Chemical Disaster: UPL hunkers down in ‘right to silence' legal trench

Asia's Tech News Daily

United Phosphorus Limited has taken refuge behind a legal laager, refusing to disclose a raft of regulatory and safety documentation to Durban residents. It has also refused to fund or to take part in a new public forum to access more information about the Cornubia chemical disaster.

Chemical Disaster: UPL hunkers down in ‘right to silence’ legal trench
© Copyright (c) Daily Maverick , All Rights Reserved

United Phosphorus Limited (UPL) and its media consultants ventured out to the frontline of public opinion last week, but very soon the company beat a hasty retreat to its legal redoubt where it invoked its “right to silence” and the “right against self-incrimination”.

The UPL media offensive began on Wednesday, 20 October when the company issued another public statement calling on the eThekwini municipality to reopen several beaches that have been closed for three months after a cocktail of toxic chemicals poured into the sea from its chemical warehouse inferno.

Chemical Disaster: UPL hunkers down in ‘right to silence’ legal trench
© Provided by Daily Maverick chemical disaster upl Marcel Dreyer, the UPL regional head for Africa and the Middle East and national Environment Minister Barbara Creecy huddle under umbrellas during an inspection of the Cornubia farm poisons warehouse on 3 October 2021. (Photo: Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environmental Affairs).

The sea and beaches were safe once more, it said, thanks to a multimillion-rand UPL clean-up operation. The time had come to halt “unnecessary delays” and allow people to frolic on this coastline.

Japhet Ncube, former editor of The Star newspaper and newly appointed spokesperson for UPL South Africa, also went on radio, telling SAfm presenter Stephen Grootes that his company was “part of the community’’ and wanted to support the local hospitality industry’s ability to attract holidaymakers back to hotels and restaurants next to the city’s northern beaches.

But Ncube ran into rough weather while facing awkward questions from both Grootes and Durban environmental justice activist Desmond D’Sa.

Later that evening, UPL’s lawyers sent a frosty response to the Cornubia Fire Action Group, an umbrella group of residents that lodged a detailed shopping list of information requests using the Public Access to Information Act (PAIA).

Andrew Clark of Durban-based Cox Yeats attorneys said UPL would accede to nine of the action group’s information requests (many of which are already in the public domain) — but it was refusing or declining to grant access for another 28 requests.

Among the 28 information items refused are requests for a copy of the property lease between UPL and the landowner; a copy of any environmental impact assessment for the storage of listed dangerous goods, building plan approvals and any risk assessments done under the Major Hazardous Installations Act.

The action group further requested records of all complaints of human health impacts caused by the UPL pollution which identify where, when and how complainants got sick (excluding personal information) and whether UPL had permission to import certain banned or restricted chemicals regulated under the Rotterdam Convention.

Finally, the action group asked for “any record of state subsidisation (national, provincial, municipal or parastatal), ‘fast-track’ approval, investment, incentive, relaxed exchange control provisions, tax benefits, capital depreciation allowance, or related loopholes, or any form of concessions on payments for water, electricity, municipal services, rentals or other government-based or Cornubia-specific goods and services”.

In response to this last item, Cox Yeats ventured that the request was “broad and vague, hence it is not discernible what records are sought. On this basis, the requests are declined.”

The retreat to the laager was emphasised on Saturday, 23 October, when UPL failed to pitch for the launch of the Cornubia Multi-Stakeholder Forum — a “conduit for information to flow” from government regulators to the general public and other stakeholders.

Chemical Disaster: UPL hunkers down in ‘right to silence’ legal trench
© Provided by Daily Maverick upl creecy Forestry, Fisheries and Environment Minister Barbara Creecy. (Photo: Tony Carnie)

The new forum, set up on instruction by national Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment Minister Barbara Creecy and her provincial counterpart MEC Ravi Pillay, follows a storm of protest about the poor information flows to the public despite the potentially serious health consequences of exposure to toxic chemicals.

