Thursday 15 April 2021
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……Phosphate divides Swapo Government

screen-shot-2016-10-30-at-6-57-59-pm•    Ministerial war erupts in parliament over phosphate
•    PM loses her temper, reprimands Esau and Shifeta
•    Opposition MPs stage parliament walkout
•    Geingob steps into the phosphate fray

The rift in President Hage Geingob’s Cabinet over marine phosphate mining widened yesterday after fisheries minister Bernhard Esau accused the Ministry of Environment and Tourism of unanimously issuing a clearance certificate to one of the companies that wants to mine phosphate in Namibia’s waters. Opposition law makers described the confusion over marine phosphate mining in the Government ranks as “organised confusion”. Revelations from last week that the environment ministry has issued a clearance certificate to Namibia Marine Phosphate (NMP) revealed cracks within the Government system and division on the controversial mining project. Esau said the certificate was issued despite the fact that the process, as established by Cabinet, including conducting a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA), had not been allowed to run its course. “There are no credible scientific results backed by sound methodologies to justify issuance of an environmental clearance certificate, there are no pre-established controls on how this mining is to be carried out to minimise aquatic ecosystem damage,” Esau said while environment and tourism minister Pohamba Shifeta sat in his bench with a smile on his face.
Esau is worried by the fact that the clearance certificate indicates that NMP will establish its own controls, “an approach, which is unacceptable from an official control point of view”.  He said a review, including public hearings on the data submitted for the EIA – as provided for in Section 36 of the Environmental Management Act (2007), has not been carried out and the opinion of the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources, as the competent authority on this matter, has not been considered.  By law, the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources is the competent authority on marine ecosystem and marine resources. Marine resources are defined in the Marine Resources Act (2000) as “all marine organisms, including, but not limited to, plants, vertebrate and invertebrate animals, monerans, protists (including seaweeds), fungi and viruses, and also includes guano and anything naturally derived from or produced by such organisms”. Although marine phosphate mining is not practised anywhere else, Esau said the fisheries ministry is not opposed to marine phosphate mining.
“Rather, the ministry has requested for time to carry out strategic environmental assessment to determine the kind of controls that can be exercised during such mining to ensure that there is no significant damage to our aquatic ecosystem, and hence our fisheries,” he said.
He said the fisheries ministry is keen to work with all line ministries to ensure economic development such as phosphate mining, without sacrificing existing economies such as fisheries, which is worth about N$10 billion in forex earnings, and provides employment to thousands of Namibians.
As soon as Esau finished reading his ministerial statement, leader of the official opposition McHenry Venaani took the floor and expressed his disappointment over the manner in which Government is handling the phosphate matter. “We are pleading for a common government position. This is a very serious matter that has capacity to impact many generations to come. I want to thank the minister for his view, but I must say it is disappointing to hear two ministries speaking differently,” he said. “How can you find a solution if you have already cleared it. Government must tell us its position on phosphate mining? The PM should have come here and told us what the position of government is, not two ministers fighting. We cannot allow war of ministers to take ownership of this country,” he charged. The PM said it is unfortunate how the matter is being handled by stakeholders. “When this issue was first raised, I indicated that it is inappropriate to engage in this matter the way we did. I said there ought to be engagement between Parliament and the Executive. The Executive has made arrangements to have a special meeting to discuss this issue,” she said. “I am disappointed that we continue to use a sectoral approach to deal with this matter. I hope members of the Executive will not continue to take a sectoral approach,” she said.
Opposition MPs from DTA, WRP, RDP and Swanu walked out after expressing dissatisfaction with the manner in which deputy speaker Loide Kasingo handled affairs in the house. Venaani also accused the deputy speaker of being partisan on the matter and favouring the ruling party. “This matter must come to the National Assembly for discussions, hence the clearance certificate must be withdrawn so that we can discuss the matter on behalf of those who voted for us to represent them,” Venaani said.   “People say Government is confused, there is no confusion but rather a war between ministries. One ministry already issued a certificate and fisheries ministry is saying a study is yet to be conducted, we want a common Government position,” he charged. Venaani said Government cannot be talking of finding a solution while a clearance certificate has been issued already. “The ministry must first withdraw the licence if they want us to discuss the issue in parliament because there is no point discussing something that has already been cleared,” he charged.
Geingob steps in
With a view to address the concerns over the phosphate saga, Cabinet Secretary George Simataa yesterday issued a statement from President Hage Geingob calling a special Cabinet meeting on 7 November 2016 to discuss the matter in detail. “Subsequently, the nation will be informed of the strategic decision taken by the Government of the Republic of Namibia on the matter,” said Simataa in a statement released yesterday afternoon.

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