Battle Over Phosphate

FISHERIES minister has warned the government against “blindly” giving approval to companies that want to mine marine phosphate, saying the country’s long term future should matter more.

Bernard Esau told The Namibian yesterday that he is aware of lobbying so that one of the companies, the Namibian Marine Phosphate (NMP), interested in mining phosphate and others get the green light to do so.

The fisheries minister’s comments come about a week after the minister of mines Obeth Kandjoze said, since the phosphate mining moratorium imposed in September 2013 expired in March this year, government should allow those with licences to start mining activities. Kandjoze also said the moratoriums would have no legal standing if they were challenged in court by companies given licences to mine phosphate.

But Esau said he is aware of new Namibia partners in NMP, which is a joint venture between Oman-owned Mawarid Mining LLC and the Namibian company Havana Investments.

Havana Investments, which is owned by exploration middleman Knowledge Katti, replaced Tungeni Investments in the NMP shareholding structure.

The directors of NMP which plans to mine in Walvis Bay’s coastal area, are Katti and Tariq Al Barwani and Sushil Srivastava. Katti paraded the Oman businessmen at the inauguration of President Hage Geingob at the Independence Stadium in Windhoek in March.

The Namibian understands that extensive lobbying has been taking place over the past few months for those in power to approve the controversial phosphate project.

“Equity change should not mean government will have to blindly give things just like that. We must think long term and not short term,” Esau said.

The businesspeople from Oman, an Arab country on the south-eastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula, bought the company from Australian firm Minemakers for N$228 million. Leviev Group, which is owned by Israeli diamond dealer Lev Leviev, also wants to mine phosphate.

Esau said the government should do a cost-benefit analysis to determine whether the phosphate project will harm the industry or not.

The fishing sector directly employs over 13 000 people and around 200 000 if the number is expanded to net makers, repairs and maintenance of vessels, packing and stevedores.

Phosphate mining is estimated to be able to create around 500 jobs during the construction phase and employ 150 workers when the project starts. 200 indirect jobs are expected to be created for the controversial sea mining. Unlike the fishing industry which pumps N$5 billion into the economy, the phosphate plan is expected to contribute N$3 billion per year.

The fisheries ministry believes that Namibia is taking a risk because phosphate mining in the ocean has never been done anywhere in the world and Namibia would be the first country to do so.

“They are planning to mine on fish breeding grounds this may affect the recovery of fish stocks,” Esau said in 2013.

Esau yesterday said that a ministerial meeting is scheduled to take place tomorrow with environment minister Pohamba Shifeta and mines minister Kandjoze.

The ministers will be briefed by a team of experts that undertook a study since a ban on phosphate was approved by Cabinet close to 20 months ago.

The ban on bulk sea-bed mining of the fertiliser material was meant to address environmental risks and Norwegian Institute of Marine Research and Sintef were commissioned to conduct a study.

Asked on the issue of the moratorium expiring on 17 March this year, Esau said the position of government on phosphate mining is still the same and that the decision will have to be made by Cabinet and not a minister. Esau said it is from that meeting that recommendations will be taken for a Cabinet submission to be compiled on whether to ban phosphate or allow the mining companies to go ahead. The Cabinet submission is expected to be tabled three weeks from now, Esau said.

Esau also suggested the company planning to mine phosphate should do a comprehensive environmental study and not a desktop computer based study.

Kandjoze is a known friend of businessman Katti but sources said the two have clashed over several issues. It is not clear the issue of phosphate mining is among the issues that have led to the clash between the two men.

Meanwhile, sources from the fishing sector have complained of being kept in the dark about the process of deciding whether phosphate is a good option or not.

Those in the know said several documents are being kept away from them so that they cannot analyse them themselves.

Former president of the chamber of mines Werner Duvenhage said the mining industry was concerned that 18 months had passed since the moratorium was passed on phosphate mining.

“The chamber remains concerned that the 18-month period of the Cabinet moratorium on marine phosphate mining which was declared on 17 September 2013 lapsed in March 2015 without much progress on the desired scientific studies to address concerns by the fishing industry.

“The Sentef consultants from Norway engaged by the government have only produced a scoping report,” Duvenhage said.

He said while the government is committed to the coexistence of several sectors in the same ecosystem, the slow pace at which the environmental concerns are being addressed is of great concern to the chamber.

Source : The Namibian