I wish to thank you for according me an opportunity to address you on the issue of marine phosphate mining in Namibia, a matter of great economic and environmental importance to our economy, and which has been a matter of great public interest in the past two weeks now.
This statement also seeks to complement various statements issued by my colleagues on the matter, and present the facts as far as the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources is concerned.
[Madam] Speaker, you may recall that on 9 April 2013 I stood in this August House to issue a Ministerial Statement on the same marine phosphate mining issue. In September of that year, the Government issued a moratorium on marine phosphate mining, and provided directives on clear steps that were to be followed so that the entire Government can collectively, and in consultation with all relevant stakeholders, determine the suitability of marine phosphate mining in Namibia. The precautionary approach adopted by Government on this matter was because, unlike other minerals in the sea such as diamonds, marine phosphates are derived from fossils of living fish and other animals in the sea, and act as fertilizer of the sea, supporting life of smaller organisms which in turn support our rich fisheries. We were aware at the time that marine phosphates exist in many oceans of various countries, but are not extracted on industrial scale due to the high risk to marine ecosystems that such mining poses.
[Madam] Speaker, my concerns on this matter are motivated by the mandate given to the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources by the Marine Resources Act (Act 27 of 2000), which is an Act of Parliament signed by the President. In terms of this Act, the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources is the custodian of marine ecosystem, on which our fisheries depend, on behalf of all Namibians. Honourable members, as the Ministry of Environment and Tourism has acknowledged in writing, and as endorsed by Cabinet, the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources is the competent authority on marine ecosystem and marine resources. Marine resources are defined in the Marine Resources Act (2000) as “all marine organisms, including, but not limited to, plants, vertebrate and invertebrate animals, monerans, protists (including seaweeds), fungi and viruses, and also includes guano and anything naturally derived from or produced by such organisms.”
Marine phosphates are derived from fish bones, hence they fit in this description and are therefore under the mandate of the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources.
[Madam] Speaker, the process of determining the suitability of marine ‘phosphate mining, as directed by Cabinet on 17 September 2013 included the following steps:
a. A scoping study to be undertaken along the Namibian Coast;
b. A Moratorium on the issuance of an environmental impact assessment certificate for a minimum of 18 months;
c. A Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) to be conducted; and
d. An Independent scoping study and comprehensive environmental impact assessment to be conducted during the Moratorium, under the supervision of the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources (MFMR), in consultation with Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) and Ministry of Mines and Energy (MME).
e. A team of experts and scientists from MFMR, MET and MME to map out the terms of reference of the scoping study and environmental impact assessment.
I wish to inform this August House that the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources and other line ministries concerned have been implementing this process, under the guidance of Cabinet, and we are all making good progress. The scoping study was completed, and we were preparing to start with the SEA study.
As you can see from step d) in this process, the EIA and other studies were to be supervised by the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources, as the competent authority on this matter. This approach is also supported by Section 32(1) of the Environmental Management Act (2007) and Section 47(3) of Marine Resources Act (2000).
Unfortunately, this part of the directive was not complied with, and the Ministry of Environment and Tourism allowed the company interested in mining marine phosphates to hire private consultants to conduct their own environmental assessment on the matter.
The Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources made submissions in a joint workshop with Ministry of Environment and Tourism and Ministry of Mines and Energy on 27 April on this matter, and made it clear that these private findings ‘were lacking in scientific methodology, accuracy and interpretation’. This position was reiterated in written communications from the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources to the Ministry of Environment and Tourism on 7 and 8 July 2016.
The Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources is the only State organ with scientific skills, human resource capacity and facilities to competently carry out marine ecosystem assessments. These observations by our scientists were ignored. In terms of Section 44(1)(a) of the Environmental Management Act (2007), the Ministry of Environment and Tourism should not have ignored the advice of the competent authority on this matter.
[Madam] Speaker, as Honourable Members are aware, an environmental clearance certificate has already been issued for the marine phosphate mining to commence any time now. This has been done despite the fact that:
a) The process as established by Cabinet, including conducting a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA), has not been allowed to run its course;
b) There are no credible scientific results backed by sound methodologies to justify issuance of an environmental clearance certificate;
c) There are no pre-established controls on how this mining is to be carried out to minimise aquatic ecosystem damage. It is worth noting that the clearance certificate indicates that the mining company will establish its own controls, an approach which is unacceptable from an official control point of view;
d) A review, including public hearings on the data submitted for the EIA, as provided for Section 36 of the Environmental Management Act (2007) has not been carried out; and
e) Opinion of the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources, as the Competent Authority on this matter, has not been considered.
It is also important to note that, as stated in the environmental clearance certificate, the Ministry of Environment and Tourism declines to take responsibility for negative consequences that may result from such mining activity. I wish to point out, honourable members, that if this mining is allowed to commence, the damage to our seabed ecosystem cannot be reversed.
[Madam] Speaker, I wish to have it on record that, even though this type of mining is not practised in any country, the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources is not opposed ‘in toto’ to marine phosphate mining.
Rather, the Ministry has requested for time to carry out Strategic Environmental assessment to determine the kind of controls that can be exercised during such mining to ensure that there is no significant damage to our aquatic ecosystem, and hence our fisheries. The Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources is keen to work with all line ministries to ensure that we encourage economic development such as phosphate mining, without sacrificing our existing economies such as fisheries, which is worth about N$10 billion in forex earnings, and provides employment to thousands of our citizens. We must always remember that, unlike mining, fisheries is a renewable natural resource.
In conclusion [Madam] Speaker, I wish to assure Honourable Members that my Ministry is working closely with the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, and the Ministry of Mines and Energy, to provide an amicable approach to the investigation of suitability of marine phosphate mining in Namibia and sustainable marine ecosystem, for the benefit of all present and future Namibians.
• This is the ministerial statement on Marine Phosphate Mining that the Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources Bernhard Esau delivered in Parliament on 27 October.