Article of WWF, titled Environmental Inspectors RIP?
BY THEODORA NANTSOU
Monday, November 06 2017
How do you talk about respecting environmental laws when no one is in control of violations and environmental crime? How do you cultivate environmental legitimacy as a value of great social and economic importance, when controls are constantly weakening and good practices remain invisible and unrewarded?
Since its inception in Greece, the institution of environmental inspectors has gone through many waves. The beginning was made in 2001, with the establishment of the Special Service of Environmental Inspectors, which had the sole responsibility of controlling environmental legality. In other words, as proposed by the guidelines for environmental inspection systems in the EU Member States. Then, in 2010, it became a Special Secretariat for Environmental and Energy Inspectors and in 2014 a body of Environmental, Building, Energy and Mine Inspectors.
In recent years, this important audit service has not stopped deteriorating: staff weakening, opacity over fines, political interference and pressure.
It may never have been honored with the necessary independence from political pressure and alchemy, but the environmental inspection service has had very important results for the environment as a vital common good. Significant findings and inspection programs in areas where environmental illegality is flourishing, such as Asopos, and timely inspections to detect illegalities, such as in refineries and waste disposal facilities, are some of the many ‘signs’ in the inspector’s fifteen-year history.
Since October 2017, with the new organization chart of the Ministry of Environment and Energy, the environmental inspection is being suppressed in a deep well of non-environmental protection responsibilities that even include the control of fuel smuggling. The new service is called “Special Secretariat of the Body of Inspectors and Auditors RIS”. The removal from the service title of any reference to the environment is not accidental. This broadly responsible inspection service not only does not provide any guarantee of strengthening the already weakened environmental controls, but instead breaks down the critical structure of environmental control and scatters it into uncoordinated organizational units.
Under the new special secretariat are merged two services that are unrelated to each other in terms of mission and object: the environment and tax evasion. On the one hand the body of environmental inspectors, a pure environmental inspection service with the main mission of promoting the implementation of environmental law, and on the other hand the fuel handling and storage ladders, which have as their object the customs and tax controls for the restriction smuggling and fuel fraud and reducing the loss of tax revenue. Given the particular political focus on tax evasion issues, the fear that the functioning of environmental controls will be further degraded is very strong. Especially since it is rather certain that the special secretariat will be headed by a political person chosen by each minister.
Eternal memory of environmental inspectors?
Since 2008, WWF Hellas has requested the establishment of an independent environmental inspection authority, with reference to Parliament. Independent, so that environmental controls do not depend on ministerial suggestions and party interventions. First of all, because it is necessary for this critical control mechanism to be autonomous and to have a coordinating role towards each service that carries out controls at regional level. In this effective and politically unaffected context, it is important to develop the necessary indirect control mechanisms that include voluntary principles and standards of responsible business behavior, in accordance with applicable law (issuing guidelines and recommendations, drafting codes of conduct and good practice). or means of rewarding and publicizing good performance and devaluing respectively bad practices.
There can be no rule of law without mechanisms for controlling and promoting legality, it is an empty state.