Stranger and stranger, and increasingly suspicious, have become the circumstances surrounding the awarding of an environmental clearance certificate to Namibia Marine Phosphates (NMP), by Environmental Commissioner Teofilius Nghitila, in September this year.

The certificate was issued to NMP in early September in relation to its plans to mine marine phosphates off the Atlantic seabed along the central coast of Namibia. The proposed practice is claimed to be potentially highly harmful to the marine ecosystem and could potentially have a devastating impact on Namibia’s already fragile fisheries sector. That the issue has been highly controversial and political over the last five years, borders on gross understatement.

Here’s the thing with the latest round of controversial revelations: Environmental Commissioner Teofilius Nghitila appears to have acted grossly inappropriately and perhaps illegally in the awarding of the environmental clearance. A significant part of the anger swirling around Nghitila’s head is that he denied relevant and directly affected actors and authorities, such as the Fisheries Ministry and representatives of the fisheries sector, access to the decision-making processes and to information on the NMP application for the environmental clearance.  In effect, Nghitila has shut out the public and relevant stakeholders from meaningfully engaging in the processes. This in itself was an unlawful act.

While we hesitate to accuse Teofilius Nghitila of having acted corruptly, it should be remembered that it is in the shadows where transparency and accountability are diminished and that corrupt activities take place, and this whole episode smacks of shadowy dealing. Nghitila appears to have acted wholly unaccountable and non-transparent in how he granted the environmental clearance to NMP.

It is the view of the ACTION Coalition that frameworks that vest discretionary decision-making powers in public sector offices and officials with limited or deficient oversight mechanisms in place, leave strategic administrative functions open to abuse and manipulation, which seems to be what is visible in this instance. Through his actions Teofilius Nghitila has undermined the principle of open and transparent governance, which it has to be pointed out is being enthusiastically proclaimed by the administration of President Hage Geingob. He has also denied relevant stakeholders and the public their freedom of expression on the fate of important natural resources that belong to all Namibians.

It is our opinion that Teofilius Nghitila should be investigated and if he is found to have acted illegally that he be censured in the severest manner possible and applicable.