Phosphate mining leads to showdown between ministries
The Minister of Environment and Tourism, Hon Pohamba Shefeta late this week lashed out against claims from the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources that the Environmental Clearance Certificate (ECC) granted to Namibia Marine Phosphate Pty Ltd was granted without input from the cabinet committee. Shifeta was adamant that the decision to grant the go-ahead for phosphate mining after numerous consultations was entirely under the exclusive competence of the Environmental Commissioner, Teofilus Nghitila.
This counter volley came after the Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources, Hon Bernhardt Esau said he was shocked to his core when he saw the letter by Nghitila, addressed to the chief operations officer of Namibia Phosphate Mining dated 5 September 2016. Esau was quoted as saying“I was shocked to my boots and surprised to read the letter when I came back to Namibia. I don’t know on whose authority the environmental commissioner issued the letter. My ministry is still awaiting a Strategic Environmental Assessment from a special cabinet committee before we would even think of granting this permission.”
However in the press conference held on Thursday, Shifeta explained that due process was followed in terms of issuing the Environmental Compliance Certificate in accordance with the Environmental Management Act No. 07 of 2007. “In April 2016, a joint meeting was held with officials from the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources and the Ministry of Environment and Tourism on the verification report and the updated Environmental Management Plan and the way forward.” the Minister of Tourism argued.
In fact, he stated that the meeting was chaired by the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources while all questions raised by the ministry regarding the methodology and quality of information contained in the Verification Report, were addressed during such meetings.
Negating this, Esau in an earlier media statement reiterated that the moratorium on marine phosphate mining expired more than a year ago but that all the parties involved undertook to still honour the conditions of the moratorium until independent verification of the EIA and EMP could be obtained. He said for all intents and purposes the moratorium was still in effect. In response to this, Shifeta explained that the laws give precedence to the Environmental Commisioner, as the moratorium did in no way exclusively state that the environmental commissioner could be halted by the moratorium.
He further explained that any aggrieved parties were given a notice of 14 days after 5 September 2016 to voice their appeals against the granting of the ECC. None were received. But the minister said that an appeal can still be made to his office if any deliberate error is found such as the twisting of facts or laws and the commissioner would be held criminally liable.
Shifeta exonerated his ministry by stating that the ECC has been issued with a number of stringent measures, as the clearance certificate is granted for three years. “If the dredged seabed monitoring results conclude that there is significant environmental harm, the project may be suspended or will be closed and the ECC would be withdrawn to preserve the marine environment.”