• No avenue for public to appeal
• Phosphate court challenge looms
• Phosphate reserves estimated at 4 billion tonnes
Marine phosphate mining is a very contentious issue in Namibia. This week’s revelation that Government has given a go-ahead for marine mining activities to commence is destined to become the most politically far-reaching and significant moment of the Hage Geingob presidency. There is widespread public mistrust of the looming marine phosphate mining, and the fact that the public only found out about the greenlight almost a month after the 15-day appeal period had lapsed raises more eyebrows. At this stage, there are talks that some lobby groups are planning to challenge the decision. The environmental commissioner Teofelus Nghitila was at pains to explain why the clearance certificate was issued without alerting the public so that those who wished to appeal within the prescribed period could do so. The certificate was issued to Namibia Marine Phosphate on 5 September 2016, but revelations about it only surfaced this week. The company holds mining licence 170 to mine phosphate materials from the seabed offshore approximately 120km south of Walvis Bay.
Nghitila said it is the prerogative of those who are interested in any application being dealt with by his office to be proactive and constantly approach his office to see how far the awarding process is. Players in the fishing industry, on the other hand, struggled from the beginning of the phosphate debacle to get information regarding the status of the entire process. The genesis of marine phosphate mining was in October 2010 when the Ministry of Mines and Energy awarded a mining licence to LL Phosphate to start exploring and a few months later in 2011 to Namibia Marine Phosphate as well. The move irked the public and after several media probes Government instituted a moratorium to study the real side-effects of marine phosphate on the local marine ecosystem. It uncovered evidence that elite individuals and groups linked to the ruling party had significant financial interests in the matter.
The 18-month moratorium on bulk seabed mining was instituted [on 17 September 2013] in order for an independent environmental study to be conducted, more than two years later that study is yet to be conducted. Despite widespread public condemnation and opposition to marine phosphate mining, as well as opposition from the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources, the environment ministry went ahead and granted the environmental clearance certificate. This has confirmed fears that ministries are not pulling in one direction and the recurring public spats between Cabinet ministers also made things worse. In an interview with The Patriot this week, mining commissioner Erastus Shivolo threw his weight behind phosphate mining, saying Namibia would reap great benefits.
Asked about the possible spiral effects, he said:
“The areas where the phosphate deposits occur are not pristine, they have been bottom trawled for decades – if there was any serious environmental impact due to seabed disturbance, this would have manifested itself long ago through the activities of the fishing industry.”
He did, however, admit that there will be some repercussions such as the release of heavy metals into the ecosystem, disturbance of marine fauna as well as the removal of phosphate from the marine ecosystem. “There should be no negative influence on commercial species, as the mining areas do not overlap with the fishing grounds,” said the commissioner confidently. Shivolo revealed that Namibia’s phosphate reserves are over four billion tonnes.
“I’m appealing to the public not to object to things based on emotions or hearsay. Those against it must provide us with scientific proof that this activity is not the best option,” he appealed. Shivolo said the necessary consultations were done before the ministry issued the licences and that the public had the chance to object to anything they deemed untoward. Both Nghitila and Shivolo accused the fishing industry of crying crocodile tears because they are without any reason against marine phosphate mining while turning a blind-eye when it comes to offshore diamond mining activities. Nghitila said those who claim phosphate mining has not been done anywhere else and therefore cannot be done in Namibia as short-sighted, saying marine diamond mining is being done in Namibia but when it started there was insufficient evidence on which to benchmark. The two further maintained that just like marine diamond mining co-exist with fishing, the same can be achieved with marine phosphate mining provided the monitoring framework is effectively implemented.
The local dealmakers
NMP is represented locally by businessman Knowledge Katti, who is a minority shareholder in the project spearheaded by Omani tycoon Mohammed Al Barwani, through his company Mawarid Mining LLC, which retains 85 percent in NMP. Katti’s Havana Investments owns the remaining 15 percent stake in NMP. As for LLP, Kombadayedu Kapwanga – who once upon a time served as the Director of Mines is the local face. Kapwanga joined the Namibian Minerals Corporation (Namco) and in 2003 joined Sakawe Mining Corporation (Samicor) as Director of Samicor and all its subsidiaries, and Managing Director of LLD Diamonds Namibia. He is the Director of Samicor and its subsidiaries, including LL Namibia Phosphates. Kapwanga is also the President of the Chamber of Mines of Namibia and sits on the Diamond Board of Namibia.
Information obtained by The Patriot from documents presented to the Cabinet committee on Trade and Economic Development chaired by Tom Alweendo indicates that LL Phosphate and Namibia Marine Phosphate will create a combined 3 450 jobs during the construction phase and 2 160 permanent jobs thereafter. As for direct taxes, the two companies will contribute N$1.65 billion in direct taxes to the state coffers and N$198 million in royalties. LLP’s project investment is set at N$24 billion while NMP’s investment stands at N$5.2 billion, official documents indicates. The combined contribution to GDP for both companies is said to be N$13.8 billion per annum. Per annum, LLP and NMP envisage to mine 4km-square and 2.3km-square area, respectively. The fishing sector directly employs over 13 000 people and is one of the biggest contributing sectors to the state coffers.
Ministerial phosphate war
The often obscure processes and lack of cohesion between ministries is clear for all to see in this saga and developments require an insight into the present machinations within the government. The mines as well as environment ministries are pitted on one end in support of phosphate mining while the fisheries ministry is on the other side. Informed sources have speculated that the latest obfuscation in the phosphate saga was due to a break ties in certain sections of Cabinet. Some have even accused the fisheries ministry of blocking off investors who pose any form of competition to the fishing sector. “The Ministry of Mines and Energy goes out of its way to lure investors but then you have the fisheries ministry blocking investors,” said the source. Tensions between the three ministries has been so intense, to the point where calls were made for the President Hage Geingob to intervene. Yesterday during a media briefing to divulge the details of Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting, information minister Tjekero Tweya also threw his support behind phosphate mining, saying the environmental law is ‘cross-cutting’ and should therefore be respected. “The environmental laws we have are not only for phosphate,” he said. Asked whether there is a rift between the fisheries ministry and the environment ministry, Tweya answered: “It is either one does not understand the laws or we did not consult enough.”
A fishing industry player, who chose to remain anonymous, said the fishing industry is greatly disappointed by Nghitila’s decision to award an environmental clearance certificate without due consultation. “For us in the fishing sector it is already hard enough that mining and fishing have to share an operational area, we have different fisheries we are looking at and with phosphate coming it will just make things worse,” said the official. He also alleged that the fishing sector has been requesting for information regarding phosphate mining from the Ministry of Environment and Tourism but nothing was forthcoming. “All we want is transparency. There is no information at hand regarding phosphate, but any information that is fisheries related is available for the public to view. We have requested for the phosphate reports in the past but our requests were not attended to. We have it under good authority that the people who formulated the phosphate reports are paid by the proponents,” said the official. Asked about a potential court appeal, the official said seeking recourse in court will not be ruled out.
“I do not want to jump the gun because this is a very delicate issue which revolves around livelihoods, governance and politics,” he said. Nghitila has repeatedly refuted claims that the phosphate issue was being dealt with in a secretive measure, saying the available data is open for public scrutiny. He also blamed the public for failing to attend public meetings that were held where marine phosphate mining was discussed.