Creecy and Pillay said two weeks ago that UPL would be asked to fund the establishment and operations of the new forum in terms of the “polluter pays” principle of the National Environmental Management Act.

Pillay has also suggested that the forum should operate for at least two years, and longer if need be.

But UPL had now indicated that “it does not intend to fund the forum,” said Heinz Kuhn, legal adviser to the provincial Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs. Kuhn said the refusal to provide funds was “something that government will have to take up with UPL”.

The Mumbai-controlled company confirmed that its lawyers had written to the department to advise that it would not attend the forum launch.

UPL said it found some of the forum’s proposed terms of reference to be “objectionable”, while the “overly broad mandate that was proposed for the forum and the extensive powers accorded to it” could confuse the roles of government with those of stakeholders and make it “potentially unworkable”.

Chemical Disaster: UPL hunkers down in ‘right to silence’ legal trench
© Provided by Daily Maverick upl pillay Ravi Pillay, the KwaZulu-Natal MEC for Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs. (Photo: Tony Carnie)

The company — which continues to sign off its media releases with assurances that “UPL remains committed to continue working closely with government, civil society and surrounding communities in order to mitigate the impact of the fire and chemical spill” — lamented that the decision to launch the forum before settling its disputed terms of reference was “highly unfortunate”.

“UPL is disappointed that the opportunity to launch the forum with UPL’s wholehearted support has been lost.”

While UPL has objected to the apparently “extensive powers” of the forum, several civil society groups have raised polar opposite concerns — namely that the forum may end up being another toothless talk-shop.

Community activist D’Sa said civil society groups had scrambled to make inputs on the proposed terms of reference and were concerned that there were certain clauses that “might gag or silence us”.

Chemical Disaster: UPL hunkers down in ‘right to silence’ legal trench
© Provided by Daily Maverick upl walters Senior Green Scorpions enforcement director Grant Walters: ‘There has never been an incident of this magnitude in the history of South Africa’. (Photo: Tony Carnie)

D’Sa said robust discussions were critical in such a forum and he found it strange that civil society inputs had not been captured fully in the draft terms of reference.

Echoing concerns by senior Green Scorpions inspectorate official Grant Walters that “there has never been an incident of this magnitude in the history of South Africa”, South Durban community activist Bongani Mthembu said: “We are facing a monster… government is facing a huge task in dealing with this incident.”

Based on his experience with a similar multistakeholder forum for a recent fire and explosion at the Engen refinery in Wentworth, Mthembu said it was important that history not repeat itself.

“What guarantees are there that this forum will have some teeth and the power to make decisions?” he asked.

Chemical Disaster: UPL hunkers down in ‘right to silence’ legal trench
© Provided by Daily Maverick upl botha United Phosphorus Limited CEO Jan Botha. (Photo: Tony Carnie)

Mthembu was also surprised that the chemical giant was baulking on funding the forum, given recent boasts by UPL South Africa chief executive Jan Botha that United Phosphorus was the “fifth-biggest crop protection company in the world” with an annual turnover of $5-billion a year and a sales revenue of nearly $100-million in South Africa alone.

“UPL should not be ‘asked’ (to fund the forum). They caused this disaster by not following due process,” Mthembu told the meeting.

In response, MEC Pillay said: “They have declined and we are engaging them to change their position.”

Attorney Kamini Krishna wanted to know what degree of participation civil society could expect to exercise if members of the forum were excluded from the government’s Joint Operations Committee investigating the Cornubia disaster.

How could the forum act as a watchdog over the JOC without some teeth, she asked.

MEC Pillay said he did not think there were any limitations on civil society groups from litigating in their personal capacities, or possibly supporting the government as amicus curiae (friends of the court) in potential future litigation.

Durban attorney and environmental law expert Jeremy Ridl (the convener of the interim stakeholder forum) said he took note of these concerns, but cautioned against entering into a “never-ending fight” with a major multinational group and its lawyers.

