Court dilly-dallies in phosphate case

12 May 2021 | Local News

ELLANIE SMIT



WINDHOEK

The High Court’s umpteenth postponement to deliver judgment in the controversial marine phosphate matter has left the fate of mining commencement hanging in balance.

The courts last week again delayed delivering the judgement because “it is not ready”.

Namibian Marine Phosphate (NMP) will now have to wait until 16 June to find out what the court ruling is with regards to the validity of its mining licence for the Sandpiper marine phosphate project near Walvis Bay.

The matter has over the years pitted the fisheries ministry against the environment ministry, with each trying to protect their turf.

The corruption-tainted fishing industry has also been breathing down the necks of the fisheries ministry and pulling strings to block marine phosphate mining in Namibia.

On the other hand, NMP is waiting anxiously to hear whether the court will grant an order in their favour that will see them becoming the first entity to explore into the unchartered marine phosphate arena.

This will be almost a year after the case was closed and first set down for the delivery of judgement.

The Windhoek High Court on 6 May again postponed the delivery of the judgement in the application launched by the Confederation of Namibian Fishing Association and three other parties, challenging the legitimacy of NMP’s limited mining licence (‘ML170’).

The Confederation of Namibian Fishing Association, the Namibian Hake Association, the Midwater Trawling Association and Omualu Fishing brought the legal action in 2016 against the company and it is serving before Judge Harald Geier.

Delays

The judgment was initially set to be delivered on 8 March, following a hearing last July; however, the judge had been on leave.

On 28 February, an order was issued that the case should be postponed to 12 April as the judgement was not ready because of the judge’s long leave.

On 7 April, a hearing was scheduled with all involved parties before Judge Greier, who wanted them to show cause why there has been “no activity in the case for six months” and why it must not be struck from the roll.

On that same day, an order was issued to postpone the case to 11 May because “the judgement is not ready after papers were filed off record in court chambers and in absentia of parties”.

However, last Thursday the case was again postponed to 16 June because the judgement was not ready.

According to court papers, the reasons for the latest postponement were explained to the applicants’ legal representative and NMP’s lawyer.

Historic challenges

The project has been in limbo since 2012, owing to environmental objections, with its environmental clearance certificate having been set aside after being awarded in 2016.

NMP management had previously indicated that, with one of the world’s largest underdeveloped phosphate resources, establishing a phosphate-based industry could position Namibia to meet the future global demand for phosphate to fuel the electric vehicle battery market.

It also promised thousands of jobs.

“NMP would be only one company within a new phosphate-based industry and this new industry has the potential to contribute up to 9% to Namibia’s gross domestic product and create over 50 000 direct and indirect jobs.”

Workshops were anticipated to start in March as NMP said that “it is anticipating a favourable judgement from the current legal hearing … and have therefore taken the proactive step to move forward in preparation of the Sandpiper Project development”.

Shareholders claim they have invested more than N$780 million into NMP and the project, while an annual revenue of N$4.2 billion is expected.

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