Tobacco critics ‘misinformed’

Amukwiyu defends Chinese-backed project

18 June 2019 | Local News

KENYA KAMBOWE





Swapo Oshikoto regional coordinator Armas Amukwiyu says the objections to the N$1 billion tobacco and maize project that has finally been given the green light by cabinet are the result of people being misinformed.

Among the objectors are former health ministers, the Affirmative Repositioning (AR) movement and the Cancer Association of Namibia (CAN), which has called on cabinet to “rethink” its approval.

Cabinet last week announced its approval for Namibia Oriental Tobacco, a company co-owned by Amukwiyu and his Chinese partners, to lease a tract of land for the project earmarked for the Zambezi Region.

The cabinet resolution said the terms and conditions of the project would be finalised through the Cabinet Committee on Trade and Economic Development (CCTED).

Amukwiyu told Namibian Sun the reason why various stakeholders are objecting to the tobacco project is because they are not well-informed on what the objectives are.

He said they have always been aware of objections, including a recent letter by AR addressed to President Hage Geingob, in which it expresses concerns following the recent cabinet approval.

Amukwiyu called on the public to be patient and wait for Namibia Oriental Tobacco to clear the air and address the misunderstandings that exist regarding the project.

“We really don’t have much to say about that. To us it’s normal for people to air their views and opinions about anything that they feel they do understand. We hope that one day we are able to sit around the table and remove all the misunderstandings that might be existing,” Amukwiyu said.

“This project is for the whole of Namibia. At the right time we shall narrate the details and information as to what our objectives are. The nation should just be patient until such a time that we are ready to expose all the nitty-gritty information, including the benefits.”

For years Amukwiyu and his Chinese partners pushed for the project and were awarded a 10 000-hectare farm at Liselo in the Zambezi Region by the Mafwe Traditional Authority.

However, the project was greeted by objections from former health minister Bernard Haufiku, who had vigorously campaigned against the initiative, describing it as a “chemical weapons” project.

He also urged residents of the region to “choose health above toxins”.

“My plea to the youth, who apparently support the planting of chemical weapons in the name of tobacco in that great region, is: Let us choose health above toxins; choose life above death!” he Haufiku said at the time.

Haufiku’s predecessor, Richard Kamwi, also objected to the project, citing health concerns.

Current health minister Kalumbi Shangula said the resolution by cabinet to grant Namibia Oriental Tobacco approval for the project was a collective one.

“Cabinet took a decision and approved the project and I am part of cabinet, so it’s a collective decision,” Shangula said.

He said that his predecessors made their views heard outside cabinet.

Meanwhile, CAN said it had learnt “with great dismay” about cabinet’s approval for the tobacco project.

It said it had on 2 June addressed an official communication to the offices of the president, prime minister, health minister and land reform minister, in which it had requested that the project be reconsidered and declined.

CAN said it had cited concerns, such as the severe consequences for the environment and the people of Namibia.

It said further that the project contravenes agreements concluded with the World Health Organisation (WHO).

“Not only does such a venture infringe on the heart of the Namibian Tobacco Control Act of 2010 that has impacted our people positively and awarded Namibia great international recognition on this (the global tobacco) front; given the general statistics of tobacco-related health issues, both globally and locally, we remain of the conviction that allowing a tobacco farm in Namibia sets a negative precedent,” CAN said in a letter signed by its CEO Rolf Hansen, dated yesterday.

Hansen, who is also the national director of the Namibia National Cancer Registry, said the cabinet decision was a health and natural disaster waiting to happen.

“As gatekeeper of health pertaining to cancer and associated diseases, we beg cabinet that is charged with the task to dutifully investigate and keep the interests of Namibia and her people as their main concern: Rethink this decision,” Hansen added in the letter.