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SOS Rhino : In the News : Controversial Leisure Lodge Plan for Rhino Area Stalled
 

Controversial Leisure Lodge Plan for Rhino Area Stalled

  The Namibian (Windhoek)

April 26, 2005
Posted to the web April 26, 2005

Lindsay Dentlinger
Windhoek

DEVELOPERS of a lodge in a rhino-conservation area on communal land in Damaraland have been forced to stop construction work.

Nicolaas Pienaar and others, trading as Leisure Pleasure Tourism, will first have to enter into a joint venture with conservancies in the area, conduct an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), develop an area management plan and raeapply to the Kunene Lands Board for a leasehold before their plans will be reconsidered.

Although still seen working on a structure intended to house Pienaar two weekends ago, the developer told The Namibian last week that all construction work had since been stopped and the workers sent home on April 16.

So far, a road leading up to a koppie (small hill) has been constructed, water tanks set up, and a stone and thatch structure with a view of the Brandberg in the distance is still in progress.

RHINO SANCTUARY

The spot staked out for the lodge development is close to the Dorros Crater, which three conservancies had intended to develop as a rhino sanctuary, and an agreement to this effect was endorsed by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) some years ago.

The Save the Rhino Trust (SRT) reports that in February a 24-year-old rhino named !Nabas died in the area - a death suspected to be as a result of increased human activity there over the years.

!Nabas was the first rhino calf documented by the SRT's Blythe Loutit.

Her mother's death when she was only a two-year-old calf was the catalyst for the SRT's determination to protect the rhinos and elephants of the arid north-west of Namibia.

When The Namibian first reported two months ago that the lodge was being built without an EIA or the approval of the three conservancies, it started the ball rolling in getting Pienaar to account for his actions.

LEGAL AID SOUGHT

The conservancies enlisted the Legal Assistance Centre (LAC) to help stop the construction and a meeting of all concerned parties was called last month at which Pienaar was asked to explain his intentions.

The Namibia Tourism Board (NTB) also expressed concerns to The Namibian that Pienaar had not submitted any building plans to the Board for approval and said last week that it was still waiting for him to make contact.

Pienaar told The Namibian that he was committed to entering into an agreement with the conservancies and to resubmitting an application for leasehold to the land board.

Despite this, he has nonetheless appealed the Kunene Lands Board decision in February not to grant him a leasehold for the 20-hectare area, and is awaiting feedback from the Lands Ministry.

He told The Namibian that this move was to protect himself and overseas investors, which he did not name, in the event of unforeseen hiccups.

Pienaar said the initial costs of the construction were set at around N$6 million but added that more recent projections indicate that it could run up to N$9,5 million.

"I had to do it [appeal] for legal reasons, in case we have to go to court," he said on inquiry from The Namibian.

"At the end of the day I'm an investor.

There are overseas investors too, and I have to explain to them if things go wrong.

I have to protect their interests too, it's only logical."

He said he had lodged the appeal within the prescribed 30 days of the Land Board rejecting his application - before last month's meeting with the Doro Nawas, Sorris Sorris and Uibasen conservancies.

At that meeting, Leisure Pleasure agreed to hire consultants to conduct an EIA and develop an area management plan which would include the conservancies.

"People think we are rip-off artists, but we want everybody to be happy," said Pienaar.

DISPUTED PERMISSION

The building work started last year already, although the company's application with the Land Board was still pending.

Pienaar had submitted his application based on permission allegedly granted by a headman in the area, who is not recognised by Government.

The Secretary of the Kunene Land Board, Innocent Tjipepa, told The Namibian that she and the chairman, Esegiel Uirab, had visited the building site a fortnight ago and were satisfied that the construction work had been stopped.

"I believe that they have stopped.

They are not going to lose anything [if they stop].

It would be wise for them stop," she said.

She was expected to submit Pienaar's letter of appeal to the Lands Minister's Office last week.

Tjipepa said the board could not reconsider the application favourably unless there was consent and approval from the conservancies and the management plan for the rhino sanctuary was taken into account.

The Chairman of the Doro Nawas Conservancy, Leonard Hoaeb, said he would travel to the site this week to see what was happening there.

Environment officials at last month's meeting said they were satisfied that all parties involved now understood the procedures for obtaining a leasehold in a communal area.

They described the meeting as "positive and conducted in good spirit".

"That lodge can't just be there on its own.

It has to benefit the community," one official said.

An EIA is expected to be completed by the end of May.

Environmental consultants visited the site last week, Pienaar said.

CHECKS AND BALANCES

The NTB's Digu Naobeb said the Board would send inspectors to the region next month to check that existing lodges and new developments were meeting minimum standards.

Developers are compelled by law to submit their building plans to the NTB to ensure that they are registered to operate legally.

Pienaar hopes to complete the lodge by June 2006.

The conservancies involved are now to come up with proposals for profit sharing and empowerment, before a joint venture agreement is entered into.

Pienaar said his next step was to meet with the Ministry of Environment and Tourism to clarify grey areas and to await a response from the Lands Ministry on his appeal for a leasehold.

"I want to get this project off the ground as soon as possible.

I need to be in the market by next year.

We are following the procedures, we won't do anything illegal," he said.



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