By Edgar Gweshe
The ongoing case in which residents of Hillside are seeking to block former Cabinet Minister, Petronella Kagonye from developing on a wetland in the area has exposed serious shortcomings in terms of application of the law with regards to environmental protection.
The Environmental Management Agency (EMA) issued an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) certificate paving way for Kagonye to develop on the area (Stand Number 19594 Harare Township) in February this year despite a High Court order of May 2019 ordering the former Minister to stop construction on the area.
The High Court order followed a court application by Hillside residents seeking to protect the wetland from destruction.
Kagonye is seeking to build a wedding venue on the area .
The move by EMA to issue the EIA was despite the fact that Hillside residents had also petitioned EMA seeking to block Kagonye’s move to develop on the area.
The residents contended that wetlands are Harare’s source of water and tampering with them would come with adverse effects on water availability in Harare and developments on the wetland would also negatively impact on the Mukuvisi River.
Environmentalists contend that EMA’s move to issue the EIA to Kagonye shows little regard for consultations with residents before issuance of certificates to develop on wetlands.
“Public consultations are very necessary before issuance of certificates to develop on wetlands. Moreover, in the case of Hillside, residents had launched objections with EMA yet they (EMA) proceeded to issue the EIA and this shows that very little regard is being paid to the concerns of the residents,” said an environmentalist speaking on condition of anonymity.
A workmate of Kagonye, one Valentine Shonho, received the EIA certificate from EMA which was issued by one Dadirai Kwenda.
Shonho confirmed having received the EIA certificate on behalf of Glorious All Times Functions, Kagonye’s firm which is intending to construct on the Hillside Wetland.
“Yes I received the EIA on behalf of Glorious All Times Functions. We applied for the EIA and our application was granted,” said Shonhe.
The move by EMA to grant the EIA to Kagonye has been viewed by Hillside residents and environmentalists as serious contempt of court as the High Court had in May 2019 stopped the Minister from carrying out any construction projects on the area. The High Court also ordered Kagonye to remove all machinery from the site.
However after the issuance of the EIA by EMA in February this year, Kagonye was back at the site resuming her construction project.
Kagonye also resumed her construction project despite the fact that her Supreme Court appeal against the May 2019 High Court judgement was yet to be determined by the upper court.
Moved by Kagonye’s actions, residents of Hillside, with the assistance of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) launched an application for execution of the May 2019 High Court judgement until determination of the Supreme Court appeal by Kagonye.
The request by the residents was granted on March 10 and Kagonye was ordered again to comply with the May 2019 High Court judgement until determination of her Supreme Court case.
Kagonye however contends that her project is in order “as we have all the necessary paper work”.
EMA Spokesperson, Amkela Sidange said she would verify on the EIA certificate issued to Kagonye but had not done so at the time of going to print.
She however said that it is possible that EIA certificates can be offered “on projects that have low impact on the environment”.
Residents and environmentalists fighting to serve wetlands in Harare continue to raise concern over the corrupt allocation of EIA certificates as well as the abuse of power by politically connected persons to grab land in the capital.