The Ministry of Environment and Tourism has shut down an illegal stone quarry in the Namib Naukluft Park for the past 20 years.
"We have stopped their operations and told them to go back to the drawing board and ensure that proper procedures are followed before they can resume their operations," Environment and Tourism Minister, Uahekua Herunga told New Era yesterday. The site remains under close monitoring he said. A private company, Namibia Construction, has been conducting quarrying operations in the park since 1993.
The company says it has a lease agreement with the Herma Brothers, the previous owners who started the quarry years before independence. The agreement dates back to the 1980s. According to the principals of the company the agreement stipulates that royalties of N$1 per cubic metre quarried be paid to the state. An investigation by the ministry has however revealed that the company does not have an agreement with the ministry, and that the operations are in violation of several laws of the country that guide operations in national parks. It has also come to light that the company has not been paying any royalties.
The managing director of Namibia Construction, Hans-Pieter Schulz, in an interview with New Era two weeks ago, denied that their operations in the park are illegal. Schulz said the company has been carrying out its quarrying operations for the past 14 years and the Ministry of Environment and Tourism has been aware of that. "Everything was fine at the quarry. We are not mining in the park, we are quarrying stones and we do not need a license for quarrying. It is not in our interest to do something illegal. We have been paying royalties to the state. Herma Brothers are the ones with the license, all we [Namibia Construction] are doing is operating on their [Herma Brothers] behalf," Schulz explained.
This week Herunga dismissed the claims saying there is "no legal documentation between the alleged lessor, Herma Brothers and Namibia Construction, hence their operation is totally illegal in the park. You need a permit to quarry or do any other activities in the park. Namibia Construction does not have it and they also do not have an environmental clearance certificate that proves that their activities will not negatively impact the environment."
Herunga also lashed out at the company saying: "They have been operating illegally since 1993 and they have also not paid any royalties to the state as per the agreed amount." The minister further said the company has been violating park regulations by allowing workers to sleep on site. Although Herunga could not say exactly how much the government had lost through unpaid royalties, he estimated the amount to run into millions of dollars.
"We have consulted our legal department to check the extent of damage caused to the environment and all costs incurred in the process and then we can charge them or not," he noted. The company Herma Brothers is said to have extended a 1980 agreement in 1993 with the then Ministry of Wildlife, Conservation and Tourism. Initially the quarry was used by the colonial administration of the erstwhile South West Africa to build the road between Walvis Bay and the Rooikop military base.
The ministry's other bone of contention now is the fact that Herma Brothers leases the quarry to Namibia Construction, contrary to the agreement that stipulates that the quarry belongs to the state and no individual may buy or lease the quarry to a third party without the approval of Cabinet.
Namibia Construction is also being blamed for setting up a kerbstone manufacturing plant at the quarry in the park, contrary to the agreement. The other violation is with the setting up of permanent structures for employees, contrary to park regulations that prohibit sleeping over in the park, other than at officially designated camping sites. Herunga said no civil case has yet been opened against Namibia Construction and Herma Brothers for their illegal quarrying operation in the Namib Naukluft Park to recover the losses.