Environment and Tourism Minister Pohamba Shifeta has defended the ministry’s environmental commissioner Teofelus Nghitila who faces criticism for awarding an environmental clearance certificate (ECC) that will allow Namibia Marine Phosphate to mine phosphate in Namibian waters.
During a press conference to clear the air yesterday in Windhoek, Shifeta was adamant that Nghitila was well within his mandate to award the certificate.
“It is the duty of the environmental commissioner, as an exclusive competent authority to make decisions regarding ECC and to objectively weigh up the risks and benefits that may arise from undertaking this project. Given the absence of historical evidence in this field, a number of options and precautionary approaches have been considered,” he said.
“I am advised that the due process was followed in terms of issuing the Environmental Clearance Certificate in accordance with the Environmental Management Act No. 7 of 2007. In 2012 the Environment Impact Assessment and Environmental Management Plan for the abovementioned project were submitted to the Ministry of Tourism for review,” he said.
Shifeta said a joint meeting was held in April this year with officials from the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources and Ministry of Environment and Tourism on the verification of the report and the updated Environmental Management Plan and the way forward.
“The purpose of this meeting was to give an opportunity to the specialist study experts to come and address key questions raised by the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources. I am advised that this meeting was chaired by the fisheries permanent secretary and that all questions raised by the fisheries ministry on the methodology and quality of information contained in the Verification Study Report were addressed during the meeting,” Shifeta said.
He said other meetings were also held with affected parties on the issue concerning the viability and ecological impact of the proposed marine phosphate mining on the environment.
His remarks came a day after the fisheries ministry expressed shock over the decision to award the certificate, alleging that it was not consulted.
Shifeta said the process was consultative, transparent and inclusive for the Namibian Marine Phosphate project to proceed with great caution and without placing the health of our marine environment in peril. “Consequently, the primary focus would be to reconcile the immediate ambitions of industry and economic development with the rights of others and with respect for all life supporting systems, and the rights of future generations,” he said.
The minister reiterated that the proposed mining is restricted to a small area of the seabed.
“The conditions on the Namibian coasts are different to those, for example, in New Zealand or Australian coasts. It should be noted that it is only in Namibia were marine diamond is done. The dredging is similar to phosphate mining,” he said. He added: “Therefore, any attempt to undertake marine phosphate mining will require Namibia to develop scientific mechanisms and capacity to monitor the environmental impacts from such operations. We believe this can be done.” Shifeta was fully behind Nghitila, who awarded a certificate the Namibian Marine Phosphate, a joint venture between Oman-based Mawarid Mining LLC and Namibian company Havana Investments Ltd.
Nghitila informed the owners of licence ML170 through a letter dated September 5, 2016, that they can start mining.
He said the environment Impact Assessment and Environmental Management Plan submitted is sufficient as it made provisions of the environment management concerning the proposed activities.
“On this basis, this letter serves as an environmental clearance certificate for the mining project to commence,” Nghitila wrote.
Nghitila further said the letter does not in any way hold the environment ministry accountable for any misleading information nor any adverse effects that may arise from the project’s activities.
Instead, he said, “Full accountability rests with Namibia Marine Phosphate and their consultants.”
The clearance certificate is valid for three years.