19 June 2018

Namibia: D-Day for Phosphate Mining

The decision whether to cancel the environmental clearance certificate for offshore phosphate mining by a Middle Eastern company or not will be known on Thursday this week.

Environment minister Pohamba Shifeta said this yesterday during a public hearing on objections to the issuing of an environmental clearance certificate to Namibia Marine Phosphate (NMP), which is majority-owned by Oman-based Mawarid Mining LLC.

NMP was granted environmental clearance in 2016 by environmental commissioner Teofilus Nghitila to start mining seabed phosphate off the Namibian coast, about 120km south-west of Walvis Bay.

Afterwards, the environmental clearance certificate sparked consternation and a public outcry, with consumer activist Michael Gaweseb claiming that the proposed mining activities would have severe negative consequences on the underwater environment and the local fishing industry.

Following these objections, Shifeta cancelled it.

Gaweseb's appeal also addressed "the company's inability to mitigate the impact to the environment".

Shifeta's decision to cancel the clearance certificate was ruled as illegal by the High Court last month when he was found not to have given NMP a fair hearing before cancelling the certificate.

During the hearing yesterday, Gaweseb's lawyer, Uno Katjipuka-Sibolile maintained that the clearance certificate be set aside, and that the ministry allow for a scientific study to be carried out to determine the impact of seabed mining on the ecosystem.

She added that the ministry should also apply the "precautionary principle" to avoid preventable damage being caused to the Namibian seabed environment and the fisheries sector.

"There is an obligation on the government to protect the environment," she said.

"If you do not know the extent of the harm you are about to cause and you have no mitigation measures that you can implement, then applying the precautionary principle would oblige the government not to allow the activity," she explained.

"Allow the scientific and environmental communities to gather the necessary data to be able to better assess the harm that would flow from such an activity. We would ask you, minister, not to make Namibia the guinea pig, and to set aside the environmental clearance certificate," she added.

NMP's lawyer, Deon Obbes, yesterday objected to the appeal, saying the reasons given were not based on any scientific grounds, and had "no factual underpinnings".

Obbes said the appeal should be dismissed because the "grounds of appeal" were very vague and did not constitute grounds of appeal "in law" as they were not based on any "facts, but assumptions".

The Namibian reported earlier this year that NMP is 85% owned by Omani billionaire Mohammed Al Barwani through his company Mawarid Mining LLC, with Namibian middleman Knowledge Katti owning the remaining 15% through his Havana Investments.

It was also reported that the company claimed to have "invested" N$780 million in the phosphate project to date to support exploration, and on technical, economic and environmental studies.

After hearing arguments, Shifeta said he would give his decision on the issue on Thursday.

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