With focus and hatred increasing towards the Namibia Customs Smelter (NCS), Government ministers that are directly involved in the current saga are developing cold feet on who was responsible for sanctioning Bulgarian copper smelting in the country.
The blame game has since been directed to the then (2000) Minister of Trade and Industry, Hidipo Hamutenya who is now the president of the Rally of Democracy and Progress (RDP).
From the current Minister of Trade and Industry, Hage Geingob and his deputy, Tjekero Tweya to the Minister of Mines and Energy, Isak Katali as well as the Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Welfare, Alpheus Muheua, no one just seems to know why Bulgarian copper is being processed in the country, when all other countries have rejected it.
As a result, several employees at the smelter have been diagnosed with cancerous illnesses blamed on arsenic dust; a development which the NCS at some stage, claimed to be related to HIV.
Now Minister of Trade and Industry, Hage Geingob and his deputy, Tjekero Tweya professed ignorance on who sanctioned the trade deal to Weatherly, which later sold to Dundee Precious Metals (now owners of NCS) to smelt Bulgarian copper in the country without thorough scrutiny.
Tweya went further to admit that he is not certain as to whether the Government instituted a thorough assessment of the Bulgarian copper, which is allegedly linked to causing cancer related illnesses because of the high concentration of arsenic.
“I cannot comment on the issue of Bulgarian copper in Namibia and if you want Government`s position on the matter, source it from the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology,” said Geingob.
His deputy, however, vehemently denied allegations of his Ministry knowing the implications associated with the Bulgarian copper.
Instead, he was quick to direct all enquiries to the then (2000) MTI Minister, Hamutenya, whom he claims was responsible for negotiating the deal with Weatherly, which eventually acquired Ongopolo assets.
“We are in a difficult position to comment on the matter because the agreement was negotiated with the colleagues who were running the Ministry back in 2000. I cannot deny or confirm whether the colleagues had thorough information regarding the status of the Bulgarian copper. I will have to go back to the records to find out which information they had when they signed the agreement,” said Tweya.
Hamutenya, once blamed for the failed Ramatex deal, also denied being involved in negotiations prior to Weatherly taking over.
“It is a question that is being asked to the wrong person, actually those in power, should provide the answers and the way forward.
Hamutenya added that, “I never discussed the issue of Bulgarian copper during my term and that is the honest truth. If I had something to do with it, I would have told you because I am not the kind of person who runs away from responsibility. However, I do not believe that no one in Government knows how the Bulgarian copper ended up being processed in the country.”
Minister of Mines and Energy, Isak Katali told The Villager that his Ministry was not aware that the same company, Dundee, which owns NCS, had to abort their operations in Bulgaria opting for Namibia after facing heavy criticism and resilience from the Bulgarian government over their poor environmental practices.
Dundee Precious Metals shelved plans to develop a gold mine concession in Bulgaria, shifting attention to Namibia instead, in 2009 because of the country’s relaxed environmental laws.
Dundee’s proposed facility at Chelopech, about 60km east of Sofia (Bulgaria Capital city), prompted strong opposition from environmentalist groups, which criticised the company’s plans to use cyanide to extract the gold. The company also hoped to secure a concession for a facility in Kroumovgrad in south-eastern Bulgaria as well.
The company was also embroiled in a lengthy dispute with the Bulgarian government under the tripartite coalition, which avoided issuing a permit to Dundee despite a favourable environmental impact assessment. The dispute was settled in March 2008 when Dundee agreed to pay a higher annual concession fee and gave the Bulgarian state a 25% stake in the operations.
Dundee’s plans later hit the rocks again, with the country’s Supreme Administrative Court rejecting the environmental impact assessment in November 2009; a decision that the company appealed.
Katali confirmed that his Ministry is not privy to information that Dundee was blocked to open a smelter in Bulgaria saying, “Our Ministry was not involved in those negotiations, that is a business matter, which was negotiated with the Ministry of Trade and Industry.
“NCS is not a mine. We did not give them the license, it was done by the MTI and I understand that it was done under the export mission..”
Asked why Namibia has had to allow the import of copper when the country already has its own copper deposits that are even being exported, Katali said clarification should come from the Ministry of Trade as to how the country is importing materials that are readily available in the country.
Meanwhile, Labour Minister, Alpheus Muheua said, “I did not know that the Bulgarian copper was rejected to be processed in other countries but, what I can tell you is that our Minister (of Mines) was instructed by the President himself to look into these allegations and I am not privy to the report whether it was submitted to him or not.”
Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) Director, Paulus Noah said that, “If someone in Government knew that the copper from Bulgaria has been rejected elsewhere in the world and contained a high concentration of arsenic but deliberately kept quiet on that information, action should be taken against that individual as it amounts to administrative corruption.”
The Canadian Company, Dundee Precious Metals bought the smelter from Weatherly Namibia last year for N$400m.
Prime Minister, Nahas Angula also admitted that Government blundered at the highest level.
“Government must have a comprehensive investigation on whether there are problems involved with the Bulgarian copper itself or some of the problems might be emanating from the smelter itself because it is an old smelter. I would also believe Government did not have that background where the Dundee people were working on. If it can be proven that these people also left other countries amid concerns then we must investigate and come up with a conclusion. The shifting of blame will also not work with individuals but the person who granted that import license should explain how they sanctioned that and how the explanation was presented to them,” said Angula.