Address Hydrogen Secrecy and Contradictions

James Mnyupe

Expectations of high returns come with taking high risks.

It thus follows that the massive green hydrogen (GH2) benefits the Namibian presidency is promising should be treated with that aged and proven principle of an investment vs reward trade-off.

It’s more than two years since the government launched the lofty and ambitious target of making Namibia a leading spot for the production of green hydrogen.

Yet, government officials keep dismissing calls for transparency, often arguing that nothing is being kept secret despite several instances showing that from the start information has been released selectively for public relations purposes.

This week, president Hage Geingob pleaded ignorance as to why “some people” keep accusing the government of being secretive about the green hydrogen project.

What the government has told the public is that it has picked Hyphen Hydrogen Energy (Hyphen) as its preferred company to lead the development of the industry. The Hyphen project alone, in southern Namibia’s Tsau//Khaeb National Park (including the former Sperrgebiet), is estimated at nearly US$10 billion investment.

If only one project is N$190 billion, about the same amount as Namibia’s entire current economy, we must all pay detailed attention. The Namibian government has been dismissing people who want to know.

The government has already committed to acquiring a 24% stake (N$45 billion) of the Hyphen project. According to some reports, Namibian taxpayers will be required to pay at least N$14 billion for that shareholding.

What Geingob’s team, led by his economic advisor James Mnyupe, has not been open to explaining is where that amount of money will come from. It is clear the country has to borrow such money. 

Even if Namibia had N$14 billion readily available, a discussion has not taken place about the cost vs benefits of pumping money into a completely new industry that has not been proven anywhere in the world to provide the returns that Geingob and the team are marketing.

Worse still, Namibians have no clue what their representatives have signed them up for in the deal with Hyphen, whose CEO Marco Raffinetti has insisted the contract must remain secret – ostensibly to protect “commercially sensitive information”.

Why is the government not releasing a redacted version so that taxpayers have the benefit of appreciating what is being done in their name.

It is more than worrying that lawmakers, such as Tjekero Tweya, economic resource committee chair in the National Assembly, have been told to stop asking questions about the Hyphen agreement in particular and green hydrogen in general supposedly because the presidency is on top of the game.

How will Mnyupe and the government generally maintain the required distance and independence to regulate green hydrogen and Hyphen when they are both investor and regulator?

Green hydrogen is an exciting new prospect. But unknown territory requires someone to protect the public and Namibia in case the investment turns out worse than hoped.

How do we expect the ministers of environment, agriculture, tourism and finance to defend the primary objective (including taxpayer funds) when they are the ones responsible for developing the green hydrogen industry?

Geingob correctly boasts that Europeans are falling over themselves to have a piece of Namibia for green hydrogen.
Then why are Namibian tax funds required to attract investors into the industry?

The contradictions and the secrecy are way too overwhelming to ignore. 

In the true fashion of agile development, the government has taken green hydrogen to an attractive stage. It is time to pause, evaluate and, we hope, pivot by stepping back and letting the private sector take the lead.

The Fishrot scandal, the diamond industry, and other areas shrouded in secrecy have taught us enough for us not to keep repeating mistakes because of a lack of transparency.

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