Michael Gaweseb, who convinced Minister of Environment and Tourism Pohamba Shifeta to set aside the environmental clearance certificate granted to Namibia Marine Phosphate (NMP) in September, says the ministry’s u-turn on the issue demonstrates functional democracy and rule of law at work.
“I think the lesson from this action perhaps is also for us Namibians to move more towards action, while relying on social media for freedom of speech. Otherwise, if we don’t go to the high street to actually use the laws we will not be heard,” Gaweseb told New Era yesterday.
It is because of Gaweseb’s formal appeal – which cost him N$1 000 – that Shifeta on Wednesday announced he has ordered that the environmental certificate clearance granted to NMP to mine marine phosphate be set aside.
Interestingly, Gaweseb made the appeal to the minister in his personal capacity, as the trustees of the Economic Social Justice Trust, of which he is one, were still discussing the best option. Labour researcher Herbert Jauch is the chairperson of the Trust.
“I could not take the risk of committing the Trust at the moment, as it is great legal risk for trustees if they haven’t consented. However, it was just time constraint, as the colleagues – despite being from diverse backgrounds – are fully behind the efforts. I must mention it was initially a bit of a struggle to view the decision on which the appeal was to be based,” he remarked.
He said it cost him N$1 000 for the appeal, which he thinks is a bit expensive for most ordinary people, hence there were few appeals.
“There are not only legal, but moral aspects in public policy and we certainly had a strong case on the moral side.
“The appeals presiding officer basically dismissed the minister of fisheries’ ministerial statement that laws were not adhered to – something I based my appeal on, as well. And on the same moral stance I don’t see how this certificate will be re-issued, even after six months with so much unusual resistance from the public,” he said.
Commenting on the decision by the environment minister to set aside the clearance certificate, Gaweseb said: “I think the minister realised some of the weaknesses in the Environmental Management Act. Now, if the public and other stakeholders are not informed of the decision, as a letter is simply written to the applicant, how can the same Act – as is currently the case – expect an appeal against such as a decision within such a short prescribed period?”
He said the Act is intended to enforce transparency, but is silent on the publication of the notification when such a certificate is issued.
Gaweseb, who holds a Masters degree in business administration majoring in natural resources, said the “only interest… that I hope to represent is the public interest.”
“I have done both fishing and mining courses at postgraduate level and I just wanted education to make a positive contribution to society. Otherwise I have no other interest.
“I know even the fishing industry are not angels, but the minister of fisheries (Bernhard Esau) made a commitment through his performance agreement to change that. So, we wait and see,” he said.
Gaweseb said the Trust is seeking support, including from international organisations, saying some lawyers have also shown an interest in assisting if phosphate proponents seek to hold government hostage.
He said while grateful for the temporary positive outcome, he does not see how granting the certificate can be in the public interest. He says the continued calls for evidence of adverse impact only promotes the idea that a lack of evidence proves that it will not harm the environment.
“Now, if this sort of mining is not done, where will you get evidence?… The phosphate proponents are advancing the argument that some fishing industry players are destroying the environment, so they too must be allowed to destroy.
“Is this how the world should work, instead of correcting the current wrongs?” he asked.