While recognising that UPL was reluctant to participate in a forum that could expose it to civil liability, he expressed the hope that UPL would choose to address the many concerns raised by civil society and that the government would also test the legal principle of the “polluter pays” in the courts. DM/OBP

The new interim forum elected at the weekend will be made up of Kamini Krishna, Rico Euripidou, Francine Hattingh, Keshia Naidoo, Kwanele Msizazwe, Allimuthu Perumal, Kirsten Youens, Desmond D’Sa/Bongani Mthembu (alternate) and Jeremy Ridl.

  • People who wish to contact, or make inputs to the interim Multi-Stakeholder Forum can contact Jane Tennet (HSG Attorneys Inc) by email:
  • UPL’s public statements on the Cornubia disaster can be accessed at
Internet Explorer Channel Network
Asia's Tech News Daily
News Related


Narendra Modi likely to visit UAE in January, expected to be PM's first trip abroad in 2022

© Provided by Firstpost Narendra Modi likely to visit UAE in January, expected to be PM’s first trip abroad in 2022 Prime Minister Narendra Modi is likely to visit the ... Read more »

Feuer in Dachstock – Anwohner evakuiert

In Wildegg AG hat es in der Nähe des Bahnhofs gebrannt. Verletzt wurde niemand. © 20min/News-Scout Feuer beim Kreisel: In Wildegg AG hat ein Dachstock gebrannt. (29. November 2021) In ... Read more »

New Virus 'Omicron' Variant Poses 'Very High' Global Risk, Might Change Pandemic Course, Warns WHO

© Rajashree Seal | Associated Press While the initial global response to COVID-19 was criticized as slow and haphazard, the reaction to the new variant came quickly. Geneva: The World ... Read more »

TMC has stormed into Meghalaya with a bang. But these 3 factors will decide its fate there

© Provided by The Print Shillong: The entry of the Trinamool Congress (TMC) into Meghalaya last week caught everyone in the northeastern hill state off guard. Speculation had been rife ... Read more »

No 'Omicron' case detected in India yet; Karnataka says sample of SA returnee 'different from Delta'

© Provided by Zee News New Delhi: No case of the Omicron variant of coronavirus has been detected in India yet but the Karnataka Health Minister has said the sample ... Read more »

Muslim man's marriage implodes after posing as Jewish to marry woman

© Provided by Daily Mail MailOnline logo A Muslim man sparked an FBI probe after posing as an Orthodox Jew to get married, then claiming he was an NSA worker ... Read more »

British F-35 crashed into sea after failing to take off, leaked video suggests

A British warplane worth £100 million crashed into the sea during a take-off attempt and may have hit part of HMS Queen Elizabeth, leaked footage suggests. © AFP via Getty ... Read more »

MI6 needs tech giants' help to counter cyber threat, says spy chief

© Provided by Daily Mail MailOnline logo Britain’s intelligence agencies must be prepared to work with tech giants to develop world-class technologies that will keep foreign adversaries at bay, the ... Read more »

Meet the Dh50 million Mahzooz winner Junaid Rana - Pocketful of Dirhams

© Antonie Robertson Junaid Rana (right) won the Mahzooz Dh50 million prize draw in October. With him is his brother Yaser. Antonie Robertson/The National Almost everybody has dreamt of one ... Read more »

Stolen gods: Nepal seeks to bring home lost treasures

© PRAKASH MATHEMA Heritage expert Rabindra Puri campaigns to repatriate stolen Nepali heritage When Virginia Tech professor Sweta Gyanu Baniya saw an ornate 17th-century Nepali necklace in the Art Institute ... Read more »

Petrol, Diesel Price Drop: Fuel Rates Slashed After 50% Tax Cut. See Petrol Price

© Provided by News18 Petrol, Diesel Price Drop: Fuel Rates Slashed After 50% Tax Cut. See Petrol Price Petrol, diesel price today: Petrol and diesel price on November 30, Tuesday, ... Read more »

