Bribes linked to fishing job losses

Amid the rotting stench of corruption, linked to alleged N$150 million in bribes paid by a Scandinavian fishing company for Namibian fishing quotas, two cabinet ministers fell on their swords yesterday. But the political fallout is just beginning.

14 November 2019 | Local News

JEMIMA BEUKES AND OGONE TLHAGE



Bribery allegations that led to the abrupt resignations yesterday of justice minister Sacky Shanghala and his fisheries counterpart Bernard Esau may have robbed thousands of families livelihoods through job losses in the fishing industry.

The two controversial ministers were – according to sources – to be fired by President Hage Geingob yesterday, but moved a step ahead of their appointing authority by tendering their immediate resignations.

They are being linked to an international scandal involving Iceland’s biggest fishing company, Samherji, which allegedly secured access to horse mackerel quotas in Namibian waters by paying bribes of up to N$150 million to politicians and officials in Namibia between 2012 and 2018.

Both ministers have denied wrongdoing.

It is believed many players in the Namibian fishing industry, including Namsov which was once one of the leading employers in that sector, dubiously lost thousands of tonnes in quotas, leading to such companies scaling down on their operations and consequently retrenching workers.

Samherji on the other hand remained in business, with claims it continued to accumulate quotas through what is now believed to be underhand dealings.

The Icelandic company, in a statement issued yesterday, said: “We were very disappointed to learn that Jóhannes Stefánsson, a former managing director of Samherji's operations in Namibia, appears to have been involved in questionable business practices and possibly entangled Samherji in activities that may be illegal.”

Geingob has appointed attorney-general Albert Kawana as fisheries minister, while home affairs minister Frans Kapofi replaces Shanghala at justice.

Shanghala yesterday denied claims that he was involved in any wrongdoing with regard to the stink emanating from the allegations linked to Icelandic firm SAMHERJI.

Esau also distanced himself from the scandal, saying evidence would have to be provided to show that he was in the wrong.

“They must prove [it] and further I see all [of it] as propaganda (sic).”

According to international reports, politicians and officials in Namibia who allegedly took bribes from Samherji are Esau, Tamson ‘Fitty’ Hatuikulipi, who worked as consultant for Samherji, James Hatukulipi, the chairman of the board of state-owned company Fishcor and Sacky Shanghala, the country’s current justice minister and former attorney general. The fifth individual implicated is Mike Nghipunya, the CEO of Fishcor.

Icelandic whistle-blower, Jóhannes Stefánsson, who is said to be working with authorities to expose the rot, was fired by SAMHERJI. He was the company’s Namibian representative.

Thorsteinn Már Baldvinsson, CEO of Samherji, said in statement: “We were very disappointed to learn that Jóhannes Stefánsson, a former managing director of Samherji's operations in Namibia, appears to have been involved in questionable business practices and possibly entangled Samherji in activities that may be illegal.”

Stefánsson was fired from his position in Namibia in 2016 because of mismanagement and unacceptable behaviour, Samherji said.

Investec MD Hatuikulipi was not available for comment despite efforts to reach him.

Before his resignation was revealed yesterday afternoon, Esau said evidence would have to be presented that he erred in his duties as fisheries minister.

“I need proof if I am or was corrupt in my actions as minister,” he said.

The political drama overshadowed a State House meeting with a Bulgarian delegation yesterday morning.

Geingob, when cornered at State House, avoided commenting on the issue.

“Og, we will get back to you,” he said, before waving Namibian Sun away.

Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) director-general Paulus Noa said they have been investigating the matter for longer than a year and have engaged authorities of affected countries such as Angola.

Noa, however, is not convinced that the video clip which shows how Esau allegedly accepted a cash bribe is enough proof to take the matter to court.

“Yes, you have seen a minister on camera, but that is not enough in court. It is not enough. For you to submit this you must be able to authenticate and should have someone who is able to confirm that such a thing took place and where it took place.

“The video clip could be part of the evidence and I cannot tell you whether we have some other pictures as well,” he said.

Fishcor CEO Nghipunya, who had been fingered as having received a bribe by Icelandic publication Stundin said he did not know why he was mentioned.

“I don’t even know why they listed my name, because I never received any bribe,” he said in a text message.

According to Noa the investigation has been delayed because they have received snippets of information from time to time.

He is also not sure at this point how long the investigation will take.

“Previously that information (WikiLeaks) was not provided to the ACC. It was only this year that we received that information and we have engaged stakeholders and we are in contact with other authorities involved to establish the credibility of what is being alleged and verify the allegations with some documentary proof,” Noa said.

He said they are trying to establish how the agreement was struck between the Namibian and Angolan fisheries ministries, and whether it was done corruptly or done above-board.

Norway’s anti-graft body, Økokrim, was also pursuing the case, while the matter had been reported to the district attorney’s office in Reykjavík, Iceland.

Police chief, Inspector-General Sebastian Ndeitunga, said he is not aware of the matter.

“I am not investigating that case,” he said.

Scandal-prone

It is not the first time Shanghala has been embroiled in a scandal, but has always seemed to bounce back. He was also implicated in the Kora awards scandal in which the Namibian government lost N$24million.

Shanghala has also been maligned for questionable payments of N$47 million to United Kingdom lawyers for legal advice linked to the German genocide reparation talks.

Too late for tears

Political analyst Kamwanyah Ndumba said the whole scandal is certainly damaging to the ruling party and the current administration, but the reality is that Shanghala and Esau have resigned.

However, this could create a negative public perception that Geingob was not man enough to deal with them.

“He has taken long; it is public knowledge that he (Shanghala) has been involved in dubious dealings for long. It will not be a good message for the president’s campaign that he did not fire them, unless they resigned before he could fire them,” he said.

Constitutional expert Dr Nico Horn said it may be “too late for tears” for Swapo, who do not have enough time to deal with the scandal hanging over their heads right now, as the 27 November general election is around the corner.

According to Horn the fishing scandal, which has been simmering without action from the president, will certainly impact the party’s performance during the elections.

“The fact that the video of Mr Esau is being spreading so widely, even if no corruption can be proven afterwards, it would still have a damaging impact on Swapo. Again it is very late in the campaign; it could certainly be possibly more damaging to the government, because there is no time to discuss the issue and to change perceptions,” Horn added.

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