We didn’t know – Fishcor board members
19 February 2020 | Crime
National Fishing Corporation of Namibia (Fishcor) board members have pleaded ignorance of the alleged grand thievery that occurred right under their noses at the state-owned company that is now at the centre of a N$150 million bribery storm.
The scandal has led to the arrest of their former colleague and board chairperson, James Hatuikulipi, and CEO Mike Nghipunya.
Other board members include regional governors Usko Nghaamwa (Ohangwena) and Sirkka Ausiku (Kavango West), fisheries ministry executive director Dr Moses Maurihungirire, Dr Bennet Kangumu, Ndaendomwenyo Sheya and Clareta Gamses, who later resigned.
They all served at the height of what is now fast becoming Namibia’s biggest post-independence corruption scandal, which involved using Fishcor as a vehicle in a grand bribery scheme involving about N$150 million.
Questions have sprung up in recent months as to how the alleged unethical conduct could occurred with ease and finesse without the board acting on it.
Known as ‘Fishrot’, the scandal arose from former fisheries minister Bernhardt Esau allegedly pushing through an amendment to the Marine Resources Act that gave him powers to distribute fishing quotas as he saw fit.
Using his newly acquired powers, Esau stripped many private companies of fishing rights and handed them to Fishcor – allegedly as a smokescreen to allocate them to Icelandic seafood company Samherji in return for kickbacks to those now implicated in the Fishrot debacle.
Those who lost such rights ended up retrenching thousands of fishermen.
Nghaamwa said as board members they were not always privy to what the company’s executives were up to.
“In each and every business, there are technical components that cannot just be known by everybody. These technical components can only be known by those running the business. This is exactly what happened at Fishcor,” said Nghaamwa, himself a successful businessman.
“Those running the business use these technical components to enrich themselves. As board members we just thought the company was doing well according to the report and presentations we were receiving.”
Ausiku contended that when she became a board member of Fishcor in May 2017, much of the alleged bribery had already occurred.
“From which year now, when did I join the board? Some of these things were done when we were not there. Now how do I respond to something I was not a part of?’” she said.
Kangumu, who is currently acting as board chairperson after James Hatuikulipi’s resignation, said he too did not know about the alleged bribes.
“Fishrot does not equal Fishcor, and vice versa, which has largely been ignored by the media, which could provide insight into how things were handled,” he said.
“Amidst all this, we firmly believe that culprits will not perpetually evade the long arm of the law, including within the current board if any,” he commented.
So far the main accused in the Fishrot matter are James Hatuikulipi, his cousin Tamson Hatuikulipi, former justice minister Sacky Shanghala, former fisheries minister Bernhardt Esau, Nghipunya, suspended Investec employee Ricardo Gustavo, Hanganeni employee Pius Mwatelulo and Nghipunya. Also arrested were three hangers-on of the main accused who face separate charges.