Geingob warned on fishing quotas

The head of state's high-level panel on the economy has taken serious issue with the way in which fishing quotas are currently dished out.

26 February 2020 | Local News

The chairman of the high-level panel on the economy, former Old Mutual honcho Johannes !Gawaxab, has lamented the manner in which fishing quotas are currently allocated and said a new framework had been proposed and shared with President Hage Geingob.

The panel's discontent comes only days after fisheries minister Albert Kawana told Namibian Sun on Friday last week that quota allocations would be announced in March.

Cabinet has been criticised for refusing to discard current applications, which were submitted at the height of the so-called Fishrot scandal in which quotas were allegedly awarded in exchange for bribes.

“We believe we need a framework where the natural resources of the country should benefit the majority of the country, Namibians. All I am saying is the current system is not working, it needs to be reviewed in a way to improve,” !Gawaxab said yesterday, when briefing the head of state on the progress the panel has made to bring investment into Namibia.

“We are not working with the (fisheries) ministry, we have been appointed by the president to give him recommendations. We have given him recommendations, he needs to apply his mind, see whether he wants to accept; that is his prerogative.”

The allocation of fishing quotas has become mired in scandal due to the unfolding Fishrot saga in which two former cabinet ministers and the bigwigs at the National Fishing Corporation of Namibia (Fishcor), among other culprits, are in custody in connection with allegedly receiving over N$150 million in bribes paid by Icelandic company Samherji to gain access to Namibia's fishing gold mine.

In the main of four criminal cases currently before the courts, former fisheries Bernhardt Esau and his five co-accused, known as the Fishrot Six, are among others accused of awarding or conspiring to award up to 55 000 metric tonnes of horse mackerel to Namgomar Pesca Namibia (Pty) Ltd between 2014 and 2019, which in turn dished out the lucrative quotas to Samherji and its local subsidiaries.

The charges elaborate that between 2014 and 2019 the accused, acting in common purpose, directly or indirectly corruptly and intentionally solicited, accepted or agreed to accept N$103 636 448.75 for their benefit from Mermaria Sea Food Namibia (Pty) Ltd and/or Esja Seafood Pty (Ltd) for their own gratification, so they could continue to receive fishing quotas.

They are also accused of acting in common purpose to wrongfully, unlawfully, falsely and with the intent to defraud, misrepresent the Namibian government. This relates to a memorandum signed with the Angolan government on 18 June 2014 that was effectively used to circumvent the Marine Resources Act in the allocation of fishing quotas.

Kawana pushes forward with quota allocations

Acting fisheries minister Albert Kawana confirmed to Namibian Sun that the process to allocate fishing quotas should be completed by the end of March, at which point the fisheries minister will, after consultation with Cabinet, announce the successful applicants.

A new cabinet is set to be sworn in on or after 21 March.

Kawana said the University of Namibia (Unam) was roped in to help the ministry allocate the fishing rights.

Existing fishing rights holders have been granted permission by Cabinet to net a third of the total allowable catch (TAC) for various species until the end of the current financial year on 31 March, while prospective rights holders have not been informed about the status of their applications.

Last November, prior to his arrest in connection with the Fishrot bribery scandal, former fisheries minister Bernhardt Esau told New Era that a committee set up to evaluate over 5 000 fishing rights applications had completed 80% of its work.

The fisheries ministry announced that a total of 5 190 fishing rights applications were received by 31 August 2018 for the 90 to 120 rights available. This presented a massive increase from previous applications, which ranged in the region of 500 to 1 500.

Giving an update on the way forward, Kawana said noticeable progress had been made.

“What we have done now as we announced already, we assigned this function of processing these things to Unam and we are waiting,” he said.

Cabinet would then be consulted before the new fisheries minister announces the allocations, he said.

“I hope this process will be completed by March,” Kawana said.

He also promised full transparency.

Kawana said the Fishrot scandal, in which bribes are alleged to have been accepted for the allocation of lucrative fishing quotas, should not allow foreign nationals and entities to gain a foothold on the fishing sector. According to him, unlike other industries, fisheries was dominated by Namibians and would remain that way.

“The fisheries sector is more than 90% owned by Namibians so that to me is a very proud record. Let us keep it that way… We want to see even more Namibians own these resources,” he said.

Shared with Geingob

During a media conference at State House yesterday, !Gawaxab confirmed he had shared the high-level economic panel's proposals around the future allocations of fishing quotas with Geingob.

The panel had at its inception promised to generate N$15 billion in investments.

As the tenure of its existence comes to an end, the panel visited Geingob to share which investments were secured and to give recommendations they felt were necessary to induce economic growth.

!Gawaxab would not share any details of the plan when asked, saying it was for Geingob to present it to his Cabinet before making any announcements or commitments.

“I am pretty sure the president will consult his Cabinet and in due course, this report will be released by the president. All those updates are in the report. It's a summary of where we are. Actually, it's quite good, particularly the public sector commitments, I can tell you,” he said.

“Ours was very much short-term focused so what we are talking about is what we can do over the next 12 to 18 months but [with] a bigger focus on the new government that is coming in.

According to !Gawaxab, government has accepted 13 of the 15 recommendations given by the panel.

Giving brief details on the amount generated, !Gawaxab said N$2.2 billion in investment had been raised thus far.

“On the private sector commitments, we said we validated about N$20 billion, and here we are saying it's about N$2.2 billion of investments but it's in the documents and I cannot give you specifics,” he said.


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