By Vitalio Angula
Windhoek — Namibia has restored a Chinese company’s lithium export permit despite an ongoing investigation into alleged corruption.
Namibia’s mining authority in October banned Xinfeng Investments from exporting lithium ore until the investigation by Namibia’s Anti-Corruption Commission was finished. The company is accused of buying a mining license from a man who had acquired it illegally while the true owner was hospitalized with a brain injury.
Now, Namibian mining authorities have backtracked on the decision to cancel the permit. The public relations officer at the Ministry of Mines and Energy told VOA that the latest decision was necessitated by the fact Xinfeng already had a vessel en route to Walvis Bay, Namibia’s harbor town, before the export permit was canceled.
“The company will thus be allowed to transport crushed ore to Walvis Bay to export 55,000 tons as per contractual agreement for the industrial testing, which will inform whether to set up a processing plant at the mine,” the officer said.
Lithium is used in the manufacture of electric batteries and related products.
Anti-Corruption Commission spokesperson Josefina Nghituwamata told VOA the ACC was investigating allegations of bribery and corruption against certain Ministry of Mines and Energy personnel but was not in a position to reveal their names.
“The investigations in this particular case have begun,” Nghituwamata said. “At this moment in time, the ACC is not able to name any potential persons of interest or any entity. The investigation is basically focused on the complaint as it has been received.”
According to the complaint, a Namibian company, Orange River Mining, allegedly applied for and received rights to a mining area that was owned by a man hospitalized because of a car accident. The rights were granted to Orange River’s owner, Peter Shifwaku, who immediately sold them to Xinfeng Investments for a reported $3 million.
Several officials, including the former commissioner of mines and current minister of mines and energy, have been accused of taking bribes to facilitate the transfer of the license.
One of the accused is Ralph Muyamba, a cousin of Shifwaku and a former technical adviser to the minister of mines and energy. Muyamba told VOA that his cousin did benefit from a mining license issued by the ministry and came into a large sum of money as a result.
But Muyamba said he played no influential role in the process as he does not sit on the committee that recommends mining rights and licenses for allocation by the minister.
“The gentleman applied, it went to the committee; the committee assessed and recommended for granting, which came to the minister for approval, so the decision to grant the rights came from the committee,” Muyamba said. “I am not a member of the committee. How was I supposed to influence a number of seven people? Unfortunately, what happened is that it turned out to be my cousin.”
The Chinese lithium permit investigation was given as the reason for the removal of Erasmus Shivolo as mining commissioner and Muyamba’s abrupt resignation last month.
Mining remains the single biggest contributor to Namibia’s gross domestic product and accounts for about 8 percent of the country’s foreign exchange earnings