Govt steps in on Erindi

The Prime Minister says the government can still reject a Mexican billionaire's purchase of Erindi Private Game Reserve.

04 June 2019 | Agriculture

The government says it has not given the owners of Erindi Private Game Reserve authorisation to sell the 71 000-hectare property to foreigners and has the right to refuse the purchase.

Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila yesterday gave clarity on the matter after an announcement by 87-year-old Mexican billionaire Alberto Baillères that a sales agreement is being finalised with the Erindi owners, through which his BAL Group will acquire the sought-after game farm.

This is subject to Namibian Competition Commission (NaCC) approval and certain other contractual, party-related suspensive conditions. The NaCC has also confirmed that the deal to purchase Erindi was filed under Rembo Ltd and not the BAL Group.

It said the deal to purchase Erindi through the company, which is registered in the British Virgin Islands, is among several mergers being investigated.

Kuugongelwa-Amadhila, who was addressing government executive directors and accounting officers, made it clear yesterday that government is not selling Erindi to anyone as the game reserve is not owned by it.

She said the buying and selling of commercial land is regulated under an act of parliament - the Agricultural (Commercial) Land Reform Act of 1995.

“An Act which is still in place.”

She pointed out that government made an attempt last year to amend the Act in order to repeal the provision that allows for the sale of land to foreigners.

She said currently the law does not prohibit such transactions.

“There were protests and the public was actually incited that should government go ahead and have the law amended to prohibit the sale of land to foreigners, we were pre-empting the second national land conference and that all efforts to amend the law should be abandoned until after it was held,” said Kuugongelwa-Amadhila.

She, however, pointed out that the sale of land by a private person in Namibia can only be done after government has first decided not to exercise its right to purchase the land.

“Even in the case where government is not in a position to buy the land, government is still empowered under law to authorise the sale of land to a foreigner,” the prime minister said. Kuugongelwa-Amadhila said she is confident there was no authorisation granted by government to the owners of Erindi to sell the farm to foreigners.

“We have not given an authorisation for the sale of this land to a foreigner.”

She stressed there is a law that grants the right to private owners to sell land to whomever, with government only given the right to refuse the purchase.

“After that these people then have a right under the law to ask for permission to be granted for them to sell to foreigners, which we have not done.”

Kuugongelwa-Amadhila said because the land issue is such an emotive one, information about land transactions reach the public in a manner that is not accurate and people become agitated.

“Whatever is going to happen is going to happen within the law, and our efforts continue as a government in order to operationalise the resolutions that were adopted at the land conference, in order for us to ensure that the Namibians who currently do not have access to land are assisted to have access to such land.”

Last week 16 traditional authorities appealed to government to place a moratorium on the sale of land to foreigners.

They also asked government not to allow close corporations in which foreigners have controlling interests to acquire land in Namibia, until mechanisms to address restorative justice are put in place. These should include policy and legal frameworks for the expropriation of land.

The traditional authorities also want the findings and recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry into Claims of Ancestral Land Rights and Restitution to be published.

The traditional authorities said that by law and tradition they represent people who have been made landless in their own motherland and that they cannot allow a situation whereby their ancestral land will be sold irresponsibly.

“We really do not want to be in conflict with our government but if sensitive issues like our ancestral land restoration are not taken seriously we cannot sit and fold our hands.”

ELLANIE SMIT

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