Phosphate challenge to continue
The lawyer representing the fishing associations, Sisa Namandje, on 2 November said that environment minister Pohamba Shifeta's order to set aside the marine phosphate clearance certificate has not taken away the problem and will not stop the legal action that is already underway, but would probably mean that they will not need to go to court on an urgent basis. “We are very surprised that after vigorously defending the decision to grant the certificate, he waited for us to go to court before making the order,” Namandje said.
Shifeta announced on 2 November that he was setting aside the clearance certificate awarded to the Namibia Marine Phosphate mining company by environmental commissioner Teofilus Nghitila on 5 September. The minister acknowledged that the granting of the certificate sparked considerable debate and reaction, and that the matter was of public interest. He further said that according to the act, the minister or the commissioner must consult the organ of state whose area of responsibility may be affected by the performance of the function or duty or the exercise of the power, as well as consult any other interested or affected person. Although he made reference to the various consultations by NMP, the minister still gave an order for a consultative process to be undertaken. Furthermore, although stating that the commissioner did not have a duty to notify the public when the certificate was issued, he said the commissioner should invent any form of notifying the public whenever the issuance of a certificate or rejection of an application is intended as soon as is practically possible.
Shifeta also questioned why the fisheries minister did not respond to the commissioner's request to review a final report before the issuing of the certificate. The minister said he had reconsidered his stance after going through an appeal made by community activist Michael Gaweseb. As part of his decision, Shifeta ordered that Nghitila notifies the fisheries ministry, the fishing industry and all interested parties to finalise their inputs for the report within three months; and that the whole process of consultations be completed within six months from 2 November.
Namandje said their position remains the same because NMP did not have a valid mining licence at the time of applying for the clearance certificate, and that the commissioner did not have the competency to grant the certificate, according to the Environmental Management Act. Namandje questioned Shifeta's order on the six-month consultation process, saying there cannot be consultations because the certificate was not properly applied for to begin with.
Gaweseb, a holder of a master's degree in business administration in national resources, made his appeal in terms of section 50 of the Environmental Management Act. On 2 November Gaweseb told The Namibian that he is happy with the order because he had asked for the withdrawal of the environmental clearance certificate. Despite the order by the minister, Gaweseb said the fight against marine phosphate mining only starts now. “We cannot have such massive disturbance of one of the most fertile breeding grounds for fish in the world. I'm calling on all Namibians to prepare themselves when called upon to join peaceful protests to defend the public interest. It now depends how vociferous the proponents of phosphate are,” he noted. Gaweseb also said he has always maintained that a constitutional democracy is judged by the way it treats the minority, in this case an individual, instead of demanding petitions. “In short, the ruling brings back power to the citizens, something we should embrace,” he added.
Shifeta said he agreed with Gaweseb that further public consultations are needed, hence the order.