The cost of environmental impact assessment (EIA) in South Africa
Chabalala, Yuza Benneth
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The wide adoption of EIA internationally is implicitly or explicitly based on the assumption that the benefits of EIA outweigh the costs. However, there has been surprisingly little empirical research conducted on the "cost" of EIA. The latter has been mostly because of the difficult methodological challenges it presents, which include the difficulties associated with clarifying terminology and disentangling what is meant by "cost". South Africa has been a leading developing country in terms of the introduction of EIA. However, almost a decade of mandatory EIA practice has raised serious questions about unjustified and unnecessary time delays and monetary costs and a desperate need for improved efficiency and effectiveness. In light of the latter the urgent need to gain a better understanding of the "cost" of EIA is evident. This paper presents preliminary results of an empirical study on the "direct EIA cost" in relation to "overall project cost" in South Africa. The data was obtained from a detailed survey of 148 EIAs conducted in the Free State, North West and the Northern Cape Provinces. The research suggests that the average direct cost of EIA within this region of South Africa is particularly low compared to international EIA systems. However, as a percentage of total project cost, EIA in South Africa compares with the higher spectrum of international practice. The latter suggests that within the South African context a large number of EIAs are being conducted for relatively small scale projects and that the main cost burden is placed on small and medium economic enterprise. In conclusion the overall profile of EIA cost in the South African context is described in relation to four broad project categories. To take the debate forward and to allow for regional comparative analysis, it is proposed that the research be expanded to include other provinces.