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GOVERNMENT has approved plans to impose stiffer penalties for environmental offenders as well as avail funds through the proposed environmental levy to support rehabilitation of rivers that have been degraded by illegal mining activities.

In a post-Cabinet media briefing on Tuesday, Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa said government would engage third party companies through the Environmental Management Agency (Ema) to rehabilitate the country’s environmentally degraded rivers.

These include Mazowe in Mashonaland East province, Munyati and Angwa in Mashonaland West, Manzimudhaka in Midlands province, and Save in Manicaland as well as Insiza and Umzingwane in Matabeleland South province.

The Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (Zela) has on several occasions raised alarm over environmental degradation resulting from artisanal mining activities.

“To remedy the situation, the government will, in the long-term, establish an environmental levy on all activities that degrade the environment,” Mutsvangwa said.

“In the short to medium-term, the government will engage third party companies through Ema to rehabilitate damaged mined-out areas on our rivers in the northern, southern and eastern regions.

“As a way to promote participation of the third-party companies, Ema will initially meet the rehabilitation costs, with the Treasury providing the necessary budgetary support.

“Where rehabilitation is to be undertaken on areas that have the potential for mineral recovery, the contracted third-party company will be prohibited from processing the alluvial sand within three kilometres of the river.”

Cabinet also approved the principles for amendment of the Environmental Management Act, which were presented by Environment minister Mangaliso Ndlovu.

The amendments are meant to enhance comprehensive and sustainable protection of the environment.

The amendments include imposition of penalties and minimum mandatory sentences on repeat offenders for failure to comply with the prohibition of discharging hazardous substances, chemicals and materials or oil into the environment.

Under the amendments, companies operating in areas where there is no existing sewage system will be compelled to install an effluent pre-treatment facility.

“The proposed amendments will align the Act to the Constitution and strengthen the Act by providing for the comprehensive protection of the country’s environment in a manner that ensures sustainable development,” Mutsvangwa said.

“Cognisant that environmental issues have taken centre stage nationally and internationally, the amendments will also harmonise the Act with the Public Entities and Corporate Governance Act as well as regional and international treaties and conventions which Zimbabwe is party to.”

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