In a long standing dispute between the Debswana Mining Company and the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), punches are being thrown through forms of communication in an effort to resolve the installation of Scannex equipment at the mines.
The Minister responsible natural resources Tshekedi Khama who oversees the DEA has been identified as the man blocking the way.
It is said that Debswana, a joint venture between government and De Beers Mining Company had over the extended period of time engaged with DEA for the use of Scannex at its mines since 2014.
Two years thereafter, the DEA resolved that the Environmental Impact Assessments should be subject to public hearing reviews and to date Debswana is still waiting to be advised on the modalities of the hearing and no public hearing has been held.
Those close to the matter have told this publication that Minister Khama is unbending to the Scannex use and has since instructed his Directors not to authorise Scannex which has since saw Debswana instituting legal action against the DEA.
“Tshekedi Khama is of the view that this Scannex is harmful to the workers and cannot be proceeded with without carefully looking into the implications. The health of the people comes first. What is also surprising is that Debswana has refused to have an independent scientists be engaged on the matter for a different opinion,” disclosed the source.
Contacted for comment on the matter, Tshekedi said that all they want as a Ministry is prove that those passing through this Scannex will not be affected.
“At this point in time Debswana has failed to furnish me with that prove. I have asked them if they even have the insurance, should an employee sue if they encounter an illness from Scannex, they failed to give me an answer. It is not that I am refusing; all I want is prove that there is no damaging effect to people. If they give me what I want I will give them the go ahead. We do not want to be blamed in future for something that we will not have answers to,” said Khama.
Documents passed to this publication, also show that Tshekedi had shared his concerns in a letter to the Debswana Chairman Carter Morupisi.
In a letter dated 25th April 2017, Carter Morupisi as Debswana Board chairman reads, “we write to request your kind intervention in this very long outstanding matter, wherein a number of years ago Debswana lodged a regulatory application to replace the current strip search procedures at its mines with low dosage x-ray technology.”
To support his case to Khama, Morupisi stated that low dosage x-ray is a proven technology that has been in use for over 20 years and is the only known method capable of detecting diamonds concealed within the human body. As a result, he wrote, “given how seriously Debswana board takes the security of our product, we feel that this is the best solution, in the safest way to any potential issues in this area. The Board’s view is that any theft of whatever nature from any company property constitutes a theft from the nation, and so the Board takes this very seriously. We regard Scannex as the best product on the market in this respect.” Morupisi’s letter indicated that Khama’s Ministry had not yet responded to their plea despite having submitted all the necessities that were requested by the Ministry department.
Morupisi further told Khama in this letter that the time taken to obtain a decision from his Ministry expose Debswana to severe financial implications and the security of diamonds at its mines remains largely compromised.
When asked to quantify the losses this week, Debswana’s Corporate Affairs Manager Matshidiso Kamona told Sunday Standard in response that, while Debswana has indication that diamonds are being lost through theft, it has not been easy to establish precisely the quantity and value of diamonds stolen from the mines.
She added that, “this is mainly because of the small size and uncut state of diamonds, which predisposes them to theft. In that regard the security of diamonds became very critical for Debswana and this called for Scannex which is an appropriate security measure to ensure the protection of diamonds.”
On behalf of Debswana, Sipho Ziga of Armstrongs Attorneys also wrote to Attorney General on 11th July 2017 to notify on the intention to institute legal proceedings against the Attorney General representing the DEA. “In the event a determination is not made as aforesaid, we have instructions to institute proceedings on behalf of Debswana against DEA on the basis that the application has been declined without reasons and/or alternatively seek a mandamus compelling DEA to consider and make determination on the application for use of Scannex within a specified time. This demand is a statutory notice to sue in terms of Section 4 of the State Proceedings,” reads the letter.
In response to the Morupisi’s letter, dated 25th July 2017, Tshekedi said in acknowledgement, “we agree with the process for EIA review for Scannex has taken too long as you have pointed out. However, you may recall that there have been several meetings parallel to the submission of documents you referred to, where the Ministry has pointed out its concerns to the manner in which Debswana wants this issue to be handled despite its complexity and concerns raised by the Botswana Mine Workers Union, as a major stakeholder.”
“Your letter of 25th April 2017 gives an impression that Ministry of Environment and the DEA do not seem to appreciate the severe financial losses resulting from diamond theft due to inefficiencies of the current security measure. The impression created on the above is misplaced considering thee efforts the Ministry have engaged on to treat Scannex differently from the normal EIA process against the pressure from the Mining Un ion and the emerging scientific evidence that points out to the negative effects of ionizing radiation from use of Scannex,” reads Tshekedi’s response in part.
Tshekedi’s submission argues that the health and safety effects of Scannex in the current situation, where the scientific community is raising arguments of equal strength for and against it’s due to ionizing radiation. Khama’s stand is also to encourage Debswana to consider other equally effective alternative technologies in the midst of controversies around Scannex.
All agencies that are said to have approved Scannex, have done so with cautious statements, that Khama said cannot be ignored. That is the University of Botswana, Department of Mines, Ministry of Health and the Department of Radiation Protection.
March 2014, DEA indicated that the study was under review and should be subjected to public review. Debswana then wrote to DEA indicating a concern that subjecting the study to public review would compromise the fundamental security of diamonds in its mines. DEA then requested Debswana to make an application to be exempted from publishing the study in the Government Gazette and newspapers, and Debswana did accordingly in April 2014.
July 2014 a further motivation to the exemption application was made by Debswana outlining the available health support protocols for the Scannex implementation.
In response, DEA in August 2014 rejected the application and requested Debswana to remove security sensitive information from the study to ensure that they are subjected to public review.
Tshekedi however indicated in his submission that, by suggesting removal of sensitive issues in the public review, the Ministry was trying to assist facilitate the process with aspect of security taken into account. “The Mining Union faulted the Ministry for undertaking incomplete review and therefore hiding the side effects of Scannex. That statement was tantamount to incriminating to say the least and hence we could not ignore. The proposed public review hit a snag when we started to receive counter arguments from scientific community on the health and safety of using Scannex on employees as security tool in the mines. That alone became a challenge considering that under normal circumstances it is the health of the workforce that is prioritized lest the government will be reviewed as prioritizing diamonds over employees’ health,” pointed out Khama.
To Tshekedi it became apparent that Debswana had already made its mind on the use of Scannex, including the arrangement that the machines would be supplied by Debtech, a company owned by De Beers.
Tshekedi said he should not be seen as the bad person now, as this issue has long stalled during Mokaila’s time, and now that is almost eight years ago.
The matter continues in High Court on the 21st of June 2018 for status hearing.