Isabella Chirchir is the country’s new mining commissioner after taking over from Erasmus Shivolo, who had served in this position since 2008.
Chirchir, the deputy director of mining in the ministry, takes the reigns of the country’s leading economic sector which accounts for roughly 10%
of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) every year.
In 2021, treasury received N$7.6 billion, which represents 32% of treasury’s income, from mining.
“Join me in congratulating Isabella on her appointment. I have no doubt that she will execute her new duties with integrity, commitment and professionalism,” read
part of a short statement released by mines and energy minister Tom Alweendo on Friday.
Namibia’s mining legislation, the Minerals (Prospecting and Mining) Act, as amended, reads: “The Minister shall, subject to the laws governing the public service, appoint a person to be known as the Mining Commissioner, who shall exercise or perform, subject to the direction and control of the minister, the powers, duties and functions conferred or imposed upon the Commissioner by or under the provisions of this Act, and such other functions as may be imposed upon the commissioner by the minister”.
Alweendo gave no particular reason for replacing Shivolo when he made the abrupt appointment announcement on Friday. It is also expected that Shivolo will continue to serve as deputy executive director for the mining department, while Chirchir will report directly to Alweendo regarding policy issues.
Despite the absence of an official reason for the replacement, speculation is rife that this shift is connected to a disturbing perception that certain ministry officials have corruptly benefitted from the country’s resources, particularly regarding the issuance of mining licences.
On Thursday, 20 October, Alweendo refuted allegations that he accepted bribes amounting to N$50 million from Chinese company Xinfeng Investment, which mines lithium near Uis in the Erongo region.
The minister and his former technical advisor Ralph Muyumba, who resigned 24 hours after the allegations surfaced, as well as Shivolo, are accused of accepting bribes to allegedly block the renewal of the exclusive prospecting licence (EPL) of Karlowa Mining Enterprises, which would have put the Chinese company at an advantage.
This is a perception that Alweendo vehemently denies, stating at a media briefing that the ministry is committed to fighting corruption.
“We will appoint an auditing firm to conduct a detailed audit of our licensing process with a view to identify potential weaknesses and make recommendations how to close the identified gaps”, he noted.
At the briefing, he also said action needs to be taken immediately, and proposed a whistle-blower box where both ministry officials and the public can provide details of alleged corrupt practices by ministry officials.
“Not only is corruption bad for economic growth and enterprises, it is also bad for ordinary citizens, especially the most vulnerable. When businesses have to pay bribes to get licences, it unnecessarily increases their operational costs and reduces their profitability, and therefore less taxes go to the State. Less taxes to the State mean fewer public services the State can render,” stated the politician.
But Shivolo’s replacement is not enough for political parties, who say the corruption allegations are not taken seriously, and moving him sideways is not enough.
The Popular Democratic Movement’s president McHenry Venaani said minister Alweendo was being economical with the truth. “Alweendo must come clean on what is happening in that ministry. He must explain what Shivolo did, and why he is being replaced. It is one thing to reshuffle people, but it is another to move them in order to cover up corruption. We have seen this happening in the past, where people were moved to hide corruption.
“If Shivolo did anything wrong, he must be taken to task and held accountable. Moving him is not enough”, he charged. Last week, official opposition member of parliament Celeste Becker said in the National Assembly that she had given Alweendo information about corruption in his ministry, but that the minister had
done nothing about it.
Landless People’s Movement’s spokesperson Eneas Emvula observed that the minister should take the public into his confidence, although he doesn’t seem
to be in charge of his ministry.
“The removal is basically one of those acts of protecting cronies and those with strong allegiances to the ruling party. It has been going on for far too long. They are either replaced or moved to the Office of the Prime Minister.
“Neither are the terms upon which the minister replaced Shivolo made clear to the public. The public is the main stakeholder of this government. One suspects that they [minister and his cronies] either forgot or totally see no obligation to comply with that constitutional provision”, he stated.