Phosphate debate divides parliament

by Desie Heita

Phosphate debate divides parliament

Windhoek

Tempers flared in parliament yesterday afternoon, resulting in opposition parties walking out in protest after Deputy Speaker Loide Kasingo, who was presiding, blocked any further discussion on marine phosphate mining.

The walkout happened minutes before Finance Minister Calle Schlettwein submitted the mid-year budget review, but it was the ministerial statement on phosphate mining by Fisheries Minister Bernhard Esau that stole the show, captivating the assembled journalists in the press gallery and a sizeable number of members of the public, who turned up for mid-year budget review.



Ruckus and heckling erupted in the chambers of parliament immediately after Esau delivered what is perhaps an unprecedented ministerial statement that made a scathing attack on the Environment Ministry’s decision to award an Environmental Clearance Certificate to Namibia Marine Phosphate (NMP).

Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila rose to express disappointment with the “sectoral approach” being taken and asked that the debate be suspended and that MPs, who are members of the executive, desist from discussing the issue of marine phosphate mining in parliament, so as to give time to the executive to discuss the matter.

The prime minister’s proposal was not well received by DTA president McHenry Venaani and Swanu president Usutuaije Maamberua, who was halted mid-sentence when he rose to speak on the issue.

The deputy speaker pounded the gavel hard and interrupted the protestations from the floor, shouting: “I have closed the door. No one is going to talk about this.”

Later the secretary to Cabinet, George Simataa, issued a statement that President Hage Geingob has “directed that a special Cabinet meeting would take place on November 7 to discuss the matter in detail with a view to addressing the concerns raised.”

Simataa noted that since the granting of the licence to NMP there have been a number of “negative reports that offshore phosphate mining may have a negative environmental impact on the aquatic life and the entire fishing sector in the long term.”

The public would be informed of the decision taken by Cabinet after the scheduled meeting on November 7, Simataa said.

The drama in parliament yesterday started with Esau telling MPs that the Fisheries Ministry “made it clear [to the Environment Ministry before the issuance of the certificate] that the private findings [on the basis of which the certificate was issued] were lacking in scientific methodology, accuracy and interpretation.”

He said the clearance certificate was issued for marine phosphate mining, to commence any time now, despite the fact that the process, as set out by Cabinet, including conducting a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA), has not been allowed to run its course.

“There are no credible scientific results backed by sound methodologies to justify issuance of an Environmental Clearance Certificate, [and] a review, including public hearings on the data submitted for the EIA, as provided for in Section 36 of the Environmental Management Act, has not been carried out,” he said.

Further Esau indicated that there are no pre-established controls on how phosphate mining is to be carried out to minimise aquatic ecosystem damage. “It is worth noting that the clearance certificate indicates that the mining company will establish its own controls, an approach which is unacceptable from an official control point of view,” he said.

After Esau’ s speech, Kasingo allowed time for questions, saying the matter is of national importance.
The leader of the opposition in parliament Venaani then stood up to express shock at how two ministries can have such divergent views on phosphate mining.

“It is disappointing to hear two ministries of one government giving conflicting views,” he says, before asking that the prime minister – the leader of the executive in parliament – tell the house what government’s official position on phosphate mining is.

Kuugongelwa-Amadhila stood up and first berated the two ministers, saying it is inappropriate that the issue is being handled in such a manner. She then asked that government be given time to discuss the issue. She said government has in fact already scheduled such discussions with stakeholders for next week. “We’re going to regroup as government and then brief the public thereafter,” she said, adding: “I wish no further discussion will be allowed until government is allowed to deliberate and report back.”

In his statement Simataa said two companies, LL Namibia Phosphate and NMP, have been granted mining licences for marine phosphate mining: one near Luderitz and the other near Walvis Bay.

None of the companies are mining currently, as neither had the required Environmental Clearance Licence.
“The Environmental Management Act empowers the Environmental Commissioner to issue Environmental Clearance Licences, subject to certain conditions. As a result, the Environment Commissioner awarded an Environmental Clearance Licence to NMP on 5 September,” the statement read.

Following the fiasco in parliament, Venaani tweeted: “Today we staged a walkout on the bulldozing of debate on phosphate mining.” He said we have one government, but different stories.
“Revoke the certificate for once and debate,” he wrote.

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