25 January 2013

Namibia: Tear Down Those Fences


FENCING of huge tracts of land in Namibia's communal area has once again highlighted that the country's elite and their admirers in the upper-middle class care little for their fellow citizens in the low-income category and even less for the environment.

While we should all applaud the government's latest push for people to remove the enclosures of land in communal areas, it is difficult not to note the duplicitous measures under which the instructions will be carried out. For instance, Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry Tjekero Tweya is likely to face legal action over the fencing of 2 900 hectares while others (also top government officials) who also closed off communal land could get away with their deeds.

Tweya is in trouble only because he did not object to the Kavango Communal Land Board's decision that six well-to-do people must remove the fences around their plots even though the size of land taken or given by tribal chiefs is the same as others.

The law allows for a maximum of 20 hectares of land to be allocated to any individual, which can then be enclosed. Fencing off anything more than 20 hectares defeats the very purpose of communal land. Yet, evidence abounds throughout the country of top government leaders, bureaucrats and business people who have privatised thousands of hectares in the communal areas. Fencing has become 'legal', supposedly because traditional authorities have allocated the land.

It is not difficult for the rich to get huge tracts of land because they shower tribal leaders with gadgets and gifts, such as vehicles.

It goes without saying that the rich who take up communal land tend to squeeze the poor out of their only source of livelihood as their livestock and crops gobble up whatever food and nutrition mother nature offers. Such land grabs are a bad reflection on our psyche as a nation that they couldn't care less about adding to the pressures of people who subsist only on their small plots of customary land, not to mention land degradation.

However difficult an issue it is to handle, the elite ought to be forced out of running their multi-million-dollar livestock and crop businesses in communal areas and leave it to the subsistence farmers.

Not doing that will spread poverty that has trapped nearly half of the population.

Stamp Out Hypocrisy

LAST week we praised the Minister of Works and Transport Erkki Nghimtina for taking a tough stance against Air Namibia's begging bowl syndrome of relentlessly relying on the taxpayers.

We deliberately avoided pointing to the hypocrisy of his tough talk against Air Namibia and his action because he was right. Saying the right thing about one issue need not necessarily be cancelled out by missteps in another area.

But is it not high time (President Pohamba) that Nghimtina was held to account for poor management almost wherever he presides? At the Ministry of Mines and Energy Nghimtina ruled over a period of dubious deals, whether in the allocation of exploration and mining licences (UraMin/Areva, the oil blocks are self-evident) or the collapse of Namcor which left the government with mountainous of debt to clear.

At the Ministry of Works and Transport Nghimtina presides over a department that regularly has cases of dubious credentials like inflated construction contracts and reviving Chinese loans that the government had long ago turned down as "onerous" and not in the best economic interests of Namibia.

Worst, the rot in parastatals under his supervision smells ever stronger. Nghimtina appears to be protecting directors at the Namibia Airports Company (NAC) whom he had investigated for massive irregularities such as hiring a consultant at N$7.5 million for five months of what has been exposed as shoddy work. One of the invoices by the personnel (human resources) consultant Brian Nalisa was said to be for N$400 000 after a less than 10 minute phone call with the Labour Commissioner. The NAC was recently looking for another consultant to do job-grading after having fired and (re-)hired new staff following wholesale "restructuring".

The investigating team Nghimtina had asked to look into the NAC proposed the dismissal of the board. Nghimtina has chosen to apparently protect the same people who have caused the mess.

At the very least minister Nghimtina should face the music for incompetence, although evidence points to a possibly worse charge/s than this one.

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