Environmental law comes in to force

The Environment Management Act will, more than four years after it has been adopted by Parliament, come into force to regulate amongst others environmental aspects in the mining industry. The process was fast tracked after allegations of pollution at the Tsumeb smelter surfaced and the Ministry of Environment and Tourism recognised that this piece of legislation would be the best to deal with the sensitive issue.

The final report on the investigation into the environmental and health risks at the Namibian Custom Smelter (NCS) in Tsumeb is expected to be released early March and the soon to be established Environmental Commission will ensure the enforcement of the recommendations made by the experts.

“One of the first tasks of the commission will be to look into the environmental report of the smelter. If any environmental recommendations are made, they must see to it that they are implemented,” Environment and Tourism Minister Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah said.

The investigating team was led by Dr Jewette Masinja and consisted of 35 staff members.

According to the minister, the process had been delayed as samples were sent to South Africa as Namibia does not have the facilities to analyse it. “The laboratory results on the investigation at the Smelter that has been sent to the National Institute of Occupational Health in Johannesburg, South Africa and is expected back at the end of this month after which the experts can finalise their report. Only then the real facts surrounding allegations of the smelter’s health risk at the northern town will be known.”

However, the preliminary assessment on allegations that the smelter poses a health risk to its workers and the Tsumeb community also highlighted some other shortcomings. This includes that there is a perception of inadequately trained and inexperienced government inspectors to supervise the mining industry.

“Consequently, the industry is mostly forced to self regulate and self advise. There is an inadequate provision of domestic environment standards,” states the preliminary report.

It was recommended that environmental regulations be adjusted to provide guidance.

The Ministry of Environment and Tourism has appointed an environmental commissioner, who will take office as from March 1, 2012 to control all aspects dealing with environment health.
However, the Environmental Commission which will consist of 39 members is yet to be established as key positions in the Commission are still to be filled, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry, Dr Kalumbi Shangula told the Namibian Sun.

Therefore, the Environment Management Act can only be operational if the Environmental Commission is in place. When officials from the Ministry of Environment and Tourism as well as the Attorney-General’s office were last year tasked to study the applicable laws that will impact the situation at the Smelter, it was found that the Environment Management Act would be the best law to deal with the situation. The law is, however, not yet in operation, as it is subject to other activities such as the establishment of the Environmental Commission.

Since the passing of the Environmental law in 2007 the ministry created a new structure, but this was only approved towards the end of last year.

Shangula said the Act and regulations are now in place and the commission can now be established.

Hans Nolte, General Manger at NCS, agreed with the experts that the Namibian authority competency with respect to the environmental and health regulation of industries such as NCS could be strengthened.

“There are gaps in the existing legislation as well as resource challenges in terms of administering correct practice, but we are happy and willing to work with the government to assist and develop these areas,” he said.

Ellanie Smit - Windhoek
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