19 February 2013

Namibia: Esau Blames 'External Forces' for Fishing Troubles

THE minister of fisheries and marine resources, Bernard Esau, has blamed "external forces" for causing havoc in joint ventures in the fishing industry.

Esau's comments come in the wake of infighting in some of the joint ventures put together by the ministry after it had granted fishing rights to newcomers in the industry in 2011.

Esau said the "external forces" are companies that own vessels or factories, and those who control the market.

"Those companies are causing problems in JVs [joint ventures]. They promise kickbacks or succession fees, telling them that if you bring the JV to my company, I will give you this much," he said.

Esau said the problems within the joint ventures are either personal or other organisational issues of subsidiaries in the ventures.

He said not all joint ventures are in disarray, and that he is only aware of a few companies with problems, such as the Hefdy Group of Companies and Oshana Marine Resources.

The Ministry of Fisheries in 2011 forced fishing companies into joint ventures, ostensibly to accommodate more people in the fishing industry through fishing rights and quotas.

Many of these joint ventures are now feuding over allocations of shares, dividends and sales of fishing quotas.

The ministry is also facing criticism for allowing the companies to auction off quotas to the highest bidders.

He dismissed talks that the idea of joining the companies was a mistake, saying grouping them is the best since he believes in unity.

"Some people are very greedy, they just want money without making sure they create jobs. Those individuals need to be brought to book," he said.

He said he would meet the stakeholders in the fishing industry on March 1 and at that meeting they would evaluate whether they are keeping their promises such as employment creation and social responsibility programmes.

There has been widespread dissatisfaction among new entrants in the fishing industry who complain of being "cheated" by those who have been in the business for long.

Esau said there are issues of corporate governance, which are regulated by the Companies Act and in which the ministry cannot interfere.

However, as the minister, he has the final say in terms of approving a change of ownership in fishing companies.

He warned those who use other people's names to get fishing quotas and dump them later, saying: "They are in for for something they will regret."

The fishing rights are valid for seven years, and two years into the joint venture arrangements, a number of fishing rights holders have made allegations of unfair and disproportionate distribution of shares and dividends.

Some companies in joint ventures are even threatening to take each other to court because of disagreements over how the joint ventures are run. Others have threatened to pull out of the ventures.

The minister also said that he is waiting for a report from Etale Fishing, which is laying off 704 workers.

"What we are briefed on is that the facilities - factory and vessels - were not properly taken care of in terms of maintenance and repair," he said.

He said the Etale situation is complicated, and he is waiting for a report from them so that the ministry can decide what position to take. Esau is also waiting for the three rights holders in Etale to communicate with him on the way forward.

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