By Timo Shihepo, The Namibian
The minister of agriculture, water and land reform, Calle Schlettwein, has summoned Canadian oil company ReconAfrica to explain why it drilled for water for its industrial operations in the Kavango regions without a permit.
ReconAfrica, which has been exploring for oil in the Kavango East and West regions, has allegedly been ignoring laws and regulations of the country, including drilling for water without permits and starting its activities without a land certificate.
“We were unhappy with how the water aspect was done in the environmental impact assessment,” Schlettwein told The Namibian last week.
Schlettwein confirmed that his ministry had initially not issued the water permit and that ReconAfrica was not supposed to drill without it.
“They did it illegally. We had called them in. We reiterated that the rule is they should not drill for water without any permit. We threatened not to issue a permit anymore if they carried on like that,” Schlettwein said.
ReconAfrica began drilling for oil in January 2021, but only got permission to extract water in June. This is in violation of the law that states that anyone extracting water should first get a drilling permit.
When officials from the ministry visited one of the company’s sites in February to investigate, they were refused entry and only went back four months later, which visit coincided with the issuing of the water permit.
Schlettwein said he was aware that the officials were refused entry. “Those were the actions that made me to call ReconAfrica in and we told them in no uncertain terms that is not the way to do things and we will stop them if they don’t adhere,” he said.
The Namibian has established that there is a lack of coordination between ministries and entities dealing directly with ReconAfrica.
Dealing with ReconAfrica are the Ministry of Mines and Energy, Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Land Reform, Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism, the National Petroleum Corporation of Namibia (Namcor) and the Kavango East Communal Land Board. The Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism was also accused of hiding vital information pertaining to ReconAfrica’s activities.
Schlettwein admitted there are coordination difficulties. He added that the energy commissioner gave ReconAfrica an exploration permit, which included boreholes, and the company thought it did not need any additional water permits.
Whether deliberate or not, the parliamentary standing committee on natural resources hinted that the discrepancies are unfolding because of possible bribes paid to government officials. Schlettwein said they have investigated the possibility of bribes but did not get clear evidence that has happened.
“If the standing committee found that evidence that would be interesting and I would like to get the details so that I can follow up to see if any officials in my ministry were involved,” he said.
He admitted that officials from his ministry did not do their job diligently. “I must say the officials didn’t do a thorough inspection after issuing the permits. We had to tell them that if you have issued permits and there are issues, go and inspect the boreholes whether they are built as per instructions.”
Schlettwein said there is no criminal action against ReconAfrica. “For now, they told us that they are busy with seismic and the environmental impact assessment for which boreholes are not needed,” he said.
ReconAfrica has insisted to The Namibian more than twice that it has followed all the laws and regulations of the country. Its spokesperson Ndapewoshali Shapwanale also earlier said the company has all the necessary water permits in place for all of its13 community water wells.