Corruption allegations threaten to sink experiemental seabed mining approval in Namibia
Shinovene Immanuel | The Namibian | 27 October 2016
FISHERIES minister Bernhard Esau wants Cabinet to instruct the environment ministry to immediately withdraw the environmental clearance certificate issued to Namibia Marine Phosphate.
Esau’s rejection of the phosphate project and recommendations are contained in a draft report obtained by The Namibian this week which proposed a detailed study on marine phosphate mining over three to five years.
The minister wanted to make an urgent submission to Cabinet on Tuesday, but his attempt was blocked, possibly by the powerful group in Cabinet and some state officials who support phosphate mining.
The report also shows how Cabinet resolutions adopted by former President Hifikepunye Pohamba’s administration in 2013 were ignored when the ministry of environment approved an application to mine phosphates from the bottom of the ocean.
Efforts to get comment from Esau were not successful as his mobile phone was unreachable.
Environment minister Pohamba Shifeta and economic planning minister Tom Alweendo said the matter was not discussed at Cabinet this week.
Environmental commissioner Teofilus Nghitila issued an environmental clearance certificate to Namibia Marine Phosphate (NMP) on 5 September 2016.
Nghitila based his judgement on a secretive environmental impact assessment report by NMP.
NMP, which wants to mine marine phosphate to make fertilisers for sale abroad, is 85% owned by Omani oil billionaire Mohammed Al Barwani through his company Mawarid Mining LLC, while 15% is owned by serial middleman Knowledge Katti through his company Havana Investments.
Esau’s report said the fisheries ministry is concerned by the decision of the environment ministry to issue an environmental clearance certificate.
In fact, the fisheries ministry described that decision as “premature, and perhaps in contradiction of the precautionary principle as espoused by the Latin phrase in dubio, pro natura (when in doubt, favour nature)”.
Esau wanted Cabinet to know that his ministry was not consulted before the clearance certificate was issued to NMP.
The fisheries ministry is “concerned that marine phosphate mining may commence immediately, which may cause irreparable damage to the marine ecosystem, including fisheries stocks, and hence cause a conflict between the mining and fishing industries”.
In the report, Esau said Cabinet issued a ban on offshore phosphate mining, a decision that was backed up by a legal opinion obtained on 13 December 2013 and 2 July 2015 from the attorney general as binding on the ministry of fisheries, mines and other state organs.
“This moratorium, therefore, still stands until Cabinet pronounces itself otherwise,” the minister stated.
The conditions of that ban were that no phosphate environmental clearance would be issued in 18 months, and that an independent scoping study (a preliminary study to define the scope of a project) should be done.
After that, a comprehensive strategic environmental assessment – a process of predicting and evaluating the impact of a strategic action on the environment, and using that information in decision-making – would be conducted during the ban under supervision of the fisheries ministry, in consultation with the environment and energy ministries.
Esau said during that moratorium, a scoping study was done by an independent consultant from Norway, who recommended that a strategic assessment should be conducted in order to get sufficient scientific knowledge and regulatory mechanisms in place to mitigate the impact of seabed mining on the ocean.
That strategic assessment, which is the responsibility of the fisheries ministry as the “competent authority on the marine environment”, is still not yet completed, Esau said, adding that the findings of that report will inform the environment impact assessment process.
“It was expected that the ministry of fisheries will commence on the strategic assessment once Cabinet has pronounced itself on the scoping report,” Esau said.
The fisheries ministry presented the scoping study report to the deliberative Cabinet meeting, but the matter was referred to the Cabinet committee on trade and economic development chaired by Alweendo for further discussion.
“This process is still ongoing (the last meeting was on 27 April 2016, the last communication on 7 July 2016 raised questions that are still pending),” Esau said in the report.
This appears to be the point where Esau was sidelined by his fellow ministers on that committee. Instead of discussing the scoping report, the majority of ministers on the committee directed the environmental commissioner to decide on the phosphate application.
The fisheries ministry wants Cabinet to re-endorse the decision and conditions made in 2013, and to ban phosphate mining and direct the environment ministry “to immediately withdraw the environmental impact assessment clearance certificate issued for marine phosphate mining on emergency grounds”.
Esau said once Cabinet clarifies the earlier decision, the next step in the marine phosphate mining consideration is to conduct a strategic environmental assessment, a process which will take three to five years.
Once the recommendations of the strategic assessment are completed, the fisheries ministry will submit the findings for a final environmental impact assessment on marine phosphate mining.
Esau said since 1990, the issue of phosphate mining has been one of the most important policy decisions for the country, apart from the issue of the dumping of nuclear waste, the poaching of wildlife and the international trade in endangered species.
“Therefore, it would have rendered a united government if adequate consultation had occurred before the environmental clearance certificate was issued,” he noted.
Esau also wants Cabinet to consider authorising the development of Namibia’s blue ocean economy policy, to act as government’s policy coordinator on cross-cutting issues.
This policy will be developed by the fisheries, mines and energy, environment, works and other line ministries.
The attorney general’s office will provide legal guidance on the process which involves these ministries.