Cabinet shoulders fishing quotas burden

Cabinet will be roped into what is suspected to be a tainted application process for fishing rights, which has been delayed for over a year.

05 December 2019 | Fishing

Acting fisheries minister Albert Kawana will seek cabinet guidance on whether or not to proceed with the allocation of fishing rights, amidst fears the process has been tainted by the so-called Fishrot scandal.

With former fisheries minister Bernhardt Esau currently under arrest over allegations he has been accepting bribes in return for allocating fishing quotas to unscrupulous companies, there is genuine fear that last year's fishing rights applications process was only a formality to sugar-coat a corrupt syndicate.

Speaking to Namibian Sun yesterday, Kawana confirmed he was scheduled to meet stakeholders in the fishing industry next week to chart a way forward regarding fishing rights.

He will then brief cabinet on the discussions held with industry before seeking guidance on whether to start the process afresh, as bribery allegations mount.

Esau is alleged to have given lucrative fishing rights to Icelandic company Samherji in return for handsome kickbacks.

Also arrested in connection with the same scandal is former justice minister Sacky Shanghala, suspended Investec manager Ricardo Gustavo, former Investec managing director James Hatuikulipi and his cousin Tamson Hatuikulipi, who is also Esau's son-in-law. Another relative, Pius Mwatelulo, was also arrested, while the CEO of state-owned fishing company Fishcor, Mike Nghipunya, was suspended.

“Next week I will engage the fishing industry, engage workers, to try and stabilise the industry. For now, I do not want to say anything. These are issues that need to be directed to cabinet. Once cabinet agrees, we will inform the nation on the way forward. I do not want to jump the gun,” Kawana said.

The fisheries ministry received 5 193 applications for fishing rights in September 2018. It is not clear when Esau planned to allocate the rights.

Asked what had transpired in a meeting he planned on having with President Hage Geingob over the same issue, Kawana said: “We do not want to hide anything. When I was appointed, I told the president that I would do everything to restore trust in the fishing industry. The president has given me the mandate to look into this.”

Kawana was also asked whether his ministry was doing internal investigations to establish whether fishing rights had been allocated dubiously by his predecessor, Esau.

“As we go along, we will inform authorities of abnormalities,” he said.

“At the moment, there is a criminal element [investigation] going on being spearheaded by the Anti-Corruption Commission, the Namibian police and national intelligence [service],” he remarked.

Shangala was head of the Law Reform and Development Commission (LRDC) when the Marine Resources Act was amended in 2015.

The amendment gave Esau leeway to allocate fishing rights at his own discretion. This led to the demise of Bidvest Namibia's fishing arm, Bidfish, which closed down and resulted in the holding company delisting from the Namibia Stock Exchange after Esau stripped them of fishing quotas.

Nearly 1 000 employees of these companies were retrenched as a result.

Esau allocated a considerable chunk of the fishing rights to state-owned entity Fishcor, which is alleged to have been used as a front to corruptly hand out fishing rights.

Icelandic whistleblower Jóhannes Stefánsson implicated Esau and Shangala in the syndicate, alleging that the two had used their positions to dubiously channel quotas to Icelandic company Samherji, which paid them kickbacks in return.

The charges against the Fishrot Six, as the accused are now infamously known, state that the six men accepted or agreed to accept in excess of N$100 million from Samherji's Namibian subsidiaries from 2014-2019 to secure fishing quotas. Stefánsson was in charge of Samherji's Namibian business interests at the time.

Esau is also charged with awarding a quota of up to 55 000 tonnes of horse mackerel to a private Namibian company, Namgomar Pesca, in exchange for bribes. Gustavo is a director in the company.


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