In separate telephonic interviews this week, several opposition political parties took turns to express deep apprehension about the planned marine phosphate mining activities.
Senior party officials from DTA of Namibia, Rally for Democracy and Progress, United Democratic Front and NUDO all vehemently opposed the planned project saying its existence will threaten the wellbeing of the thousands of workers in the fishing industry while others feel it is aimed at benefiting a few well-connected individuals.
The Ministry of Environment and Tourism is, however, adamant that all control and management procedures are in place to ensure that any damages to the seabed are kept at manageable levels. Phosphate, used to make fertiliser among others, is expected to be extracted around 120 kilometres into the sea, southwest of Walvis Bay, for a period of 20 years.
There is currently division among Government officials, particularly the mines and fisheries ministries, on whether to allow the project to continue after the Environmental Commissioner last month issued an Environmental Clearance Certificate (ECC) to Namibia Marine Phosphate (NMP) following an Environmental Impact Study (EIS).
NMP was granted a mining licence 170 in 2011 by the Ministry of Mines and Energy to unearth offshore marine phosphate, however, that process was halted because NMP did not have an ECC and Cabinet agreed to a moratorium in September that year for an EIS to be conducted.
RDP believes the planned phosphate mining project is a political programme aimed at benefitting a few individuals at the expense of the masses.
The party’s secretary general Mike Kavekotora said the Swapo-led government should move away from advancing political programmes that only benefit a few well-connected individuals. “There was TIPEEG, Mass Housing, the Chevrolets through the Michael Jackson scheme, all these were political programmes that did not amount to anything, now they want phosphate. Swapo must stop pursuing political programmes that have no economic reality,” he said.
As RDP, he said, we are against this programme and we fully support those who stand ready to oppose it in court. “We already discussed this matter within the party and we have decided to oppose it,” he said.
“Our party is siding with the fishermen because the damages that phosphate will bring us is unknown, therefore, it is better to deal with the devil you know. Already our fish stocks are declining and now we want to add another threat,” lamented NUDO deputy secretary general Vetaruhe Kandorozu.
He said the rift between the fisheries and environment ministry exposes the lack of coordination within government.
“If the President is serious about serving the people of Namibia, he must step in and cancel this whole thing,” he said.
UDF described the proposed marine phosphate mining as a “bad issue”.
Party president Apius Auchab said the damage that might be caused by the proposed mining activities will disadvantage communities.
“Companies have corporate social responsibilities that they carry out, with phosphate their income might be affected and some will not be able to fulfil their corporate social responsibility,” Auchab said.
He added: “This whole thing will just benefit a few people, hence, Government must go back to the drawing board and consider the views of the experts and come back to the public with a decision that is more acceptable to benefit the whole nation,” he said.
Swanu is also concerned by the imminent threats that marine phosphate mining might pose.
“This is not done anywhere, even the countries that are in a better position to do it opt not to do it, for me this is a complete mess.
It is not well planned, it is poorly researched and it is not in the interest of the nation…that is why we have this hide and seek situation between the ministries,” said party president Usutuaije Maamberua.
Maamberua also feels that phosphate mining will only benefit a few individuals. “This programme is meant to conceptualise the benefits of a few individuals,” he said.
‘Public was misled’
The DTA of Namibia has condemned any marine phosphate mining activities in Namibia.
Opposition party Member of Parliament (MP) Jennifer van den Heever in a media statement issued on Monday said the party is against any attempts by Government to issue a permit for such mining.
Van den Heever said many countries such as Australia and South Africa have investigated the possibility of venturing into marine phosphate mining and on each occasion, research has found that the risks to sea life are simply too great.
“The risks become even greater when you consider that in Namibia, 15 000 fishermen and their families are directly dependent on marine and sea life for their daily bread,” she said.
Van den Heever said the public was misled as Government knew the company will get the green light to continue with mining activities.
She noted that a decision on whether to permit marine phosphate mining in Namibia depends on the finalisation of the findings and recommendation of the proposed research.
She also questioned the different roles played by the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources as well as the Ministry of Environment and Tourism.
Fisheries minister Bernard Esau recently said he was not aware of the issuing of the clearance.
“It is evident that the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing. It is indeed extremely distressing when those who the public have entrusted with jointly safeguarding our environment and sea life are this dysfunctional and disjointed,” she added.
Additional reporting by Nampa