Windhoek – Environment and Tourism Minister Pohamba Shifeta has ordered that the environmental clearance certificate granted to Namibia Marine Phosphate (NMP) to mine phosphate off Namibia’s coast be set aside for the sake of the public good.
This follows a massive public uproar surrounding the perceived secretive issuance of the certificate, which was granted by Environmental Commissioner Teofilus Nghitila on September 5, 2016.
Critics of the proposed contentious project have demanded updated scientific facts in order to make an informed decision on the issue. The decision of Nghitila to grant the certificate to NMP prompted considerable debate and reaction.
NMP’s Sandpiper project constitutes more than N$5 billion in investment capital and is estimated to yield 1.8 billion tonnes of phosphoric sand. NMP is owned by Mawarid Mining (Namibia) (42.5 percent) and Sea Phosphates (Namibia) (42.5 percent), both wholly owned subsidiaries of Mawarid Mining LLC (85 percent), an Omani company, and Havana Investments (Pty) Ltd (15 percent), a Namibian company.
Shifeta yesterday delivered his more than two-hour ruling in the matter between appellant Michael Gaweseb – who is a trustee of Economic Social Justice Trust – Nghitila and NMP. The hearing was held on October 31, when Gaweseb appealed against the commissioner’s decision to grant the certificate to NMP, based on two reasons: that the activity of phosphate mining has a long devastatingly adverse impact on the marine environment, and lack of public consultation.
Shifeta said he took the liberty to study the facts and all evidence presented before him by the appellant surrounding the issuance of the phosphate certificate.
Although Shifeta said there was no secrecy surrounding the awarding of the certificate – after closely studying the evidence presented before him he reached the conclusion that the certificate granted by Nghitila should be set aside and that the commissioner should notify the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources, the fishing industry and all other interested parties to finalise their inputs in the report within three months. He said that in accordance with Article 95 (1) of the Namibian Constitution, which evidently underlines the importance of environmental protection, he reached his conclusion based on that provision and the cause of the public good.
“That whole process of consultation should be completed within six months from today. That this order is with immediate effect and binds all parties, directly or indirectly affected, unless set aside by the High Court as per section 51 (1) of the Act,” Shifeta announced.
He also agreed with the appellant on the issue of further public consultation, saying caution should be taken to balance the rights of the respondents and the sake of the public good.
“Accordingly, Section 50 of the Act and Regulation 25 as its delegated law should be applied with caution and in a special manner because of the value and obligations Article 95 (1) of the Constitution impose on citizens and residents of Namibia,” he said.
He still maintains that the fisheries ministry failed to respond to the request of the commissioner for a review.
“It is clear that on 13 June 2016, the commissioner’s request made to the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources to review the final report was ignored or not seen necessary to respond to, hence the commissioner’s correct application of Section 44 (2) of the Act (Environmental Management),” Shifeta maintained.
He defended that the Environmental Management Act of 2007 only came into force in 2012, saying it’s a brand-new legislation while the mining licence was issued in 2011.
“I will accept the notion that ‘ignorance of the law is not an excuse’. However, you may agree with me that the fishing industry is a big industry whose contribution to the national economy is very significant. The fishing industry, I assume, was supposed to channel their inputs to the final report for review through their line ministry but the ministry failed to respond to this, for the reason only known to them,” Shifeta said, adding that such failure cannot be blamed on the entire fishing industry.
NMP, in a statement issued on Sunday, challenged critics of its envisaged project to present counter-scientific evidence to back up claims that seabed mining would destroy the country’s marine life.