Deputy Speaker, the ACDP recognises that in South Africa, as in every country, infrastructure underpins economic and social development and is the driver of business and employment opportunities. It is critically important for the state to ensure that infrastructure grows sufficiently in order to serve the expanding economy and population. It is also important that it is built, operated and maintained efficiently and cost effectively.
The ACDP supports the principle of streamlined and integrated processes of approval, and supports sustainable and responsible infrastructure development in general.
Now, stakeholders have noted that the Department of Economic Development has taken on board some of the concerns expressed. But concerns remain that the Bill, as it stands, still violates a number of constitutional rights and obligations, making it vulnerable to constitutional challenge.
Over and above the procedural aspects of the fast-tracking proposed in this Bill, it is important to understand the potentially radical consequences of short-cutting established timeframes or the environmental impact assessment, EIA, public participation and appeal. In short, simple terms, poor or inadequate assessments of risks posed to water quantity and quality, particularly in the drier and more variable climate zones of the country, can expose entire communities to loss of access to drinking water.
South African taxpayers are already bearing the cost of poor planning and inadequate regulation of environmental impacts and, ultimately, it is the poor and vulnerable communities who cannot afford to relocate to avoid environmental pressures. The very communities that the strategic infrastructure projects, SIPs, are supposed to assist will bear the brunt.
The ACDP recognises the necessity for improved infrastructure and access to essential services. However, we also recognise the need for suitable strategic and impact assessment processes with expert input and public consultation phases which are crucial in determining the type of infrastructure that is best suited to the region and service. Instead of delaying infrastructure roll-out, these processes can serve to minimise the impacts, environmental risks and long-term maintenance costs of the infrastructure projects.
The ACDP welcomes the introduction of the Bill and appeals to members of the committee to address the issues raised before they become constitutional challenges or, worse, community disasters. Thank you.