12 March 2018

Namibia: Hinda Calls for Fishing Quota Probe

HOME affairs deputy minister Maureen Hinda says government should investigate whether the system of issuing fishing quotas to Namibians is working because the current situation is not empowering people, as perceived.

The government introduced the fishing quota regime to empower Namibians by giving them licences to harvest fish free for five years, but the scheme continues to be abused by some people.

There are concerns that the beneficiaries are mostly well-heeled politicians, their families and those close to power.

In some cases, communities and poor Namibians are used as fronts for companies to get fishing quotas, and then they are cheated out of benefits afterwards.

The Namibian reported two weeks ago that 24 of the 104 members of the National Assembly own or are directors in fishing companies which mostly get free fishing quotas.

Hinda, who owns 25% of Bethanien Fishing, said she does not qualify as "a fishmonger because there is nothing to eat".

"We only got our fishing rights in 1998," she said, adding that she started Bethanien Fishing when she was a secretary for finance in the Swapo youth league in 1992.

According to her, there were high expectations that fishing quotas would reduce poverty, but that was not true.

Hinda said after applying for a fishing quota, the ministry grouped companies that would have been successful in a venture of about 100 individuals.

In return, all profits, if any, are then divided among these companies, which leaves some companies getting nothing.

Hinda said the correct question to ask is, "whose life has improved from the quotas, and how have they improved their community?"

She said there is a need for an analysis of the fishing quota system, adding that people who receive quotas have the expectation that they will get a lot of money.

According to Hinda, most of the lawmakers who got quotas 10 years ago when they were not in parliament possibly have an additional N$20 000 in their pockets.

"Is that empowerment?" she asked.

The Namibian is aware of fishing quota holders who received up to N$1,5 million per year from their projects.

Hinda suggested that fisheries minister Bernhard Esau should investigate how the fishing quotas are allocated, and who are enriched by them.

A source said last week that some people exploit others as they use "ghost names" to apply for the quotas, and once approved, the names disappear in the process, and they gain nothing from them.

The Namibian's report two weeks ago focused on how politicians, who are supposed to reform or change laws in the fishing sector, are beneficiaries of the fishing quotas system.

One lawmaker who has fishing quotas told this newspaper last week that he is not at fault since he received his quotas in the 1990s.

The politician could not explain why he continued to benefit from the quotas, and not allow other Namibians to do the same.

Another question was why he was not pushing for laws to ensure that Namibians benefit from the fishing industry.

The lawmaker said that it is not for him to push for changes, saying: "I won't do it because I am still benefiting".

The Namibian also reported two weeks ago that All People's Party (APP) president Ignatius Shixwameni declared that he owns Nkororo Fishing and Investments CC.

Shixwameni contradicted himself by saying that he does not own the company, but merely owns 16% shares of the entity.

"I don't own Nkororo Fishing and Investments CC. There are seven shareholders in the company (including himself)," he said.

Shixwameni said the fishing company was established to start a fish processing and packaging factory to process fish from the Kavango and Zambezi regions.

He said the company does not have quotas or fishing rights since it started, even though he admitted trying to arrange meetings with Esau to benefit.

"Nkororo Fishing and Investments CC, for now, is a shell company, and is not even trading. The company does not have a bank account," Shixwameni stated.

The Namibian also reported that poverty eradication minister Zephania Kameeta is a part of the Merlus Development Trust, which is owned by fishing firm Merlus Group. Kameeta declared that he is paid sitting fees and is the chairperson of that trust, but denied that he is a director.

NO PROOF

The fisheries ministry has over the years promoted the fishing quota regime as successful and empowering Namibians.

The fishing quota system is blamed for causing the failure of fishing companies such as Namsov, which employed 650 people.

Business group Bidvest, which owns Namsov, last year announced that it would sell off the fishing company because of reduced quotas, which are mostly dished out to well-off middlemen Namibians who sell them onwards later for profits.

Some fishing quota beneficiaries accused their partners of cheating.

For instance, The Namibian reported in 2015 that two people living with disabilities sued their partners in a fishing company, alleging that they were fleeced of their portion of nearly N$9 million in dividends since 2011.

The paper also reported last year about how a consortium which includes politicians, permanent secretaries and a retired police general is at the centre of allegations that it has been cheating on taxes.

Esau will be at the centre of attention this year when he announces the new fishing quota holders for the next five years.

The minister, who did not respond to questions sent to him yesterday, has been accused of promoting secrecy on how fishing quotas are given out every year. He denied any wrongdoing in the past.

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