Key bond market deals: Axis Finance, Aditya Birla, Canara Bank

© Provided by CNBCTV18 Here’s a look at the key bond market deals on Tuesday. NON-CONVERTIBLE DEBENTURES: HDFC Ltd takes Rs 10,000 crore at 7.05 percent coupon, 10-year bonds LIC ... Read more »

Paytm listing debacle sparks concern from investors for other IPOs

© Provided by Zee News New Delhi: The Paytm listing debacle has sparked concern from investors and entrepreneurs, fearful that it could derail a string of expected Indian flotations that ... Read more »

NATO eyes Russia's Ukraine buildup amid invasion fears

© Gints Ivuskans Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary General, says there is no clarity about Russia’s intentions after Ukraine accused Moscow of massing forces close to the border NATO foreign ministers ... Read more »

Rakesh Jhunjhunwala-backed Star Health's IPO to open today; should you subscribe?

© Provided by CNBCTV18 Rakesh Jhunjhunwala-backed Star Health and Allied Insurance Company is set to launch an initial public offer (IPO) worth Rs 7,249 crore on Tuesday, November 30. The ... Read more »

Duterte's chosen successor exits Philippines presidential race

© LISA MARIE DAVID His sudden exit narrows the field of candidates vying to replace Duterte Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s chosen successor on Tuesday announced his withdrawal from the 2022 ... Read more »

Soccer-Bamboozled: NZ coach slams FIFA over World Cup qualifying tournament

© Reuters/HENRY ROMERO Soccer Football – Men – Group B – New Zealand v Honduras (Reuters) – New Zealand coach Danny Hay has criticised FIFA for scheduling part of Oceania’s ... Read more »

Landlords to be given right to raise rents in excess of current caps

Landlords will be able to hike rents by multiples of new rent control caps if they have not increased rents in several years. New rent control legislation will allow landlords ... Read more »

Chelsea transfer gossip: New Matthijs de Ligt push amid Federico Chiesa claims

Chelsea romped home in their last Champions League encounter as they thrashed Juventus 4-0 – but appear to have seen a few things they like about their opponents. With the ... Read more »

'The Voice' Top 10: Watch Girl Named Tom, Hailey Mia, Jim and Sasha Allen, Lana Scott and More!

© Trae Patton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images The Voice’s live shows are headed towards the season 21 semifinals — and it’s time to vote for your favorite! On Monday, each of ... Read more »

Central Florida health officials: There is still much to learn about omicron variant

Central Florida health officials: There is still much to learn about omicron variant Read more »

Cedar Rapids teen who allegedly told police he killed his parents pleads not guilty to murder

A Cedar Rapids teen pleaded not guilty to killing his parents Monday. Ethan Orton, 17, was charged in October with two counts of first-degree murder and placed on $2 million ... Read more »

New Zealand's National party anoints ex-airline boss Chris Luxon as leader

Photograph: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images Luxon, who has spent just a year in parliament, will be the party’s fifth leader in as many years after he replaced Judith Collins New Zealand’s ... Read more »

‘Pretty serious place of worry.' WA hospital officials brace for new COVID-19 variant

As COVID-19 hospitalization rates continue to decline in Washington state, officials fear all the hard work in surviving the Delta wave could soon be lost to the next variant, Omicron. ... Read more »

Bystander hurt as two groups exchange gunfire in a central Fresno neighborhood

A man was injured after he was caught in the crossfire between two groups who exchanged shots Monday afternoon in a central Fresno neighborhood. The incident happened just after 3:30 ... Read more »

Scotland finds six cases of omicron Covid variant

Scotland finds six cases of omicron Covid variant The Scottish government says it has identified six cases of the omicron variant of Covid-19. Two of the infections were detected in ... Read more »

Ganapath: Tiger Shroff shares BTS snaps with ‘Producer Saab' Jackky Bhagnani; latter calls him ‘Hero no. 1'

