Fishing quotas under scrutiny

A crunch meeting next week between President Geingob and acting fisheries minister Albert Kawana may set the tone on the way forward, amidst suspicious delays in the awarding of fishing rights.

15 November 2019 | Fishing

President Hage Geingob and acting fisheries minister Albert Kawana will meet next week to discuss the credibility of the fishing quota allocation process, as well as whether more heads will roll following the resignation of two ministers this week over bribery allegations.

Justice minister Sacky Shanghala and fisheries minister Bernhardt Esau left their cabinet positions this week after their names surfaced in an international bribery probe involving Namibian fishing quotas.

Applications for fishing rights were submitted last year but no new holders have been announced yet, sparking suspicion about how clean the process has been.

Kawana confirmed the scheduled meeting.

“Normally these things you have to sit down and check whether they were done by the book,” Kawana told Namibian Sun.

“I will have to get feedback from the staff members. That will only happen next week. It will be a collective decision,” he said when asked whether the process may have been tainted by claims of bribery.

Esau and Shanghala resigned after WikiLeaks implicated them and several others in a bribery scandal in which kickbacks of at least N$150 million were allegedly paid to Namibians in influential positions over four years.

Both Geingob and the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) had known about the bribery allegations since early this year, but neither took action.

Only after the international media published the story this week did Geingob seek to fire the two ministers, before they voluntarily stepped down.

ACC director-general Paulus Noa, on the other hand, only released a statement on the matter yesterday, after he had initially said he would not comment.

But with pressure piling up on his office for its perceived sluggish approach to one of the biggest scandals of his time in office, Noa yesterday sought to assure the nation that his office was pursuing the matter.

“The information gathered at that time could not justify submission of the docket to the prosecutor-general for a decision to prosecute,” the ACC said in a statement late yesterday.

“The allegations potentially implicating Minister Bernard Esau, Minister Sacky Shanghala, James Hatuikulipi, 'Fitty' Tamson Hatuikulipi, Ricardo Gustavo, several fishing entities, some foreign nationals and their companies were only received by ACC during November 2018.

“These allegations are being investigated as part of the docket already opened in 2014. Since then, ACC has been relentlessly pursuing the allegations with an objective to get substantive evidence. Statements under oath have been obtained from the whistleblower and other potential witnesses,” the statement read.

“In the course of the investigation, ACC has engaged counterparts and relevant stakeholders inside and outside the country with an objective to assist with investigation of various aspects as revealed by our sources. The reason for requesting international cooperation from our counterparts is to consolidate the investigation.”

When pressed to answer whether Hatuikulipi would be suspended as Fishcor chairperson, Kawana remained tight-lipped, saying such decision would need the input of the board and other stakeholders close to the process.

Hatuikulipi, a family member of Esau's son-in-law Tamson, was appointed by Esau to serve as Fishcor's board chairperson. Tamson is married to Esau's daughter, and was consulting for Icelandic company Samherji, which received quotas from Fishcor.

“I don't want to jump the gun; we are a country governed by laws. Those are things that must be done according to the law,” Kawana said.

“I have not even met the board of Fishcor. I will have to coordinate with my deputy minister.”

Fishcor is a public entity that was handed a lucrative 16% horse-mackerel quota allocation, reportedly worth N$1.8 billion.

Hautuikulipi's employer, Investec, also declined to comment on the fisheries scandal.

“Until the Namibian authorities have communicated formally on this issue, we are not in a position to respond to media speculation,” company representative Tash de Saldanha said.

“We are investigating the matter and will cooperate with the authorities, as we always do.”



JEMIMA BEUKES and OGONE TLHAGE

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