Phosphate decision coming

The majority owner of Namibia Marine Phosphate is pressuring the government for a decision on the Sandpiper Marine Phosphate Project, which was put on ice because of environmental concerns.

14 August 2019 | Business

President Hage Geingob has promised Omani billionaire Mohammed Al Barwani, who is the majority owner of Namibia Marine Phosphate, that there will be a final decision soon with regard to its environmental clearance certificate.

This follows a letter in which Al Barwani, whose net worth is believed to be over N$16 billion, raised his concerns to Geingob about the delay of the Sandpiper Marine Phosphate Project after its environmental clearance certificate was set aside last year.

Namibia Marine Phosphate (NMP) is majority-owned by Al Barwani, who has an 85% stake through his company Mawarid Mining LLC, while Namibian businessman Knowledge Katti owns 15% of NMP through his Havana Investment.

The Sandpiper Project is located about 120 kilometres southwest of Walvis Bay. Geingob told Al Barwani that a decision was made that a meeting with the attorney-general must be convened this month, following which a final decision would be made by the government.

“Once the consultation with the attorney-general is concluded the minister of environment and tourism will make his decision and communicate to you,” Geingob wrote to Al Barwani last month.

The president's feedback to Al Barwani followed after he had taken up the delay in the project and the issuance of the environmental clearance certificate (ECC) with environment minister Pohamba Shifeta.

In a letter addressed to Shifeta, Geingob said it was disheartening that almost 10 years since the development of the project was first mooted, there was still no decision whether the ECC issued to NMP remained valid or not.







Geingob said indecision on the part of government institutions is very costly as it denies the country potential economic activities and taints the country's reputation as an attractive investment destination.



Geingob had further directed that Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila facilitate a meeting between Shifeta and his fisheries and mining counterparts to “find an immediate solution”.







'No pressure'







Shifeta, however, told Namibian Sun yesterday that Geingob had not put pressure on him or the ministry by enquiring about the delay in the marine phosphate project.



“The president is a person who believes in the rule of law and he wanted clarification on what is happening after the investors had written to him,” he said.



Shifeta stressed that the ECC was nullified and because of a pending court case against the company's mining licence, there cannot be a pronouncement on the ECC.



He further pointed out that he is the second respondent in the case, the environmental commissioner is the first respondent, and the matter is sub judice.



“The president cannot interfere in the decision. I cannot even interfere in the decision, which will be made by the environmental commissioner and be unfettered. The president only wrote a letter to enquire about the process. Things have been blown out of proportion.”



Shifeta, however, pointed out that anyone has the right to appeal the final decision.



Al Barwani had written to Geingob in March this year, saying that after the appeal hearing in which the ECC was set aside, a public consultation process was to be completed within six months from 21 June.



“We understand that the process was completed in accordance with the minister's self-imposed timeline on 21 December. We wrote to the ministry in January, but heard nothing for more than eight weeks after the deadline until our lawyers received a letter from the minister in March stating that the finalisation of the appeal process was to be postponed until the outcome of the legal challenge to the NMP mining licence.”



Al Barwani said their legal team advised that the two matters are not connected in law.



“The minister has no legal grounds therefore to defer his decision and that NMP should proceed with further action against the minister if he insists on delaying the appeal outcome.”



He said they have invested over N$1.6 billion in both project development acquisition development and holding costs and the capital investment to develop the project in Walvis Bay is estimated at N$4.7 billion.



He said that according to a specialist economic consultant an integrated phosphate fertiliser industry would have contributed to 51 600 jobs already.



“The above study shows what the project is capable of delivering, yet time, markets and opportunity wait for no one, hence any unwarranted delay or extension of the decision-making process presents both a frustration and a risk to the project,” Al Barwani wrote to Geingob.







Controversy







The ECC was first issued by the then environmental commissioner, Theofillius Nghitila, on 5 September 2016.



In November that year the ECC was withdrawn following a public outcry, court applications and an appeal by community activist Michael Gawaseb against phosphate mining.



A court case last year ruled that Namibian Marine Phosphate did not have a fair hearing when its clearance was withdrawn and therefore Shifeta decided to hold a public hearing on the matter.



Following this public hearing, Shifeta delivered his judgment on the matter and said that the certificate granted to Namibian Marine Phosphate was set aside.



However, another court case is still ongoing between Namibian Marine Phosphate and three Namibian fishing industry associations.



The associations are not only asking for the environmental clearance certificate to be declared illegal, but also want the company's mining licence declared unlawful, because it had apparently expired.



The fishing industry is also against the ocean being turned into an “experimental ground for phosphate mining”.



NMP holds Mining Licence 170, which is located 120 km southwest of Walvis Bay and was issued on 26 July 2011. The mining licence covers an area of 2 223 square kilometres in water depths of between 190 and 300 metres.





ELLANIE SMIT

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