© Provided by Desimartini Bollywood’s handsome hunk Tiger Shroff has had a work filled year with multiple commitments, shoots and signings done throughout the year. Having set hopped for majority ... Read more »

SS Rajamouli's RRR trailer to release on this date

© Provided by Firstpost SS Rajamouli’s RRR trailer to release on this date Director SS Rajamouli has announced the release date of the much-awaited trailer of his upcoming magnum opus ... Read more »

Dravid: 'Hopefully it is a matter of one innings for Rahane'

India’s captain for the Kanpur Test must still have been processing the tight result with India falling one wicket short of what would have been an incredible win on a ... Read more »

BTS: From Lizzo finding Jimin-V sexy, Becky G-J-Hope's reunion and Anderson Paak's wife Jaylyn fangirling over Jin – 5 interactions of the septet with female celebs which were cuteness overloaded

© Provided by Hola BTS ARMY! A lot has been happening in the lives of your favourite septet – RM, Jin, Suga, J-Hope, Jimin, V and Jungkook. They are ... Read more »

Did you know Ravii Dubey went dry fasting for almost 12 hours for Matsya Kaand?

© Provided by Mid-Day Ravii Dubey is seen donning 11 different avatars for his role as Matsya Thada in MX Original Series Matsya Kaand. This intriguing con thriller is now ... Read more » Says Personal Connections to Israel Keep Him From Boycotting Country

© AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo American musician, front man for Black Eyed Peas listens during an interview in Jerusalem, where he spoke at an innovation conference held by Improvate, Monday, ... Read more »

Mental health tech firm Frog Systems 'blazing trail' with latest six-figure fundraiser

Mental health and wellbeing technology company Frog Systems has today hailed its latest funding round generating £846,000, and said it is looking to go to the market to raise further ... Read more »

Hong Kong expands travel curbs on Omicron fears, Australia reports 5 cases

© Reuters/LAM YIK People wearing face masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), ride in a bus in Hong Kong By Marius Zaharia and Renju Jose HONG ... Read more »

Hostage freed and suspect dead after man flees into home following bank robbery

EDMONTON — A hostage situation in Edmonton that began when a man was allegedly fleeing a bank robbery has ended with the lone hostage released, and the suspect dead. © ... Read more »

«Ich werde niemals wieder Vollzeit Golf spielen»

Diashow ein «Das ist eine unglückliche Wirklichkeit, aber es ist meine Wirklichkeit»: Tiger Woods glaubt nicht mehr daran, an die Weltspitze zurückzukehren. (Archivbild) Im Februar verunglückte der Golfstar schwer. Woods ... Read more »

Utah man allegedly spiked his ex's coffee with meth

A Utah man allegedly served his ex-girlfriend a cup of coffee laced with meth. Getty Images/EyeEm A Utah man allegedly served his ex-girlfriend a cup of coffee laced with meth, ... Read more »

Motorcyclist dies after head-on collision with car in The Bronx

Ismael Martinez was transported to St. Barnabas Hospital unconscious. Christopher Sadowski A 24-year-old man was killed in a motorcycle accident in the Bronx early Sunday morning, according to police. Ismael ... Read more »

Telly tattle: Ssharad Malhotra returns to historical drama with Vidrohi

© Provided by Mid-Day Five years after Maharana Pratap, Ssharad Malhotra has returned to a historical drama titled Vidrohi. He says, “While the language is not easy, the show is ... Read more »

Bigg Boss 15: Are Rakhi Sawant and husband Ritesh crossing their limits by treating non-VIPs as objects? Vote now

© Provided by There’s no denying that the new wildcard entries, Rakhi Sawant and her husband Ritesh, Rashami Desai and Devoleena Bhattacharjee, have been dominating the housemates like never ... Read more »
On you will find lots of free English exam practice materials to help you improve your English skills: grammar, listening, reading, writing, ielts, toeic