Public participation is required as part of the legal processes of many pieces of legislation. It is a process of identification, registration and notification of interested and affected parties (I&APs) regarding a proposed development. It involves two-way communication between I&AP’s and appointed independent stakeholder engagement professionals. It must be noted that public participation is not a once-off event but should be done throughout all phases of the proposed development.
What makes PPP in the Eastern Cape unique?
The Eastern Cape is mostly rural and underdeveloped. Land ownership and management are different in rural areas compared to urban areas. The traditional authority is the custodian of the people’s property and therefore public participation must start with the tribal authority (as the landowner), as well as the community members (as the occupants of the property).
Public participation, especially in a rural setting requires observation of protocol of the traditional authority in the area. For example, when entering the homestead of the chief in the former Transkei, visitors are expected to dress in a certain way. In some instances, it may be considered rude to speak directly to the chief as it is expected that one communicates through the headman. It is, therefore, essential to understand the local culture and the isiXhosa language, which is widely spoken throughout the province to ensure effective communication.
Unemployment is a socio-economic challenge that affects the province significantly. As a result, developmental projects are perceived as employment opportunities to the surrounding communities. It is therefore important to communicate the anticipated jobs to be created by the proposed development clearly to avoid raising expectations that cannot be met.
The use of local labour and capacity building of the community members so that they can be employed during construction and operational phases is key to building social capital and avoiding misunderstandings, which may lead to objection to the development by the local communities.
What are the benefits of Public Participation?
Benefits of public participation are multi-layered. Firstly to the I&AP as initial notification draws their attention to the fact that there is a potential development that may affect them positively or negatively. Secondly, the public also benefit from the process by being able to provide input on issues such as ownership of affected properties, sensitivities of the surrounding environment and existing infrastructure or alternatively land uses that may be affected by the proposed development. The developer is then able to take all comments provided by I&APs into consideration during decision making throughout the project lifespan. Finally, the decision making authority receives a comments and responses report, which enables them to decide on the proposed development in a fair and objective manner.
What are the risks of not accurately capturing public comments?
Complete transparency regarding the risks and opportunities of the proposed development is necessary. This allows the I&APs to weigh their options carefully before they decide to support or oppose the development. Should this not happen, the developer runs the risk of project delays or stoppage due to community dissatisfaction, financial losses because of project delays and reputational damage due to incidents linked to the project. Communities may also request Non-Governmental Organizations to represent their concerns in courts of law, where they are of the view that legislative responsibilities have not been fulfilled accordingly.
Should you have any Public Participation or Environmental Impact Assessment queries, please contact EIMS (www.eims.co.za).
Andisiwe Stuurman, Environmental Consultant: EIMS (Pty) Ltd