Marlanie Moodley, EGIM Director, Department of Environmental Affairs, telephone interview with IRM researcher, 29 October 2018.

[59] Department of Environmental Affairs ‘Welcome to the national screening tool’, https://screening.environment.gov.za/screeningtool/index.html#/pages/welcome

[60] Ms Marlanie Moodley, EGIM Director, Department of Environmental Affairs, telephone interview with IRM researcher, 29 October 2018.

[61] Deon Marais et al, ‘Presentation of Webinar Analytics: Demonstration of South Africa’s National Environmental Screening Tool’, 21 August 2018, Johannesburg.

[62] Ms Marlanie Moodley, EGIM Director, Department of Environmental Affairs, email communication with IRM researcher, 30 October 2018.

[63] Nicky McCleod, environmental impact assessment practitioner, email addressed to Ms Dee Fischer and Ms Marlanie Moodley on 26 July 2018 and made available to the IRM researcher.

[64] Marc Leroy, Grade A Control Environmental Officer, Gauteng Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, email addressed to Ms Marlanie Moodley on 21 August 2018 and made available to the IRM researcher.


Commitments

  1. Citizen-Based Monitoring

    ZA0016, 2016, Capacity Building

  2. Open Budgeting

    ZA0017, 2016, Capacity Building

  3. Back to Basics Programme

    ZA0018, 2016, Anti-Corruption Institutions

  4. Environmental Management Information Portal

    ZA0019, 2016, E-Government

  5. Institutionalisation of Community Advice Offices as Part of the Wider Justice Network

    ZA0020, 2016, Capacity Building

  6. Department of Public Service and Administration

    ZA0021, 2016, Open Data

  7. OGP Awareness Raising Campaign

    ZA0022, 2016, E-Government

  8. Implement the G20 High Level Principles on Beneficial Ownership Transparency 2. Implement a Register of Legal Persons and Arrangements

    ZA0023, 2016, Beneficial Ownership

  9. Develop and Implement an Accountability/Consequences Management Framework for Public Servants

    ZA0009, 2013, Conflicts of Interest

  10. Service Delivery Improvement Forums (SDIFs)

    ZA0010, 2013, E-Government

  11. Mainstream Citizen Participation in the Public Sector

    ZA0011, 2013, Capacity Building

  12. Develop an Integrated and Publicly Accessible Portal of Environmental Management Information

    ZA0012, 2013, Environment and Climate

  13. Development of an On-Line Crowdsourcing Tool That Will Allow the Public to Submit Data on Protected Areas and Conservation Areas.

    ZA0013, 2013, Environment and Climate

  14. Schools Connectivity

    ZA0014, 2013, Education

  15. Implement a Know Your Service Rights and Responsibilities Campaign

    ZA0015, 2013, Capacity Building

  16. Accountability/ Consequences Management Framework

    ZA0001, 2012, Conflicts of Interest

  17. Service Delivery Improvement Forums

    ZA0002, 2012, Public Participation

  18. Know Your Service Rights and Responsibilities

    ZA0003, 2012, Capacity Building

  19. National Anti-Corruption Forum and Anti-Corruption Hotline

    ZA0004, 2012, Capacity Building

  20. Guidelines for Corruption-Related Sanctions

    ZA0005, 2012, Capacity Building

  21. Develop a Citizen Participation Guideline

    ZA0006, 2012, Capacity Building

  22. Enhance Involvement of Civil Society in the Budget Process

    ZA0007, 2012, E-Government

  23. Environmental Management Portal Feasibility Study

    ZA0008, 2012, E-Government