Minister of Environment and Tourism Pohamba Shifeta says that Namibia Marine Phosphate (NMP) shot itself in the foot by getting the Environmental Clearance Certificate (ECC) ruling annulled.
In an exclusive interview with the Windhoek Observer, Shifeta said getting the ruling annulled, means the certificate issued to NMP will now be considered as having been active since September 2016 when it was issued.
The certificate has a three-year validity, meaning that it will expire on September 2019.
Under the circumstances, it remains unclear whether the Minister will renew the clearance certificate after it expires.
NMP, in which Namibian master businessman, Knowledge Katti is a 15 percent shareholder, still has a pending case in the high court which prohibits them from going ahead with anything, regardless of the status of the environmental certificate.
“If I were them, I would not have done that. I would have just put the certificate aside until things are sorted out. I had said within six months, they could now come and consult. They didn’t want the consultation to take place that is why they went to court.
“If they had allowed the six months to lapse then it would have meant that the certificate was not active but now that the judge has ruled it means that the certificate has been running since it was issued. The certificate will expire soon,” Shifeta said.
The Minister reiterated that he had now made a decision to hold another hearing at the end of this month.
“I made the decision that on May 28, 2018, I will preside over the hearing. We are going to conduct a hearing that will include all parties. They claim they did not get a fair hearing so this one is going to be a public hearing,” he said.
Shifeta set aside the existing certificate in November 2016 pending a consultation that was to take place after six months.
The decision was made in order to give more time to the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources, the fishing sector and all other interested parties, to finalise their input against the awarding of the ECC.
“This order is with immediate effect and binds all parties directly or indirectly affected unless set aside by the High Court as per section 51(1) of the Act,” Shifeta told the media in November 2016.
Last week, the high court ruled to set aside Shifeta’s decision but also stated that the minister may hold a hearing to hear objections against the granting of the certificate.
“I am going to make a ruling on the matter as a part of the process. It is a statutory power that is given to the Minister. The judge can only rule based on the law; I can rule based on the facts and the mandate of the Ministry. What happens will depend on the two parties’ arguments,” Shifeta said.
NMP has since issued a statement asserting their victory in the high court.
“With the matter concluded, the company now welcomes the opportunity to resume working constructively with the Namibian government in order to take the project forward and to resolve any residual stakeholder concerns or misinformation regarding the project development,” NMP stated in a statement issued this week.
According to NMP, about N$780 million has so far been invested in the project to support exploration as well as technical, economic and environmental studies.
“Further development of the project will require an estimated capital investment of N$5.2 billion and is projected to yield government revenue of approximately N$728 million a year in tax and royalty payments,” the statement stated.
The fishing industry has strongly opposed the proposed Sandpiper Marine Phosphate mining citing that it will negatively affect the fishing grounds of various marine species.
According to the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report which was released in 2012, monk fish will be most affected by the mining of phosphate, because the fish prefers a muddy seabed, which will be substantially affected by dredging operations.
“Some 13,8 per cent of the fishing grounds of monk are likely to be impacted ... and there is also likely to be displacement and mortality of the resource in the mining area,” the report states.
The report also admits that hake trawlers and longline fisheries will lose fishing ground, although this is unlikely to happen in the first phase of mining.
The mining area does not overlap ‘significantly’ with the fishing grounds of the other main fishing sectors such as horse mackerel and other small pelagic species.
“The [phosphate] mining will displace fish resources and essential habitat occupied by these resources. There is therefore expected to be significant alteration of the ecosystem characteristics in the immediate mining area,” the EIA report points out.