19 July 2012

Namibia: Kaaronda Impressed With Smelter Changes

THE National Union of Namibian Workers (NUNW) is concerned that mistakes made with the investigation into alleged human and environmental poisoning caused by the Tsumeb smelter may send a negative signal to potential investors.

"The scientific accuracy of the findings of the report, of which some have been proved to be wrong, may have major implications on possible investments in Namibia but also on the employees at the smelter,"the secretary general of NUNW, Evilastus Kaaronda, told The Namibian.

Kaaronda met with the management of Namibia Custom Smelters (NCS) and about 540 employees at the plant on Tuesday.

He said right from the beginning the ministries of agriculture and environment differed about the quality of water at the town.

In April this year the water supply to the Ondundu residential area was suspended as it was suspected to be unfit for human consumption. The water supply was restored last week after the Ministry of Agriculture again did tests and found that nothing was wrong with the water.

The smelting of copper concentrate was also reduced from 18 000 tons per month to 7 000 tons as a precautionary measure to reduce the uptake of arsenic at the smelter, which the report said was excessive and posed a serious health risk to workers.

However, a decision was taken last week to increase the production to 14 000 tons per month due to the fact that NCS is progressing well with regard to upgrading its facilities to reduce its arsenic emissions.

"We are really impressed with the progress NCS made during the past few months and we welcomed Government's decision to allow the smelter to increase its production," said Kaaronda.

NCS has spent about N$120 million during the past three months on the upgrades and according to its managing director, Hans Nolte, they will continue investing in the smelter to make it more environmentally friendly.

According to Kaaronda the government should make sure that foreigners are only used for such investigations if there are no skilled Namibians available.

"Namibians do understand the circumstances and conditions much better than foreigners," he said.

The technical committee, together with the company's engineering contractors, next month will review NCS's newly developed schedule to install a sulphuric acid plant. The schedule provides for the commissioning of the plant, an investment of around N$1,4 billion, in the third quarter of 2014.

By 2015, when all NCS's projects should be implemented, Dundee's investment in Namibia since 2010 should total about N$2,6 billion.

In the meantime NCS and the unions have agreed on a 16% increase in salaries with effect from July 1.

The two previous years the employees received a 26% increase each year, which Nolte ascribed to the fact that their salaries were not on par with their counterparts in the industry.

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