Cabinet gives Gecko the nodBy: ADAM HARTMAN
CABINET on Tuesday in principle approved the controversial Gecko Namibia’s Vision Industrial Park (VIP) for Mile 16, north of Swakopmund.
The company issued a statement on Wednesday stating that the reason for the approval was apparently the economic benefits VIP would have for Namibia.
Cabinet approved a 99-year lease of 700 hectares of land at Mile 16 to Gecko.
The Ministry of Environment and Tourism will be directed to study and advise on the environmental impact of the proposed project and the development of a new “private port” to serve the commercial activities of VIP.
Environmental Commissioner Theo Nghitila told The Namibian yesterday that his office was waiting for the comprehensive environmental impact assessment.
“I can’t comment on Cabinet’s decision. What we must have is a comprehensive study that could direct the decision whether VIP will in fact materialise or not. It’s not possible to speculate. If the assessment looks favourable, then the clearance will be considered. If the assessment is not favourable, then no project,” Nghitila said.
VIP will include three chemical factories (sulphuric acid, soda ash and phosphoric acid). The acid plant is expected to produce up to 1,2 million tonnes of acid a year by processing about 400 000 tonnes of sulphur, which will be imported via a proposed port (to be called ‘The Port of Swakopmund’ or ‘Swaport’) for bulk commodities with a jetty stretching approximately 1,5km and a breakwater. A ‘salt factory’ for the plants is expected to be erected at Cape Cross.
Gecko also intends to run a 50MW power plant to power the park, while a desalination plant may also be needed.
The heavy industrial concept does not sit well with everyone. In fact, several forums, campaigns and petitions have been established to counter the initiative.
Fears are that VIP’s possible chemical pollution could create a ‘dead zone’ for miles around the beaches.
“We do not want such dangerous acid and chemical industrial plants near the pristine and sensitive Namibian coastline, nor in our protected national parks. Such toxic industries would destroy our way of life, our environment and everything we love. We therefore consider it to be illegal and we do not accept it,” one such Facebook forum, ‘We Say No Toxic Gecko’ states.
Another forum, ‘Industrial Swakopmund? What future do we want?’ states: “Swakopmund is at a crossroads. Projects that are planned and decisions that others are making will decide over the future of the town and the region. Will Swakopmund remain the pleasant place it is, a town to be proud of, a premier tourist destination and destination for environmental tourism? Or will it become an industrialised and polluted town with low quality of life, potentially losing the tourism industry and neighbouring fishing industry?”
Gecko’s statement describes Cabinet’s decision as a “significant step” towards achieving the government’s “plan of moving from an economy dominated by agricultural output and employment to one dominated by manufacturing and local value addition”.
“Gecko wishes to express its sincere gratitude to the Cabinet ... for the trust it has placed in our company to develop VIP, and we wish to ensure both the government ... and its people that Gecko will continue with this process in a most responsible and transparent manner,” the statement read.
Gecko will now proceed with a comprehensive environmental and social impact assessment study in cooperation with the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, which in turn will advise Cabinet on the environmental impact of VIP.
Swakopmund CEO Eckart Demasius said he hoped the industrial development could be closer so that the town could benefit from it.
“Now they will be isolated and will have to deal with a separate negative social impact, while also leaving Swakopmund with a negative social impact. It will also be that those looking for work there will stay here, demanding services, although VIP is out of the municipality’s jurisdiction. I am worried by the negative impact, because we will also lose revenue regarding rates and taxes and sale of services,” Demasius said.