Baillères unrepentant on Erindi jobs

The Mexican billionaire who is buying the 71 000-hectare Erindi Private Game Reserve is unhappy with a condition placed on the sale.

05 November 2019 | Agriculture

The trade ministry is reviewing approval by the Namibia Competition Commission (NaCC) for the sale of the 71 000-hectare Erindi Private Game Reserve to Mexican billionaire Alberto Baillères, with an emphasis on the condition that no worker may be retrenched for five years after the sale and a merger with an adjacent farm.

Trade minister Tjekero Tweya said yesterday: “It (The matter) is with me. I am in the process, I cannot give any half information, and I hate it. It is with me and I am dealing with it.”

NaCC spokesperson Dina Gowases confirmed that Baillères was unhappy with the non-retrenchment condition.

Servaas van den Bosch, a director of Emergo, the company providing public relations services to Baillères, told Namibian Sun the Mexican wanted to respect the regulatory process and would only comment once it was completed.

Government last month approved and gazetted the sale of Erindi as well as its merger with Otjimakuru Wild (Pty) Ltd, which owns a farm adjacent to Erindi.

The main condition for the sale was that there may be no retrenchment of employees as a result of the merger for a period of five years.

The Government Gazette also stipulated that such retrenchments do not include voluntary separation, resignations and voluntary early retirements and those retrenchments that are merger specific.

Meanwhile, local ancestral land activists are still objecting to the sale, saying it would cut off the country's largest private game reserve from the rest of Namibia, making it a “country within a country”.

According to Sandie Tjaronda, who represents the Namibian Ancestral Land Foundation, Erindi is “too huge a piece of land” to be sold to a single person, who is a foreigner.

“This is a continuous promotion of the absentee landlord regime, because this Mexican will come here once a year or so. We cannot afford to apportion our land to people who will not support our economy.

“We will see illicit cash transfers and this money will not be hugely invested into our economy, except for a few salaries that will be paid. The rest of the money will be taken out of the country,” said Tjaronda.

Other institutions that have objected to the sale of Erindi to a foreigner include the National Union of Namibian Workers (NUNW) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia (ELCRN).

A visit by Baillères to State House at the end of June also unleashed a storm. During the visit, President Hage Geingob urged Baillères to invest further in Namibia, while the Mexican billionaire raised concerns about the country's laws and whether his investment in the Erindi Private Game Reserve would be safe once his purchase offer was given the green light.

The closed-door meeting was also attended by land reform minister Utoni Nujoma, finance minister Calle Schlettwein, presidential affairs minister Martin Andjaba and attorney-general Albert Kawana.

Geingob briefed the media afterwards, but Baillères did not utter a single word.

“Baillères's investment is both welcomed and safe in Namibia. Our country is a strong constitutional democracy which respects the rule of law,” said Geingob at the time.

He also stressed the importance of attracting responsible and committed foreign investment to Namibia, which would assist the economy to the benefit of all Namibians.

Geingob, who described Baillères as a “special investor”, urged him to make use of other investment opportunities in Namibia.

He assured Baillères that Namibia is a law-abiding society, adding that government had issued a waiver to the owners of Erindi to sell the 71 000-hectare private game reserve.

“Erindi is owned by foreigners and we do not have a law that prohibits foreigners from buying land. Property owned legally cannot be touched,” he said.

Geingob also stressed that the farm was unsuitable for resettlement purposes.

“Here is the Mexican buyer, not to make money, but to conserve. Welcome, but you must also invest in Namibia. We googled you and you are a true investor.”

Baillères is the president of Mexico-based BAL Group, which has a proven and strong reputation, having operated for more than a century. BAL Group has diversified interests and Baillères has experience with managing several wildlife protection ranches in different parts of the world.

Baillères is a philanthropist who aims to transform Erindi into a world-class game reserve, in line with the ministry of environment and tourism's guidelines.

His intention is to preserve Erindi for future generations and ensure that it continues to provide a sanctuary and safe environment for rare and valuable species such as elephants, black rhino, white rhino, wild dogs, cheetahs, leopards and lions, that are unique and an essential part of African culture and heritage.

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