Agribank bites back

Agribank says it is telling that the ancestral land commission did not offer any solutions, in terms of how it should deal with persistent defaulters.

24 December 2019 | Agriculture

Agribank says it is disappointed by what it sees as a scathing attack by the ancestral land commission.

The commission recently complained to President Hage Geingob about the proposed repossession of 179 farms by Agribank from black farmers, who had persistently defaulted on their loans

The commission last week handed in its interim report to the head of state and pleaded with government to throw these black farmers a lifeline and support them.

Judge Shafimana Ueitele, who is chairing the commission, informed Geingob that Agribank was obtaining court orders for the repossession of the 179 farms, adding that most of the farms sold on auction usually end up in the hands of white farmers. Agribank spokesperson Rino Muranda hit back this past Friday.

He said it was telling that the commission did not offer any solutions on how the bank ought to be able to fulfil its mandate without requiring clients, within reasonable and practical means, to honour their financial obligations to the bank.

He also pointed out that the board and management have the duty to ensure that the bank is prudently and sustainably managed, so that it can deliver on its mandate of assisting more Namibians.

“Legal action is a step the bank takes only after prolonged engagement with a client. It is important to emphasise that legal action does not necessarily equate to repossession, as the commission's chairperson is alleged to have claimed,” Muranda said.

“The bank's experience is that such action, whilst not its preferred route, is logical and necessary, and often results in repayment arrangements finally being entered into between clients and the bank.

“It is most regrettable that the commission chose to attack a process that is taken against persistently defaulting clients and invokes the sentiment of 'repossession of farms' by Agribank.”

In 2017 Agribank Namibia called in the help of debt collectors to start collecting an outstanding N$500 million in loan repayments from farmers across the country.

At that time the bank had disbursed loans to clients to the tune of N$2.4 billion and for the first time made use of external debt collectors.

This came amid protests from a group of disgruntled loan holders, who demanded that their repayment periods be extended to a maximum of 33 years, without undue delay.

These farmers claimed that they had been blacklisted following the bank's decision to rope in debt collectors to collect outstanding loan arrears that have been accumulating over the years.

Ueitele said last week that Agribank repossessing farms was a retrogressive step in the process of land redistribution and land reform, and must be addressed urgently.

The deputy chair of the commission Phanuel Kaapama said yesterday they will not get into a debate with Agribank until the full report is available, but pointed out that the media has focused only one matter, and not the full picture.

“We had findings and we had recommendations on that issue. We also spoke of the Affirmative Action Loan Scheme (AALS), which is programme that Agribank is merely implementing,” he said.

During the briefing with the president the commission said although government had adopted well-intentioned land reform programmes such as the AALS, these programmes lacked a robust environment to nurture and support professionally and financially.

The commission also pleaded with the government to throw black farmers a lifeline and support them, just like Germany and apartheid South Africa did for their people who had settled in Namibia.

“We have heard cause and were implored to what we also learn from history is that both the Germans and South Africans supported the settlers they had transplanted to Namibia,” Ueitele said.

The commission also found that both the colonial and apartheid regimes, after dispossessing the black majority, constantly adopted policies and programmes to consolidate white settlement and to create an agriculture-based industry which excluded the majority of black Namibians, he said.

The commission also found that all land in the country is committed and there is no existing alternative land in communal and commercial land and it can only be made available through reclassification of land use.

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