Another Fishgate 'kingpin' falls

Acting Fishcor board chairperson Bennett Kangumu says they are not looking at immediately removing Mike Nghipunya as CEO, as they have to follow due process before making a decision about his future.

21 November 2019 | Fishing

Fishcor board chairperson James Hatuikulipi has resigned from the state-owned fishing enterprise amid the ongoing fallout over an alleged bribery scandal involving hundreds of millions of dollars.

Board member Dr Bennett Kangumu has been appointed as chairman of the board in the meantime.

However, Fishcor CEO Mike Nghipunya remains in his job, despite the possibility of him interfering in the unfolding probe into a scandal that has rocked both Iceland and Namibia's reputations on the world stage.

Fishcor is at the centre of the allegations involving Iceland's biggest seafood company, Samherji, paying between N$150 million and N$2.5 billion in bribes to Namibian politicians and officials to get their hands on what has been described as Namibia fishing quota “goldmine”.

According to the treasure trove of 30 000 documents released by WikiLeaks last week, Samherji allegedly paid bribes for over six years. The documents include emails, internal reports, spreadsheets, presentations and photos provided by Jóhannes Stefánsson, Samherji's former representative in Namibia.

The company has been operating in Namibia for almost a decade, with a quota for horse mackerel.

But after allegedly greasing the palms of now former fisheries minister Bernhardt Esau, former justice minister Sacky Shanghala, Hatuikulipi, his cousin Tamson 'Fitty' Hatuikulipi, who is also Esau's son-in-law, and Nghipunya, they hit the jackpot.

Samherji was awarded quotas by Fishcor and is apparently still fishing in Namibian waters. In 2016 Samherji received a 5 000-tonne quota from Fishcor at a price of 50 million Icelandic Króna (about US$399 906), which was lower than what it had been sold for previously. This is a pattern that was more or less repeated in 2017 and in 2018.

Last week public enterprises minister Leon Jooste wrote a letter to acting fisheries minister Albert Kawana, who is the country's attorney-general, to have James Hatuikulipi and Nghipunya removed from their Fishcor positions.

Kawana yesterday confirmed that Hatuikulipi had resigned as board chairperson on Monday, but said his hands were tied as far as the suggested removal of CEO Nghipunya was concerned.

Esau and Shanghala resigned from cabinet last week, while Fitty and Shanghala's bank accounts were frozen by the Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC) of the Bank of Namibia.

Hatuikulipi last week resigned as managing director of Investec, an asset-management company.

On Nghipunya, Kawana said: “The CEO situation is not within my ambit; you would have to speak to the board about that.

“In terms of corporate governance principles, [the] removal of a CEO is a board prerogative, not the minister's, and thus he's not involved in that process.”

Kawana said he was aware of the implications Nghipunya's continued involvement at Fishcor may have.

“Fishcor is an important company to our economy and employs over 1 000 people, mostly women and youth. Any negativity against the company could affect its image, especially in the eyes of those that it does business with it, and in the long run this may lead to job losses,” Kawana acknowledged.

Acting chairperson Kangumu said the board was not looking at immediately removing Nghipunya as CEO, as it had to follow disciplinary processes before making a decision regarding his future.

“There is nothing to report at this stage, because we are a country governed by the rule of law. We need to undertake due process,” Kangumu said.

Pressed on whether Nghipunya's continued presence at office would not compromise any investigative work being undertaken to untangle the Fishgate scandal, Kangumu reiterated that due process was needed.

“Whatever angle you look at it, you need to follow due process. As a board, we have a process to ensure such a thing does not happen,” he said.

Jooste and Kawana are set to meet to discuss Fishcor.

Jooste said he had requested a meeting and wanted it to take place as soon as possible.

“I am going to meet with the acting [fishing] minister [Kawana] to discuss the matter. The minister was on leave and had to attend the election court session this week. I have requested the meeting and expect it to take place soonest,” he said.

“I have full confidence in the discretion of the minister to deal with this matter as he deems fit, after evaluating the obvious implications,” Jooste added.


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