17 January 2013

Namibia: 'Fast-Tracking' of Sandpiper Phosphate Project Queried

A COMMENT in December by the chairman of the Australian-listed UCL Resources, Ian Ross, regarding the 'fast-tracking' of the controversial Sandpiper marine phosphate project off Walvis Bay is a major concern to the environmental lobby group Swakopmund Matters (SM).

Last year, Mawarid Mining (also from Australia) became a joint-venture partner in the Sandpiper project after UCL's former partner, Minemakers, sold its 42,5% stake in Sandpiper to Mawarid Mining for N$228 million. The Namibian partner is Namibian Marine Phosphate (NMP).

With the introduction of the new partnership, Ross was quoted as saying: "We expect that Mawarid's introduction and subsequent acquisition of the Minemakers' interest in NMP will significantly fast-track the development of the Sandpiper project and the UCL board and management look forward to the successful development of the [marine phosphate] resource."

The concern over the fast-tracking was compounded when Namibian Marine Phosphate (NMP) advertised several vacancies in December.

It advertised for a project director, chief financial officer, management accountants, construction managers, engineering managers, human resource managers, quantity surveyors and personal assistants to the various directors, among others.

The advertisement stated that "NMP is developing its owner's team to manage the Sandpiper project", and that "work will commence on the design of the land-based infrastructure early 2013, with construction to start later in the year".

Applicants were invited to submit their resumés before January 18.

Another advertisement, inviting expressions of interest, read: "Design consultancy of the early works package of the Sandpiper project. NMP is looking to engage a design consultancy in the Erongo Region area to design the structural elements that define the Sandpiper Project early works design package. The scope of the elements involves the design of administrative buildings, workshop facilities, gatehouse, boundary fence, sewerage works, portable water and access roads."

Interested companies were asked to forward their applications to the NMP CEO Barnabas Uugwanga by January 16 .

The deputy minister of mines and energy, Willem Isaacks, said during the official opening of NMP's headquarters in Walvis Bay that "NMP has been granted a mining licence by the ministry on condition that it satisfies all the necessary requirements. NMP must still obtain environmental clearance to be able to start with the actual operations."

The Namibian attempted to contact Uugwanga for comment about this 'fast-tracking', seeing that the environmental impact assessment (EIA) of both the marine-based and land-based operations has not been approved yet by the environmental commissioner, Teofilius Nghitila.

Uugwanga was not available for comment, as he was "out visiting some of the proposed land-based sites" near Walvis Bay, according to NMP office manager Hannelie Scheepers.

Well-placed sources said there were suspicions as to whether NMP did in fact get land from the Walvis Bay municipality for the project.

In April last year, Nghitila announced that no environmental clearance had been issued for the project and that the EIA had been referred back to Sandpiper due to inadequate consultations with all interested and affected parties as required by Namibian law.

Swakopmund Matters sent a letter to Ross of UCL Resources in which the lobby group wanted clarification on the chairman's comment that the project will be "fast-tracked".

"The project has not received any clearance from any Namibian authority to proceed with any activity - neither marine or terrestrial. No information is available indicating that this position has changed or that NMP has yet complied with all the Namibian legislative stipulations," SM said in the letter.

SM further stated that it was confident that Namibian authorities would "not shirk their responsibility" when considering the complete EIA and would hold NMP to comply with all applicable legal, statutory and regulatory requirements.

"The due process cannot be fast-tracked," SM argued. UCL's email does not work and an attempt to get a comment from Ross proved futile, as the only available number was that of a fax machine.

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