Independence of environmental consultant under the spotlight
Conservationist argues that Adriaan du Toit did not meet statutory requirements for independence
Questions have been raised again about the independence and objectivity of Adriaan du Toit, the environmental consultant who compiled the report on which basis a West Coast prospecting application was recently granted.
Concerns about Australia-based geologist Du Toit and a call for a formal investigation previously were sidestepped by the national Department of Mineral Resources.
Now one of those appealing the granting of the prospecting right has again raised concerns, and is hoping that the appeal authority – Environmental Affairs minister Edna Molewa – may take the issue more seriously than her Mineral Resources colleagues.
Du Toit was appointed as Environmental Assessment Practitioner (EAP) to compile the Basic Assessment Report for a 2016 prospecting right application by Australian mining company Mineral Commodities Ltd and its South African subsidiary, Mineral Sands Resources, on the northern banks of the Olifants River estuary.
The Department of Mineral Resources granted the application on May 8 this year.
As an EAP, Du Toit was legally required in terms of the statutory Environmental Impact Assessment regulations to be independent and objective – “even if this results in views and findings that are not favourable to the application”.
But because his CV and his LinkedIn profile both show strong professional connections to Mineral Commodities Ltd and Mineral Sands Resources since 2013 until the present day, Du Toit’s eligibility to act as an independent and objective EAP for the Mineral Sands Resources’ prospecting application has been questioned. First by the Centre for Environmental Rights during the initial stage of the prospecting application in June 2016, and now again during the appeal stage by West Coast environmental activist and conservationist Suzanne du Plessis.
Du Plessis’s appeal is one of several currently being adjudicated by Minister Molewa.
In the appeal, Du Plessis argues that Du Toit “misrepresented comments from Interested and Affected Parties, and did not act independently”.
She notes the definition of “independent” in the statutory Environmental Impact Assessment regulations:
“Independent in relation to an EAP, a specialist or a person responsible for the preparation of an environmental audit report means:
- That such an EAP, specialist or person has no business, financial or personal or other interest in the activity or application in respect of which that EAP, specialist or person is appointed in terms of these Regulations; and
- That there are no circumstances that may compromise the objectivity of the EAP, specialist or person performing such work…”
Nothing in these regulations can be construed as meaning that only full employment would disqualify a person as being non-independent.
However, this is the interpretation that Mineral Sands Resources gave in its answer to the Department of Mineral Resources when the question of Du Toit’s lack of independence was deferred to it for a response.
Du Toit’s CV includes the following:
- Under the heading Project Experience: Exploration & Mining: “Annual resource audit and resource upgrade of the Tormin Heavy Minerals Sand Deposit in South Africa – MRC [Mineral Commodities Ltd] – 2014 & 2015 & 2016”; and
- Under the heading Employment record 2010-16: “Contract. Hydrogeological and geotechnical studies and field work - Tormin Mine (RSA). 2014-15”
Tormin is the heavy mineral sands mine just to the north of the recently approved new prospecting area, owned and operated by Mineral Sands Resources.
Du Toit’s LinkedIn profile states:
“Principle [sic] Geologist and Superintendent Consultant. Mineral Commodities Ltd. 2013-2015. 2 yrs. Principle [sic] geologist and environmental superintendent consulting service – advising on aspects that direct company decisions and implementing best strategies with the MD.”
Du Plessis also pointed out in her appeal that, in a slide presentation at the recent annual meeting of MRC in Australia, Du Toit was named as a member of the company’s management team.
In its response to Du Plessis’s comments in her appeal, Mineral Sands Resources repeated the answer it had made to the Department of Mineral Resources when the question of Du Toit’s lack of independence was first raised by the Centre for Environmental Rights:
“Mr Adriaan du Toit (‘Adriaan’) has been an independent director of his own consultancy over the past 7 years and an independent consultant since 1996. A copy of Adriaan’s CV which was attached to the draft BAR is attached herein … As it is quite obvious, Adriaan and his company AEMCO, do a lot of reviews and work for numerous companies around the world, and during the above-mentioned period , he was fully employed by AEMCO and at the same time doing work, mainly, for Xstract, Kinetiko, Hanecok Prospecting and numerous other projects.
“The CV itself demonstrates the impossibility of Mr du Toit working full-time for Mineral Commodities whilst providing services to other companies, and the fact that he only got involved in offering consulting advise [sic] to MSR by the end of 2014.”
In her appeal, Du Plessis also cites Du Toit’s response to the Centre for Environmental Rights where he describes its questioning of his independence as “eco-terrorism” that “should be treated with the disgust and contempt it deserves”.
Du Plessis comments: “The tone used by the EAP [Du Toit] in responding to a substantiated complaint is concerning. The EAP does not refute the allegation that he is not independent.”
She also notes his response to CapeNature’s comments, which he terms, “Incorrect, illegal biased approach that does not follow regulatory requirements”.
It has also emerged that Du Toit – who has made disparaging and derogatory remarks about environmentalists, the South African government and people commenting on the prospecting application – allowed his membership of the South African chapter of the International Association for Impact Assessment (IAIAsa) to lapse just a few months after being appointed to manage the environmental aspects of the prospecting application in early 2016.
His membership was reflected on his CV that was used as part of his appointment procedure (“South African affiliate member of the International Association for Impact Assessment”), and as of 29 June this year he was still claiming membership on his LinkedIn profile.
Membership of a professional body was not a statutory requirement for environmental practitioners such as Du Toit in 2016, and was only gazetted in February this year. But membership of IAIAsa requires mandatory adherence to its Code of Ethics and Code of Conduct, which set strict professional behavioural requirements.
IAIAsa President Robyn Luyt said they had checked their records and Du Toit had been a member until 30 June 2016 – some three months after starting work on the prospecting application. However, he had since then not renewed his membership “and is thus no longer a member of IAIAsa”.
IAIAsa declined to comment on whether some of Du Toit’s controversial remarks on social media and responses to Interested and Affected Parties in the prospecting application, constituted a breach of the Code of Conduct and/or Code of Ethics. The association had no reach over non-members and was thus unable to investigate his conduct in so far as it reflected on IAIAsa, Luyt said.
Du Toit has neither acknowledged nor responded to a number of emailed invitations from GroundUp to comment, most recently on 3 July.
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If one remembers that the first EIA for the N2 Wild Coast Toll Road was set aside by the then Minister of Environment, Martinus van Schalkwyk in 2004 for the "lack of independence of the Environmental practitioner", the precedent has been clearly established that an EIA consultant cannot have vested interests that bring them in conflict with their public duty.
In the N2 Wild Coast saga it was shown that one of the directors of Stewart Scott International, one of the key members in the construction consortium Mr Rufus Maruma (since deceased), was the owner of Bohlweki Consultants, who did the EIA.
So lets hope Minister Molewa follows suit and sends Mr du Toit on a boomerang trajectory back to his bosses in Perth.