Communities not satisfied with environmental policies
It is vital that extractive industry companies develop good practice guidelines that cover environmental impact as well as community engagement and development.
A survey conducted by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) revealed that government’s efforts at ensuring environmentally acceptable practices during exploration and mining are somewhat ineffective and viewed environmental policies as ineffective.
In its latest report, titled “Namibia’s New Frontiers: Transparency and Accountability in Extractive Industry Exploration” by Graham Hopwood, Leon Kufa, Tracey Naughton and Ellison Tjirera, the IPPR noted the importance of reviewing the laws and policy implementation to check that they are ‘fit for purpose’ in terms of limiting negative social impacts, preventing conflicts with communities and mitigating damage to the environment.
The Minerals Policy of Namibia, established in 2003 is geared towards attracting investors by creating a conducive environment for mining activities and one of its objectives is to ensure compliance with the national environmental policy and other relevant policies to develop a sustainable mining industry.
Namibia’s Environmental Management Act, 2007 (Act No. 7 of 2007) came into effect in February 2012 and stresses the importance of consultation with interested and affected parties. The Act was set out to promote the sustainable management of the environment and the use of natural resources by establishing principles for decision making on matters affecting the environment as well as the Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations.
The IPPR says it is vital that extractive industry companies develop good practice guidelines that cover environmental impact as well as community engagement and development, adding that exploration companies operating onshore should be required to employ community relations personnel. According to the report, stakeholder engagement is a specialist role that adds value to the entire mine life cycle and should be in place ahead of the earliest on the ground activity. It also require skills, local knowledge and time.
The report further highlighted the importance of coordination amongst the Environmental Commissioner, a post established by the Environmental Management Act, the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, the Ministry of Mines and Energy, and the Ombudsman to ensure the fair and effective application of the law and associated regulations. One of the issues these agencies need to collectively address, according to the report, are the conditions and limitations under which any prospecting and mining activity should be allowed in national parks, such as the Skeleton Coast Park.
The Minerals (Prospecting and Mining) Act of 1992 requires every license holder to conduct Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) before they start exploration. According to Mining Commissioner, Erasmus Shivolo, the condition applies particularly in sensitive areas. He however says there are certain areas where it is not a must to conduct EIAs depending on the exploration programme that the applicant puts forward to the Ministry of Mines and Energy.
“For example, if for the three years that you have been issued with exploration license you do not intend to do any significant surface damage, it is not urgent or important that an applicant do an EIA,” said Shivolo.
Many times, there have been reports from communities complaining about mining companies who invade their land without the community’s involvement. However, Shivolo says although community consultation is not specifically covered in the law, for the sake of good relationships, he encourages license holders to at least talk to the communities before they start operating.”Many of those communities are very ignorant. You also find people who say that if you want to develop a project here, you must give us a certain percentage in the project, but there are no legal instruments to force people who invest their money in a project to share a certain percentage with locals,” he said.