Professional Body for Environmental Experts is Long Overdue

Kenya is an ambitious developing country. This is as evidenced by the Vision 2030 which promises an expanded middle class and industrialization a few years coming. The development blueprint, if successfully implemented, will see Kenya making massive steps in infrastructure, tourism, agriculture, wholesale and retail trade, manufacturing and, ICT. This has to however remain within our good constitutional boundaries which are also well appreciated in the rest of the famed visions document especially under the political pillar.

The Kenyan national constitution dedicates a whole chapter to land and environment – which makes sense given that natural resources are Key to the country’s economic development. By giving ourselves the constitution, we agreed that development should not come at the cost of another person’s “right to a clean and healthy environment” or to future generations. Therefore, environmental safeguards have to be infused in any development action.

The National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), a creation of the Environmental Management and Coordination Act   of 1999 (EMCA, 1999), is charged with, among other responsibilities, supervising environmental management in Kenya. One very important tool for environmental management is Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Environmental Audit (EA). Both of the above processes are done by persons registered as Environmental Impact Assessment and Audit Experts who produce reports about proposed or ongoing projects that are reviewed by NEMA for approval and licensing.

However, these processes of EIA and EA have been abused severally either by experts, project proponents and sometimes the NEMA officials. There are many cases of EIA reports that are produced as a result of copy and paste; full of glaring inaccuracies and lacking any serious hint of professionalism. There are many stories of some people writing EIA reports for development actions in Mombasa at the comfort of their offices in Nairobi without ever making a site visit!

Unfortunately, Experts that submit such reports also demand extremely small fees from clients thus driving the professional ones out of business.

Those experts are also known to be quick to compromise NEMA officials and easily help their clients get approvals and licenses through funny means. What is therefore universally agreed on to be an effective way of regulating development has turned out to be the main reason NEMA, and by extension the ministry of environment, water and natural resources, has a bad name. This state of affairs that would resemble a jungle game must be stopped.

But unlike many, who enjoy pointing fingers and carrying placards, I wish to propose a solution. We must first start by appreciating that the practice of environmental monitoring and assessment for development activities deserves to be a lot more professionalised given its importance. Yet we cannot continue to burden NEMA in registering and regulating practitioners while fulfilling its rather very wide mandate.  It should be noted that NEMA continues to have very serious capacity issues such as shortage of staff that are also well documented and known. The nature of the EIA and EA process also requires some level of professional independence and self regulation.

I believe it is in the best interest of all stakeholders that the Environmental Impact Assessment and Audit Experts be incorporated into a statutory professional body that is independent from NEMA. The body will be in charge with specifically promoting the environment profession and public interest.  It will set standards, register and of discipline the Experts, and facilitating continuous learning and professional development for Environmental Impact Assessment and Audit Experts. The current personal outfits should be disregarded as they have miserably failed to even help their owners.

It will be nice if NEMA started mobilizing stakeholders around this idea as this remains to be the best shot at ending the ongoing tyranny of quacks and corruption and increasing efficiency and effectiveness in environmental management.

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