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When Green Hydrogen Smells Fishy

Hydrogen is odourless, colourless, tasteless and non-toxic.

However, the Namibian government seems to alter the gas’ natural qualities, judging by the non-transparent way it’s tackling the much-hyped green hydrogen project.

The project, which has been steamrolled by the Presidency, is beginning to smell fishy with each passing day because of the team’s stubborn refusal to make public all information – even to lawmakers.

The latest bizarre incident was of Swapo’s secretary general, Sophia Shaningwa, telling Swapo parliamentarian Tjekero Tweya to “shut up” as he’s allegedly been “talking too much”.

Tweya, as chair of the National Assembly’s committee on natural resources, made his and other lawmakers’ displeasure known after James Mnyupe, president Hage Geingob’s hydrogen team leader, avoided appearing in person to explain the green hydrogen scheme to parliamentarians.

Mnyupe and co have been ‘strategically’ releasing titbits of information about the ambitious project touted at more than N$200 billion.
Namibia has opted to borrow money to acquire 24% equity in Hyphen Hydrogen Energy, which was selected without going through the country’s open public bidding process.

Most of the money is expected to come through concessional loans that Germany and The Netherlands seem to have brokered for Namibia.

Geingob and his team have already committed to borrowing more than N$20 billion ostensibly as Namibia’s statement of intent in the green hydrogen game.

At face value, the pursuit of green hydrogen as the primary source of electricity generation and an industrial manufacturing driver is noble at ending the release of greenhouse gases.

Green hydrogen will apparently prolong healthy and less dangerous living on earth.

That’s if the experiment succeeds in working efficiently and at a lower cost than the current use of fossil fuels, which leads to dangerous climate change.

Instead of being transparent to get buy-in from key players of the state, including the parliament and the public, the secrecy with which the government is handling the project only serves to raise more doubts about the Presidency’s intentions.

Why was Hyphen hand-picked by State House, ignoring set public bidding processes?

Why is the full agreement with Hyphen not being made public, but only selective portions that Mnyupe and team choose to make known?

Why is the government rushing to borrow and pay for the equity so early in the experimental phase after saying the pilot and feasibility study would take about two years?

N$20 billion is not cheap change which Namibia had lying around unused somewhere.

In fact, the country has cut spending on urgent and basic priority needs like sanitation, healthcare and education, because its debt equivalent has ramped up to 70% of the country’s gross domestic product.

Experts and politicians alike are right to ask whether the money the government wants to spend on hydrogen is a prudent investment amid other pressing needs.

Less than 10 years ago the same government argued it was unable to underwrite about N$10 billion to N$15 billion to kick-start the Kudu Gas project aimed at generating electricity for Namibia, and to sell excess power to neighbouring countries.

Moreover, the government ought to seek parliamentary approval to borrow such amounts of money that ties future generations.

It is shameful that the government is also ignoring a key driver of the hydrogen concept – Germany’s green hydrogen envoy to Namibia, Rainer Baake.

Speaking at an event in the company of Mnyupe, Baake was clear: “I want 100% transparency. And my advice to the Namibian government and to the company Hyphen is that as soon as you have come to an agreement, make it public, put it on the internet, give an interpretation so that everybody can see what the advantages for Namibia are when this project is realised.

“I’m for 100% disclosure so that everybody can read what the advantages and disadvantages are. I’m pretty sure you will see there are many more advantages.”

The way the Namibian government is handling the green hydrogen project does not promote public confidence.

That makes this project fishy.