Animal justice remains a pipe dream

21 January 2021 | Local News

JANA-MARI SMITH





WINDHOEK



A groundbreaking animal protection and welfare bill launched by disgraced former justice minister Sacky Shanghala in late 2019 - that was slated to become law in mid-2020 - has stalled amidst the minister's downfall, the pandemic and the bill’s transfer to the agriculture ministry last year.

The significant slowdown of momentum to overhaul the current ineffective and outdated animal protection law worries major stakeholders.

“We are concerned with the delay that the transfer from one ministry to another seems to have caused, and we are disappointed as registered interested and affected parties that we have not had any feedback on the progress of the bill,” the Namibian Animal Welfare Association’s (NAWA’s) Heather Craemer said this week.

She added that the once-high hopes that Namibia’s deficient current animal protection law would be replaced with a landmark new law, a first for Africa, has diminished.



Defective

Legal expert and lawyer Ronel Lewies of Annie's Animal Legal Fund Namibia explained that the current legislative protection of animals in Namibia “is so deficient that one could consider it non-existent”.

She warned that if the bill is “not treated with the sense of urgency it deserves, it will soon become a disgrace to our country, which prides itself on the protection of its natural resources”.

The Animal Protection and Welfare Bill, while still under the leadership of the justice ministry, was slated to go before the Cabinet Committee on Legislation by February 2020. By May 2020, it was envisaged that the bill would be tabled in the National Assembly.



Roadblocks

Dr Albertina Shilongo, the chief veterinary officer at the agriculture ministry, last week said the bill has yet to be finalised.

“We could not make progress with a stakeholders’’ workshop to finalise the bill due to Covid-19 restrictions and the ongoing outbreak of foot and mouth disease in the Northern Communal Areas.”

Lewies said she “can’t say with great certainty whether the delay is reasonable or not”.

“What I can say with certainty is that the animals of Namibia are suffering the consequences of the delay.”

Hanna Rhodin, national director of SPCA Namibia, said the slowdown of the bill’s progress since the onset of the pandemic is understandable.

“However, we keep our hopes high that the ministry prioritises the bill and that stakeholders will be consulted again soon."



Impaired

The current Animal Protection Act 71 of 1962 is close to 60 years old and has never been reviewed, supplemented or updated.

The maximum penalty for the contravention of the Act is N$200, irrespective of the severity of the offence.

Craemer added that the current law makes prosecution of cruelty cases unlikely to succeed. Moreover, apart from domestic animals, the current law contains no protection for livestock.

The proposed new law would include robust and stiff prison sentences and fines for those guilty of animal neglect, abuse and other cruelties. These range from five to 15 years behind bars, fines of between N$10 000 and N$200 000, or both.

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