Muscat: The number of environmental licences issued in 2013 declined as many projects were shifted from towns to other adopted industrial zones, Minister of Environment and Climate Affairs Mohammed bin Salim Al Tobi said.
Al Tobi said the Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs is issuing all environmental approvals, as per the Ministerial Decree No. 187/2001 and Decree No. 16/2010, to regulate the issuance of environmental approvals.
A temporary environmental licence is only granted for a year to industrial institutions located outside the industrial zones specified by the competent authorities and complementary projects for infrastructure projects.
Al Tobi said new environmental centres will be opened in Suwaiq, Thumrait, Diba and Masirah, and cases of environmental approvals for crushers and quarries will be followed up by the departments of Environment and Climate Affairs in the governorates.
An environmental team was formed in 2011 to facilitate issuance of environmental approvals and speeding up the transactions. The number of the environmental inspectors was increased to 25 inspectors in 2013, compared to 19 inspectors in 2012 and 13 inspectors in 2011.
The ministry has also contracted a global consulting firm to prepare an inventory and re-engineering procedures in order to simplify and reduce the time required to obtain approvals.
Al Tobi stressed that there are challenges facing the evaluation and approval procedures, and these require better coordination between the competent authorities. The crushers and quarries in the Sultanate have increased in number and spread over a larger area and a lot of unskilled labour is involved.
Al Tobi explained that the ministry was adopting policies to ensure sustainable industrial development and was helping decision-makers and investors to adopt practices that contribute towards deployment of cleaner and safer technologies, and achieving a balance in the economic and social requirements.
Al Tobi pointed out that protecting the environment and its resources is a shared responsibility that combines the efforts of all government and private agencies and civil society.
The owners of projects have to abide by the rules, using the latest technology and cleaner production techniques to minimise waste and prevent pollution of the environment and natural resources.
A member of the Oman Chamber of Commerce and Industry raised the issue of grant of environmental licences by a senior official to expatriates. Al Tobi said that his ministry was competent to only give environmental approvals while other approvals come from the Ministry of Commerce and Industry and other government agencies. Al Tobi said that the ministry issues thousands of environmental permits every year which indicates the speed with which administrative transactions happen in the ministry.
As for the demands put up by owners of crushers and quarries to set up a private mining department, Al Tobi replied that Ministry of Commerce and Industry is in charge of the issue, and agreed that there was a need to do so as early as possible.
Asked about withdrawal of environmental permits after these were first awarded to certain companies, Tobi said that it happened due to irregularities committed by companies or certain developments regarding the environment that comes to light later. He explained that the environmental approvals have a provision that refers to the right of the authority concerned to withdraw the licenses if irregularities are deemed to have taken place or the project is found wreaking damage.
Al Tobi's comments came during a Ramadan night event for members of the Oman Chamber of Commerce and Industry on Sunday.
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