Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) spokesman Romeo Muyunda, on Wednesday dismissed claims by Namibia Phosphate Mining (NMP) that the ‘Fishrot’ files scandal and the individuals involved in it are responsible for stalling its Sandpiper phosphate mining project.

The company is engaged in a protracted campaign which started over 10 years ago, to commence offshore mining for phosphates, an estimated 120km south-west of Walvis Bay.

“It appears the objections to NMP’s phosphate project, as proposed and scientifically substantiated by independent environmental assessments, were spearheaded by individuals who are now implicated in, what is perhaps, Namibia’s biggest post-independence corruption scandal, the Fishrot Files.”

“These individuals appear to have placed their own interests above that of Namibia’s marine environment, fish resources, employment, and social upliftment.

“Against this background, it is fair and reasonable for people to question the motivation for the strenuous opposition to phosphate by those individuals implicated in the Fishrot Files scandal,” reads a statement issued by NMP recently.

Muyunda told the Windhoek Observer this week that it is well-known fat that opposition to marine phosphate mining has been received from different stakeholders in Namibia, including concerned members of the public, civil society, environmental activists, labour unions and the commercial fishing industry.

“…it is difficult to link the opposition to marine phosphate mining to individuals implicated in the Fishrot files scandal in the absence of a thorough investigation, he says.

The Confederation of Namibian Fishing Associations is the main applicant in the on-going court case between the confederation and three other fishing industry associations, as well as the environmental commissioner and five other respondents.

NMP is hard at work to try and correct what it describes as misinformation surrounding the project, highlighting the loss of jobs and revenue to the Namibian economy.

“…As details of the #Fishrot Files scandal unfold, it appears that employment in both the fishing and mining industries could well have been compromised by the activities of certain parties implicated in the scandal,” NMP claims in the statement.

“At a project level, if it were to be implemented, the NMP’s Sandpiper Project requires capital investment of N$3.2 billion for the development, along with employment of around 450 Namibians (directly and indirectly) in the Erongo Region.

“In addition, local, regional and national contractors would be required to provide services such as legal, financial, security, transport, catering, mechanical, fuel supply, spares, electrical and port related activities. When operational, the project would generate an estimated N$730m/year toward the Namibian Treasury in the form of taxes (direct and indirect), duties and royalties,” the company says.

According to Muyunda, NMP is however overlooking the environmental objections, which have led to its environmental clearance certificate being set aside, including concerns about the irreversible damage mining for phosphates could potentially cause to the seabed and to Namibia’s lucrative fishing industry, which is a pillar of the country’s economy.

“The only environmental clearance certificate issued to the NMP Sandpiper project was set aside by the Minister of Environment and Tourism and is therefore [no longer] valid,” he told this newspaper on Wednesday.

On the other hand NMP officials stubbornly maintain that there is no factual evidence that phosphate mining and fishing cannot co-exist, and that the Sandpiper project will have “no significant environmental impact on the marine environment.”

The NMP is challenging the decision of the minister to set aside the environmental clearance certificate. Once the company receives the green light to get the project off the ground, it envisages a steady production of three million tonnes a year for 20 years.

CEO, Chris Jordinson, told Mining Weekly recently, that the Fishrot scandal “could throw into doubt the credibility of the public statements made by the implicated parties.”

“In NMP’s opinion, he said, “these events place a question mark over the objectivity of the fishing industry regarding their stated position on the purported threats posed by marine phosphate mining. Therefore, it is important to question any claims by the implicated parties opposing marine phosphate mining.”

“With the matter being sub-judice the government cannot pronounce itself,” Muyunda told the Windhoek Observer this week.

According to him the government does not have a stated position on phosphate mining and that the question is before the courts to make a final ruling, but NMP remains hopeful that the project will go ahead. – Additional reporting by FINSA/fishingindustrynewssa.com