10 August 2018

Namibia: Developers Claim Waterfront Built On No-Man's-Land

SAFARI Investments Namibia, who built the N$400 million Platz am Meer waterfront at Swakopmund, said the piece of land under scrutiny for alleged irregularities, is still no-man's-land and is in the process of reclamation.

Last Saturday, a ministerial committee tasked by the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) and chaired by environment minister Pohamba Shifeta, visited the waterfront development as part of an investigation into alleged irregularities over whether it was illegally built on state land.

A public lobby group alleged that since the inception of the development nearly a decade ago, the Swakopmund municipality and possibly government officials allowed Safari Investments to continue the project without following the correct procedures.

The group further alleged the municipality had no jurisdiction over the area and could have overlapped the boundary. Another claim was that the state never agreed to sell and therefore ownership could not, and allegedly did not, pass.

The Namibian understands from sources that the development was on state land, but the question is whether the developer reclaimed the land without permission. The questionable components of the waterfront include the small craft harbour and some of the western portions of the building.

Shifeta said a technical committee would be commissioned to look into what procedures were followed when reclamation of state land was done. "We need to have documentation as proof, and then we can take a decision," he said, admitting he cannot confirm that land was illegally reclaimed as documentation may still show that correct procedures were followed.

Safari Investment CEO Francois Marais agreed with Shifeta that documentation is critical and will ultimately show if due process was followed.

He explained that regarding an official agreement between Safari and the Swakopmund municipality, the construction of breakwater structures and a boat slipway was of prime importance to the council and could become a distinguishable landmark of Swakopmund.

"Construction of the harbour and related works took place concerning this agreement, [in which it is] clear that land to be reclaimed from the sea and the breakwater structures will be surveyed and transferred to Safari on completion. This is still in process," he said.

Company director Dirk Engelbrecht explained to The Namibian that there is currently no state land available to transfer as it was still being reclaimed.

"We took a small piece of Namibian state land and extended it, making Namibia a little bigger, and so increasing its borders into the sea. We had permission to do so regarding the environmental clearance certificate issued by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism," he said.

This extra reclaimed and unserviced land, however, is still no-man's-land and is now subject to a reclaiming process, which includes creating a title for it.

This means it will first have to be surveyed by the surveyor general and put under the control of the Ministry of Works and Transport. This will also extend Swakopmund's townlands to include the reclaimed surveyed state land. Only then will it be transferred to the Swakopmund municipality, who will extend the boundaries of the waterfront to include the reclaimed land.

"Once all this is done, the municipality will be in a position to transfer the property to a third party such as Safari," explained Engelbrecht. "Safari does not own the reclaimed portion; we just created the land with permission. Now it must be initiated into Namibia's state land before it can be transferred."

He said this was the first time in Namibia that land was created by a private developer, hence the need to go through the whole process to ensure it is concluded correctly.

Those opposed to this opinion feel that the 'reclamation' should have been done before the construction of the small crafts harbour and promenade.

Swakopmund acting CEO Marco Swarts said the municipality facilitated the ministerial committee's "in loco" inspection which was not a meeting scheduled to discuss the development "since the inception of the development complied with the required procedures and acted according to the permission granted by the competent ministerial organs responsible for giving such approvals".

"Therefore, until such time that we have not received the outcome and further instructions to both council and the developers, we will not be in a position to respond to your questions at this stage of the inspection," he said.

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