Environmental Commissioner Teofilus Nghitila says he conducts his work without fear or favour when issuing environmental clearance certificates.
“What we do here is to review environmental reports. It should be clear that our responsibility is to look at environmental issues. We don’t look at who is the shareholder of a given company. We are blind to do that. That is not our job. That is the work of the Ministry of Industrialisation, Trade and SME Development.
“We look at environmental information contained in the report [to see] if it’s sufficient for us and that there’s all the necessary measures to mitigate any impact,” he said at a press conference this week on his issuance of the clearance certificate to allow Namibian Marine Phosphate (NMP) to mine phosphate off the coast of Namibia.
He said people should understand that there was nothing untoward in issuing the certificate, as an external team of scientists was involved. “There was no gamble about the process,” he said, adding that it will not cover the whole Atlantic Ocean, as some think.
“People think it’s the whole ocean. No, the fish will still swim. They are doing testing now in Lüderitz, as we speak.
They are taking samples. It’s not true what people are saying that our coastal town of Walvis Bay will no longer be.
It’s not true. This site is even 125 km away from Walvis Bay. People should just think and contextualise. Some are saying I gave the clearance, because I am not from the coast. No, it doesn’t make sense,” he lashed out.
Professional opinion expressed in the EIA report suggests impacts will be very low, Shifeta said: “It must be emphasised that we can’t establish the unknown with the unknown.” Shifeta, however, said whoever wants a copy of the environmental impact assessment (EIA) report should put a request to the ministry, explaining that the process needs to be monitored thoroughly.
Nghitila says rehabilitation is not part of the conditions in the report, because it is part of a final compliance report.
“It doesn’t mean the company starts tomorrow. It might take five or 10 years. The onshore [processing facility] has not been identified, as interested parties will be consulted on the second EIA,” the commissioner said.
He also said the ministry is working on a system to make clearance of certificates public to put to rest some of the rumours of secrecy in its operations. “We have been working manually. We will have a digital system, whereby every certificate issued can be accessed by anybody online. This system will be in place before the end of this year. It is something new and is in line with Namibia’s adoption of transparency and inclusivity,” he revealed.
Currently, he said the ministry only issues the certificate to the applicants, excluding third parties, as some cases end up in court. He urged parties with a keen interest in particular activities to be undertaken to do follow-ups on such matters. “If you are interested and only waiting for things to happen, then your rights will be infringed. We don’t even touch any report if there is no indication that there was public participation. We put it aside,” he said.
Shifeta warned: “There are some companies that are toy-toying, but don’t have environmental clearance certificates.
We are coming to them. Any removal of natural resources must have a certificate. And our records show they don’t have certificates. I don’t know why you point figures and you are not clean yourself.”
According to Shifeta, some people are saying the Environmental Act is complicated. Hence, he wants to have workshops starting with parliamentarians, whom he says make laws that many of them do not understand. “It’s a complicated thing unless you are a lawyer, or you work here, to understand. I can’t blame people. I forgive those making those statements, but if they need clarity we will be able to explain,” he said.