The Namibian (Windhoek)

9 January 2013

Namibia: Cuba Snubs Namibia

THE Cuban government has snubbed Namibia by terminating a proposed business partnership between one of its state institutions and the Roads Contractor Company (RCC).

The Caribbean country informed their Namibian counterparts of their decision not to enter into a formal agreement to improve the country's road network without giving reasons for the snub.

The deal was between the RCC and Cuba's Uneca Corporation. Talks between the two started in 2009 when Cuban President Raúl Castro visited.

The two had agreed in principle to cooperate in various business sectors and had signed an agreement along those lines at that time.

However, Uneca officials informed the RCC in September last year that the Cuban government did not approve the partnership and the deal will not be entertained.

Works Minister Errki Nghimtina made a Cabinet submission in September last year explaining that the RCC and Uneca were selected to

cooperate in the area of civil engineering infrastructure development.

It would have led to better roads for Namibia and an exchange of experts.

The reasons for the termination remain sketchy, despite Nghimtina's assurance that there was nothing sinister about the Caribbean country's decision to call off the deal, without reasons.

He said he is aware of the deal.

He said Cabinet did not discuss the deal and he only briefed his colleagues about the status.

Nghimtina admitted that it might be that the Cuban government called off the proposal because of technical and policy difference reasons.

"Maybe there were other problems. However, there were no disputes or diplomatic problems," he said.

Earlier the move was approved by Cabinet who had granted the RCC the green light to go ahead with the business partnership.

The submission states that the RCC initiated the partnership which resulted in Namibian officials visiting Cuba. A Cuban delegation was also in the country.

"Discussions of the then imminent cooperation were held and the partnership concept was drafted which RCC board approved and anticipated Uneca principals to act likewise".

However, things did not go as anticipated for the local road parastatal.

Cuba, who politically, militarily and diplomatically supported Namibia during the liberation struggle, wrote a letter in September to Engelhard Haihambo, the RCC chief executive officer.

Rubi Benitez, the chairman of Uneca, informed Haihambo that they would only accept one of their request which was the supply of skilled technical personnel in the field of civil engineering and other associated skills.

Asked to give more light the RCC chief told The Namibian yesterday that he will first discuss the issue with Nghimtina before responding to media questions e-mailed to him.

He did not want to explain what the agreement entailed and how it could have benefited the country.

"You are referring to a Cabinet submission of which the content I was not privy to. I shall therefore first request the ministry to provide me with the highlights of the content of such a submission for me to fully respond to your questions. Eventually I shall reply to your questions".

According to Uneca's official website, they render construction and design and consultancy services in several countries in Africa, Middle East, Asia, Europe and Central and South America and the Caribbean with over seventy major projects completed.

The snub will be bad news to President Hifikepunye Pohamba who, during Castro's visit, called for the implementation of decisions taken by the joint Namibia-Cuba commission.

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