AG calls for strict monitoring of mining activities to avoid environmental damage
By Lahja Nashuuta
Windhoek – The Namibian Minister of Mines and Energy, Obeth Kandjoze has acknowledged lack of adequate monitoring mechanism of pollution and environment rehabilitation at abandoned mining sites across the country.
The minister blamed the lack of supervision of mining sites on various factors including the out-dated mineral and environmental, insight by responsible ministries, lack of funds and expertise.
Kandjoze’s affirmation to the problem has been raised by the Office of Audit General.
Auditor General (AG) Junias Kandjeke in a 2016 Audit Report on managing of pollution and environment rehabilitation of mining sites revealed that currently there are 157 mines left abandoned of which 31 have been by the Directorate of Geological Survey (DGS) that they posed environmental risks.
In the report recently presented to Parliament, Kandjeke indicated that though the State has tasked the DGS within the Ministry of Mines and Energy as well as Ministry of Environment and Tourism tasked to effectively monitor pollutions and environmental rehabilitation at mining sites.
But the audit report revealed that none of the old mines have been rehabilitated and no inadequate environmental monitoring and inspection have been done at active mines since 2004.
It further noted that at some mine sites like Otjihase mine, a copper mine northeast of the capital Windhoek – seepage from the mine tailings dams were released into the Kuruma River system.
In addition, the surface water in the Oamites River is also polluted with sewerage due to discharge from the from the waste water treatment plant at the now defunct Oamites copper/silver mine south of Windhoek.
The AG audit report also revealed that due to lack of enforcement of the provisions of the Environment Management Act of 2007, some of the small scale miners have been mining illegally without valid Environment Clearance Certificates that aught to be the major prerequisite for one to take part in mining activities.
In some cases, most of small scale miners were granted mining licenses without providing the mine closure plans together with financial mechanisms for environmental rehabilitation and aftercare.
Established mines that were visited during the audit Rossing Uranium Mine and Ohorongo Cement also did not submit their Final Mine Closure Plans together with a funding mechanism to the Ministry of Mines and Energy.
As a result, Kandjeke said mineral rights holders’ leaves mining sites un-rehabilitated that expose to riverbeds to pollution.
Upon the closure of a mine, the Mineral Act of 1992 empowers the Minister of Mines and Energy to compel the owners in writing, to demolish any building or anything erected and to remove any objects brought in to the area for the mining purpose.
Despite this fact, the AG report noted that Mineral Rights Holders are not formally notified by the ministry to clean up mining sites upon closures.
Speaking at the Climate Change Forum that was hosted by The Southern Times newspaper on October 12 in Windhoek, Minister Kandjoze explained that environmental rehabilitation is based on the principle of ‘polluter pays’, which is a costly, complex and lengthy process.
The reality of the matter is that in certain cases, there has been no budget set aside for “these costs, with some mining houses liquidated and leaving the state to foot the bill for the clean-up,” he said.
Kandjoze said although the Section 130 of Mineral Act prohibit spilling and pollution as well as damage to the ecosystem, “because of the cost related to Environment Clearance Certificates, small scale miners many may not afford to pay for such services , but the law does not discriminate . It applies to everyone in business irrespective of sizes”.
Kandjoze further pointed out that loopholes within the Mineral Act as well as Mineral Policy of 2002 have made it difficult for the Mineral Rights Holders to comply with Environment Management Plans.
“For instance our Geological Survey of Namibia has no legal mandate to carry out environment compliance inspections. Monitoring done by GSN refers mainly to monitoring of geo-environmental status example contamination status in the environment and its possible migration patterns , which means the GSN is not mandated by the Mineral Act, 1992 nor the Environmental Management Act, No 7 of 2007 to conduct such inspections,” the minister bemoaned.
He said the Mineral Act of 1992 is current under amendment to ensure that all relevant regulations are reviewed and updated to address the environment issues and to par with the international best practices.
Nonetheless, Auditor General Kandjeke has recommended that the ministries of mines and that of environment need to ensure that all relevant laws and regulations are reviewed and updated to be in line with international best practices as stipulated in the Mineral Policy of 2002.
He further called on the ministry of mines to effectively plan and inspect mining sites as stipulated by Subsection 3 of Section 26 of the Environmental Management act of 2007.
The said section amongst others direct that the Directorate of Mines keep a complete information of mine inspections conducted and for the DGS to adequately conduct environmental monitoring at active mining sites in the country.