Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Botswana lied to UNESCO about mining in Okavango-court records

The government lied to the World Heritage Committee (WHC) for seven years between 2015 and 2022 by claiming there were no mining related activities allowed within the Okavango Delta panhandle.

This has emerged in a legal dispute in which  Gcwihaba Resources (PTY) Ltd is suing the government of Botswana for refusing to renew their prospecting licence.

In their court documents Gcwihaba Resources (PTY) Ltd accuses the Botswana Government of giving false information to WHC between 2015 and 2022 in order to conceal ongoing prospecting activities around the delta including inside the buffer zones created to protect the River Basin.

Court records detail how Botswana Government, thrilled at the prospect of the economic benefits the country would derive from the US$27 billion (P264 billion) mining project, had continued to award Gcwihaba Resources (PTY)Ltd  prospecting licenses for possible exploration around the Delta panhandle.

In 2014 the company (which had been prospecting since 2008) produced and shared with the government through the Ministry of Minerals and Energy, an inferred resource report which established that they had discovered a tonnage of 441  metric tonnes  of inferred iron resource within the prospecting area with a current in-situ value approximated to be worth $27 Billion US, of which 164 Mt worth $6.8 Billion US is located within the buffer Okavango buffer zone.

The Okavango Delta was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2014.

In reaction to the discovery of the possible economic benefits that would likely accrue from the mining activities, the government made a statement through the Permanent Secretary (PS) of Minerals and Energy advising the public of the discovery by Gcwihaba Resources. The PS went further to say how the Government of Botswana was willing to co-finance the project, emphasizing its importance to the development of the Botswana economy. “It must be highlighted that this is the same year that the Government of Botswana was working on having the Okavango delta being named as a World Heritage Property (WHP) but prior to such designation, however, the Government of Botswana was aware at the time of its public statement, that the company’s licensed area would fall into the buffer zone,” the company says in its court documents.

Gcwihaba’s court documents further reveal how on the basis of the discovery, the mining company some time in 2018 engaged with relevant stakeholders who were willing to assist develop the project. One such stakeholder was the Minerals Development Company Botswana (MDCB), an investment company that holds and manages mining & minerals assets for the Government of Botswana.

The undisturbed Okavango wetlands have never been subject to significant development and most of the area remains in an almost pristine condition. Tourism to the inner Delta is limited to small, temporary tented camps with access by air. Facilities are carefully monitored for compliance with environmental standards and have minimal ecological impact.

Therefore any other activities that are seen to threaten the very existence of the vast water land that runs through Angola, Namibia and Botswana have been frowned upon. Botswana has especially been very vocal against mining and farming activities by the Angolans which actions threatened to affect flow of the delta.

However, the Botswana government has recently been under scrutiny following issuance of oil exploration license to Reconnaissance Energy Botswana (Pty) Ltd within the Okavango River basin. This is because of the likely potential negative impact on the Okavango Delta World Heritage Property in case of spills and pollution. Now the government has also been accused by another mining company of lying to the UNESCO’s WHC about mining activities within the Okavango Delta panhandle.

In their ongoing lawsuit against Botswana, Gcwihaba Resources (PTY) Ltd accuses the government of giving false information to WHC between 2015 and 2022.

WHC had raised issues and recommendations requesting Botswana to submit an updated report on the State of Conservation Report of the Okavango Delta World Heritage Property.

Botswana has always been aware of previous WHC expectations concerning the management and ideal conservation of the Okavango Delta World Heritage Property in its pristine nature.

However court documents indicate how the government has been providing false information to the WHC in order to conceal ongoing prospecting activities around the delta including inside the buffer zones created to protect the River Basin.

Ln 2015, documents show, the Government of Botswana issued out a Report to the WHC indicating that prospecting and mining licenses in the buffer zone would not be renewed. This is while the mining company was busy prospecting minerals in the area. 

The government further reported that they were engaging in negotiations with the company for purposes of terminating the existing licenses in the buffer zone.

“The Government of Botswana issued another Report to the WTC indicating that the Gcwihaba Resources had ‘in principle’ agreed to relinquish all its licenses in the buffer zone.  In 2020, the Government of Botswana had issued out a further Report to the WTC (WHC) confirming that negotiations with the company had been concluded and that there were no existing prospecting licenses in the buffer zone. In 2022, the Government of Botswana confirmed to the WTC that Gcwihaba Resources had relinquished all of its licenses in the buffer area.” The company says in court papers that all of the Reports, as generated by the government of Botswana were a lie. “Not only were there no negotiations between the parties, but the Ministry of Minerals and Energy continued to grant the company prospecting licenses for areas In the buffer zone, save for the renewal of 30 June 2021.” The most recent refusal by the government to grant the company another three year contract after at least 12 years of uninterrupted prospecting, is the subject of the current lawsuit.

Gcwihaba Resources seeks, through the Maun High Court, a review of the decision of the Ministry of Minerals rejecting the renewal of their prospective license.


Read this week's paper