A CABINET committee set up to investigate the impact of phosphate mining and whether to allow or ban the activity in Namibia's sea will make a decision next week.
National Planning Commission minister Tom Alweendo confirmed yesterday that the Cabinet Committee on Trade and Economic Development, which he chairs, will meet on Monday to decide whether phosphate mining will be allowed in the country.
Namibia banned phosphate mining in 2013, pending an environmental study. The ban expired in March last year.
The Cabinet committee was then tasked to investigate whether marine phosphate mining will be harmful to Namibia's marine life or if it can co-exist with fishing. The Namibian fishing sector is a N$5 billion-a-year industry and is vehemently against the proposed marine phosphate mining.
“We are sitting on Monday to finalise whether the companies will be allowed to mine phosphate,” the former director general of the National Planning Commission said.
He said the decision will be guided by proven research as parties involved such as the fisheries, environment and mines ministries have representatives on the committee.
The committee will only make recommendations on the way forward to Cabinet.
Cabinet, which is chaired by President Hage Geingob, will decide whether to approve the recommendations made by Alweendo and his team.
Marine phosphate mining is the process of extracting fertiliser from the seabed, described by some people as a threat to the marine ecosystem.
Businessman Knowledge Katti's company Havana Investments has a 15% stake in Namibian Marine Phosphate - one of the companies that wants to mine phosphate in Namibia. Katti's partner who owns the other 85% through his company Mawarid Mining, is Mohammed Al Barwani - Oman's richest businessman estimated to be worth US$1,35 billion by Forbes magazine.
In 2013, Geingob led a Namibian business delegation to Dubai and Ras Al-Khaimah in the United Arab Emirates and Muscat in Oman.
The other company is LL Namibia Phosphates that is owned by renowned Israeli diamond businessman Lev Leviev.
Environment minister Pohamba Shifeta told The Namibian yesterday that the role of the ministry is to assess whether there will be any danger if phosphate mining is allowed.
Shifeta said an environmental assessment will have to be carried out and not a desktop environment research.
“If the criteria are met then there is no need to refuse or not to grant an environmental clearance - as long as there is no harm or potential damage to the environment,” he said.
The permanent secretary in the ministry of fisheries Moses Maurihungirire also confirmed that the meeting will be held on Monday and maintained that the stance of his ministry remains the same as last year.
“We are not for competition but for co-existence with other exploiters of the marine environment, that is why we called for a strategic environmental assessment which would allow for all to carefully utilise biotic and abiotic marine resources,” Maurihungirire said yesterday.
The fisheries ministry believes that Namibia is taking a risk because marine phosphate mining has never been done anywhere in the world and Namibia would be the first country to do it.
Pro-phosphate mining firms are insisting that there is nothing harmful about the proposed activity.
Mines and energy minister Obeth Kandjoze declined to comment.
“I have no news or responses on this issue in the meantime at all. I trust this position remains respected in your publication until and beyond there is a decision by the collective,” he said.
News about next week's meeting comes a few weeks after the Confederation of Namibian Fishing Associations asked for the continuation of government's moratorium on phosphate mining.
The confederation's chairman, Matti Amukwa, asked for more time to allow for extensive and conclusive research into the impact phosphate mining will have on the country's marine environment.
“If research shows that mining and fishing can co-exist, then let the legislator prepare the relevant laws and regulations to ensure that stable and controlled mining is possible,” Amukwa said.
He said extensive research will help to avoid a situation where Namibia will become the experimental ground for international sea mining companies extracting phosphate which might have a devastating effect on country's marine life. He said this was because marine phosphate mining is outlawed in other parts of the world.
Amukwa said the fishing industry is not against marine phosphate mining but wants to be put at ease that the mining will not negatively impact on the country's marine ecology.
Amukwa questioned why the phosphate mining companies were being impatient and rushing the process and why the companies and the environment ministry were reluctant to make public the results of studies they concluded on the impact marine phosphate mining has on the marine ecology.
He also asked for the phosphate mining companies to be open and transparent and provide actual figures as to how many jobs they will create and what is the nature of investments they intend to make, as opposed to just blindly promising jobs.
He further challenged the companies to illustrate how Namibians will benefit from marine phosphate mining as opposed to the fishing sector.