8 June 2018

Namibia: Consultant Promises Full Report On Chinese Timber Project

A company hired by a Chinese firm to carry out an environmental impact assessment on harvesting of timber in the Zambezi region has promised to release a full report after holding a public meeting on the issue next week.

The company, Nyepez Consultancy CC, hired by Chinese-owned Africa Safari Wood Lodge, said they have a scheduled public meeting at 09h00 on 15 June at Kamunu community hall at Katima Mulilo, where they will discuss the proposed harvesting of timber in the region.

Nyepez Consultancy released a scoping report last week, but refused to disclose details of the Chinese company's plans. A scoping report defines a project and sometimes provides critical details, such as employment figures and benefits to the community.

The proposed project would be in the Katima Mulilo rural constituency, about five kilometres west of the town and bordering the Mafwe Traditional Authority communal land in the Liselo area.

According to the scoping report seen by The Namibian, the timber harvesting will take place on the old Katima farm that was closed down after independence.

The report states that different stakeholders wanted to revive the farm as a green scheme project, but in 2013 the Mafwe Traditional Authority allocated 10 000 hectares of the land to another Chinese company, Namibia Oriental Tobacco cc to grow tobacco.

After a public outcry, the proposed tobacco project, was rejected and the land earmarked for growing maize, vegetables and fruits.

Nyepez Consultancy's contact person Gift Sinyepe, worked as a development planner for the lands ministry at the time of the tobacco farm proposal. He now works for the Henties Bay municipality.

At the lands ministry, Sinyepe was tasked with receiving objection letters from the public regarding the tobacco project. Ironically his company has now been charged with conducting an environmental impact assessment of harvesting timber on the same land.

African Safari Wood Lodge CC, is reportedly in a partnership with the Mafwe Traditional Authority to export the timber to China.

The project will be on 12 000 hectares consisting of 2 000 hectares from the Katima Mulilo irrigation scheme and 10 000 hectares from Zambezi Modern Agricultural Scheme (the tobacco farm) at Liselo.

African Safari was authorised by the Mafwe Traditional Authority and the ministry of agriculture to cut down a specified number of trees from Namibia's only wild teak, a protected resource.

"[They] intend to cut the harvested timber into sizable pieces, to pack the timber into large containers and transport the timber to the port of Walvis Bay for export to China," the report states.

Although the document is titled "Scoping report", Sinyepe this week insisted that the document was to provide background information on the project and the final assessment report was still being completed.

Asked whether the final report should not be made available before the public meeting, Sinyepe said all the documents would be released after that meeting.

"The information will be available after the public meeting, but comments are open until 22 June. We also do not submit the report to the environmental commissioner [Theofilus Nghitila] with missing documents, so all the information will be included, i.e. letter from traditional authority, permits for cutting timber, CVs and maps," he said.

He added that they had called for public comments or objections through newspapers (The Namibian and New Era).

According to the Environment Management Act, a scoping report should contain the curriculum vitae of the environmental assessment practitioner who prepared it, a description of the environment that may be affected by the proposed activity and the manner in which the geographical, physical, biological, social, economic and cultural aspects of the environment may be affected by the proposed activity.

The scoping report must also contain the laws and guidelines used in its preparation.

The consultant's failure to explain some of the critical parts of the project, and giving a mere two-page background note, has raised concerns about key facts being obscured.

The Zambezi region has previously reported illegal timber harvesting by individuals in the area.

The Namibian reported this year that the Anti-Corruption Commission seized four shipping containers of wood alleged to have been illegally logged in the Zambezi region by a Chinese company.

According to the ACC's head of investigations, Nelius Becker the Chinese company had been involved in illegally harvesting of timber since February last year, as a harvesting licence was only issued in April last year.

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