A storm is brewing between the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) and the Fisheries Ministry over the former’s recent issuance of an environmental clearance certificate that would allow Namibian Marine Phosphate (NMP) to mine phosphate off the west coast of Namibia.
The public dispute between the two ministries over an issue that many believe should have been settled internally before it was made public, throws into question the viability of the marine phosphate mining project, which local businessman Knowledge Katti and his Arab partners have been pushing for years.
In a statement issued late yesterday, the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources expressed “shock” at MET’s decision to grant NMP an environment clearance certificate.
This followed a letter from Environmental Commissioner Teofilus Nghitila to NMP, that soon went viral – announcing the company has been granted a clearance certificate “for the project to commence”.
Katti is a minority shareholder in the project spearheaded by Omani tycoon Mohammed Al Barwani, through his company Mawarid Mining LLC, which retains 85 percent in NMP. Katti’s Havana Investments owns the remaining 15 percent stake in NMP.
Acting permanent secretary in the Fisheries Ministry Ueritjiua Kauaria said the ministerial management team is scheduled to meet today to consider the way forward.
Meanwhile, the fishing sector has also expressed shock and awe at the issuance of the phosphate mining clearance certificate and the secrecy that apparently shrouded that decision.
Chairman of the Confederation of Namibian Fishing Associations Matti Amukwa slammed the decision to grant the environmental clearance, despite various environmental groups and the fishing industry urging government to conduct comprehensive studies before granting any such clearance.
Phosphate mining has not been carried out elsewhere in the world and Namibia would thus be the first country to do so if the project proceeds.
“The environmental clearance certificate came as a surprise to us,” Amukwa said.
“More shockingly is the fact that the clearance was already granted on 5 September by Environmental Commissioner Teofilus Nghitila and only surfaced a month later. We don’t understand the secrecy around it. If not for social media we would have still been in the dark,” Amukwa said yesterday.
The fishing industry will this week call an urgent meeting to discuss the issue and said they have always made it clear that they do not have any objection in principle to phosphate mining, as long as it can be scientifically proven that it can co-exist with the fishing industry.
Amukwa in an earlier press briefing at Walvis Bay said the fishing industry is in the dark when it comes to the studies conducted on phosphate mining and finds it strange that so far the relevant information on phosphate mining has not been shared with all stakeholders for public scrutiny and expert evaluation.
The MET’s environmental clearance puts NMP a step closer to their mooted marine mining operations in water depths of between 190 and 345 metres, some 60 km offshore from Meob Bay along the central Namibian coast, about 120 km southwest of Walvis Bay, in a sensitive marine area covering some 2 000 square kilometres.