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Loophole exploited in lucrative mining operation

2023-05-16  Eveline de Klerk

Loophole exploited in lucrative mining operation

UIS - Heads need to roll and people, including minister of mines and energy Tom Alweendo, need to be held accountable for grey areas in the law which allow damaging mining activities without a proper environmental impact assessment having been done, member of parliament Bernadus Swartbooi has said.

Swartbooi, a member of the parliamentary standing committee on mineral resources, was speaking shortly after the committee visited the activities at the Xinfeng mining operation situated outside Uis recently as part of a public hearing.

The hearing follows a motion tabled on 6 April  this year by Landless People’s Movement parliamentarian Henny Seibeb, who called for the government to impose a moratorium on lithium mining to determine the real value of the rare earth metal as well as the legality of mining operations in the constituency. Joint venture partners Chinese-owned Xinfeng Investment and Namibian-owned Long Fire Investments are currently running a fully-fledged multi-million-dollar lithium mine on two mining claims without having conducted an environmental impact assessment (EIA).

According to the ministry’s website, a mining claim costs N$250, and is only issued to Namibians for the development of small-scale mining. One can have up to 10 claims at once.An EIA is a study done to assess the implications that mining activities will have on a specific area where these activities will be conducted. Claim holders are not required to do an EIA, as their operations are regarded as small-scale. Thus, the law is not clear on this specific aspect, or the rehabilitation of these areas by claim holders.

As a result, the joint venture could set up a multi-million-dollar mining company without establishing the implications it has on the environment and the conservancies operating in the area.

During the public hearing, Likulano Januarie from Long Fire Investments confirmed that they started exploring late last year and continued thereafter with mining, and did not need to do an EIA.

He said they are currently working on two active claims, where the mining activities are carried out as well as the operational camp of the mine. They also just submitted a report after the exploration to the ministry, and started mining.

“I have mining claims, which allow me to mine on the basis that you submit a report to the ministry,” Januarie stated.

Xinfeng invested N$300 million in the project, he added. Swartbooi said this is a very serious issue, as the institution that must regulate the mining sector and protect the mineral wealth of the country is not doing so. “This is too big to ignore or to put under the carpet, as the very same institution seems to be complacent when it comes to protecting Namibia and its natural resources. This is a fully-fledged mine. I think we have a dangerous situation in which the president will have to be asked to intervene to hold officials and executive members criminally liable, but also to discharge them from their political and administrative responsibility,” Swartbooi emphasised. He added that the matter cuts deep to the core of the constitutional provision that says the mineral wealth of the state belongs to the country and its people, and will be administered for the interest of the Namibian people by institutions of the state.

Swartbooi noted that these individuals failed the country and its people as they are colluding through resources that are uniquely meant for Namibian generations to benefit from.

“There is a constitutional breach, and if we had a proper democracy, this is the type of thing where you already push a motion of no confidence; first in the minister, his deputy as well as the mining and environmental commissioners,” Swartbooi continued. His party in the past proposed a national council that will be responsible for monitoring, assessing and dealing with natural resources, which will include all stakeholders who have an interest in this matter.  This, he said, is to make sure that not one minister or commission deals with such a massive resource or makes decisions on it, but that a broad sectoral approach is taken with credible individuals on a three-term, three-year basis.

In response to mining without an EIA, Alweendo said it is possible that there are those who are unethical in their behaviour.

“However, as far as I’m aware, no one is given a claim or EPL without proof that they have obtained an Environmental Clearance Certificate (ECC). The enforcement of the ECC is by the environment ministry and not us,” he observed. Efforts to obtain comment from the environment ministry proved futile.  Both Alweendo and environment minister Pohamba Shifeta are expected to provide answers to parliament once the committee’s report on the matter is finalised.  -

2023-05-16  Eveline de Klerk

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