The controversial marine phosphate programme is still very much on the cards.
The Patriot has seen a secret Cabinet document dated July 2017 in which Economic Planning minister Tom Alweendo briefs Cabinet on the progress made thus far on Marine Phosphate exploration, mining and processing.
Alweendo, in his capacity as chairperson of the Cabinet Committee on Trade and Economic Development(CCTED), believes that the exploitation of phosphate as a resource cannot be prohibited outright.
“The CCTED recommendation is that the Government must deal with this issue in line with the desire to utilise our natural resources on a sustainable basis. However, the exploitation of phosphate should also only be sanctioned when proven that such exploitation will not harm the sustainability of other marine resources such as fisheries,” said Alweendo.
Marine phosphate exploration was dealt a blow by Cabinet in 2013, when it approved a moratorium for 18 months to allow for an independent scoping study and comprehensive Strategic Environmental Assessment(SEA) to be conducted.
The scoping study was conducted during the moratorium phase and it recommended that an SEA be conducted in view of the need for sufficient scientific knowledge, data and regulatory mechanisms in order to mitigate the impact such seabed mining may have on the marine environment.
The Ministry of Mines and Energy; Ministry of Environment and Tourism and the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources all presented proposals on the matter. Experts were also invited.
The presentation of the fisheries ministry indicated that there is no
data, information, knowledge and experience regarding impacts on the marine ecosystem from marine bulk seabed phosphate mining. According to the document, the ministry raised concern about the effects from marine phosphate mining on sustainable fisheries, food safety, marine protected areas and other marine species and effect on tourism.
“The position advanced with regard to the decision to allow or not allow seabed phosphate mining should be based on scientific foundation. In that regard the ministry advised that the Cabinet directive for SEA on the cumulative and long-term impacts on marine ecosystem be conducted,” reads the document.
Ministry of Mines and Energy
The Ministry of Mines and Energy, in its presentation, outlined the economic importance of phosphate “in the sense that mining is an important backbone of the Namibian economy and we should be able to mine phosphate without negatively impacting our fisheries sector.”
Mining commissioner, Erasmus Shivolo, during the presentation mentioned the offshore diamond mining that has been carried out for some time now has not impacted the fisheries sector in a negative manner.
According to the Cabinet document, Shivolo also put into perspective the size of the area that is targeted for seabed mining in the context of Namibia Exclusive Economic Zone. Shivolo also expressed concern over the time it is taking to carry out the proposed studies for environmental impact assessment which was supposed to have been done during the moratorium phase.
Ministry of Environment and Tourism
Environmental Commissioner Theofelus Nghitila, who presented on behalf of his ministry, indicated that an application for environmental clearance for ML170 was received from Namibia Marine Phosphate.The company was requested to come up with an Environmental Impact Assessment and an Environment Management Plan that proves that phosphate mining will not be harmful to the fisheries sector or alternatively describe the mitigating measures the company will take, should there be negative effects.
NMP at the time complied with the request and submitted the relevant documents and the clearance certificate was issued.
After public disapproval which went as far as a legal challenge in court to declare the issuance of the certificate as null and void. The challenge is yet to be finalised in court.
NMP commissioned environmental experts and scholars in a consultative process including the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), the University of Stellenbosch and experts from London to assess the impact of phosphate mining in the presence of an official of the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources, although the ministry has consistently denied being part of the consultation process that led to the awarding of the clearance certificate.
The license led to Esau and Shifeta making contrary statements in public on the matter, a situation which exposed an apparent lack of coordination between ministries.
The committee has also drafted and finalized a Cabinet Agenda Memorandum on Effective Utilisation of Natural Resources and to finalize the terms of reference for the in-depth studies on the various natural resources.
The study is aimed at determining whether government is deriving maximum benefit from its natural resources.
The studies will be carried out on natural resources under the Ministries of Mines and Energy, Environment and Tourism as well as Agriculture, Water and Forestry.
Another document seen by this newspaper also indicates that Cabinet directed the Ministry of Finance several clauses of the Income Tax Act that provides for deductions and calculations of incomes derived from mining operations in order to ensure balance sharing of the benefits accrued from the natural resources between government and investors.
There are also plans for the finance ministry to take over responsibility of revenue collection and keep records of the companies that pay their taxes and fees on time to ensure timely actions by Treasury in case of defaults and arrear payments. According to the committee: “The in-depth studies should be conducted as a single multi-disciplinary in-depth study, and that the study should be funded as one. The study needs to take into cognisance the proposal for government to consider developing a national policy framework on natural resources benefit sharing and wealth distribution of the country.”