Govt to fix 'Esau' fishing law

The pressure on government to make amends for job losses linked to the Fishrot scandal is intensifying, with the political fallout far from over.

28 January 2020 | Fishing

Acting fisheries minister Albert Kawana has confirmed that the government will be reversing amendments to the Marine Resources Act that gave his predecessor Bernhardt Esau far-reaching powers to dish out fishing rights.

The Act was amended in 2015 to give Esau powers to allocate rights as he saw fit – leading to his stripping many private companies of fishing rights.

Those who lost such rights ended up retrenching thousands of fishermen.

Esau's amendment of the law followed a 2014 High Court ruling that said his allocation of 10 000 metric tonnes of horse mackerel to state-owned fishing company Fishcor was illegal because the entity was not a horse-mackerel fishing rights holder.

The allocation of the rights to Fishcor is now seen as a smokescreen to allocate them to Icelandic seafood company Samherji in return for kickbacks to those implicated in the Fishrot debacle. It is alleged at over N$150 million in bribes changed hands.

This was done under the guise of 'Namibianisation' of the sector.

Kawana told Namibian Sun yesterday that the amendments would be reversed and that other recommendations in terms improving the Act would also be implemented.

“A lot of things have to be done, particularly when it comes to the Fisheries and Marine Resources Act. It must be amended to make sure whatever went wrong in the past is rectified,” he said.

Kawana said he was compiling a recommendation report that would soon be presented to cabinet.

He is also expected to meet with stakeholders in the sector tomorrow in order to garner recommendations which will be included in the report.

According to him the recent festive season had delayed his progress.

This follows Kawana's promise last year that all the workers who had lost their jobs due to Namsov losing its fishing quota during Esau's tenure would definitely get other jobs.

The nuts and bolts of this are yet to be announced.

“I was given a directive by cabinet to make sure that all those that lost their jobs get their jobs back as soon as possible,” Kawana said in Kuisebmond in December last year, where he addressed fishing industry representatives and workers.

“And these workers should go back to work, as this is a directive by President Hage Geingob. They have suffered enough and their families have suffered enough and the time has come for them to have bread on the table,” he said at the time.

Kawana added that even the workers who had taken part in an illegal strike a few years ago would regain their employment.

'Fishing quotas for workers'

Meanwhile, newly elected Walvis Bay Urban constituency councillor Knowledge Iipinge has demanded fishing quotas for fishermen and fish factories affected by the Fishrot bribing scandal by Independence Day this year.

Kawana said he took note of the appeal, but it is not his call to make.

Between 500 and 700 workers lost their jobs when Namsov Fishing at Walvis Bay closed in 2018.

The jobs were lost after Esau started cutting the size of the horse-mackerel quotas that had been awarded to United Fishing, Etosha Fishing and Namsov.

The quotas were instead given to state-owned enterprise Fishcor, which then dubiously sold the quotas below market value to Samherji, allegedly in exchange for bribes paid to Esau and those close to him.

Esau was able to cut the three companies' quota allocations after the Marine Resources Act had been amended. The amendment gave Esau discretion to allocate fishing quotas as he saw fit. Esau's actions led to the demise of Namsov and the loss of thousands of Namibian jobs.

According to Iipinge allocating fishing quotas to those affected by the corruption scandal would go a long way in making up for the losses that the families of fishermen suffered when they lost their jobs.

“This would ensure back pay for the loss of income throughout the past years and employment for those capable of going back to work with immediate effect. I'm currently sitting with documents in my office of fishermen who are struggling to keep their children in school and have lost their homes due to debts. Some cases are still ongoing,” he said.

Speaking to Namibian Sun in an exclusive interview, Iipinge also said the government must go beyond the Fishrot corruption case and investigate the entire system of fishing quota allocation in order to interrogate the legitimacy of information submitted by all existing fishing rights and quota holders.

“On 15 November 2019, I wrote a letter to the acting minister of fisheries and marine resources, Dr Albert Kawana, expressing concern over fishing industry corruption and made recommendations on behalf of the community of Walvis Bay Urban Constituency, which he deliberately opted to ignore bluntly for reasons only known to him,” said Iipinge.

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