Namibia: Schlettwein Backs Russian Farm Deal

A typical cattle farm near Gobabis.

THE decision by the government to lease four farms to a Russian billionaire was "a better deal" they could get, finance minister Calle Schlettwein says.

Schlettwein made these remarks in an interview with The Namibian yesterday when he was asked about his ministry's role in the deal that saw the government leasing four farms to a Russian billionaire, Rashid Sardarov, for 99 years.

The finance minister said the land reform ministry approached them with an application to approve the lease of the four farms to Sardarov.

This application, he said, was accompanied by a legal opinion from attorney general Albert Kawana, and that treasury approval was granted.

"The donations, in our opinion, were the better deal - to accept the donations and own the farms," Schlettwein said.

He is not the only government official defending the deal.

Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila was quoted in the weekly Informante newspaper as saying the decision to "unanimously" lease the four farms to Sardarov was approved by Cabinet, and that it was in the best social and economic interest of the country.

The farms recently leased to Sardarov's company, Comsar Properties SA, "under stringent conditions", were valued at N$43 million, and measuring a combined 17 000 hectares.

Public scrutiny of the transaction reached fever pitch this week when some opposition parties promised to take the government to court to have the deal cancelled because it was not in the national interest.

Land reform minister Utoni Nujoma this week said the farms were paid for by Sardarov's company and directly transferred to the government.

Nujoma said the decision to grant approval for Sardarov's company to lease the farms was necessitated by "considerable economic benefits that will accrue to Namibia".

The minister also claimed that Comsar had already invested over N$1 billion in the Marula Game Reserve, and that Sardarov will invest another N$1 billion in "tourism, nature conservation, hospitality and other associated businesses".

Initially, Nujoma denied any involvement in the transactions last week, saying the documents made public by the Affirmative Repositioning (AR) movement were fake, and that his signature had been forged.

"I have not purchased any farm. I have already made it clear; why are you insisting on fake news? I have not signed that, that is what I am telling you. We have not paid any money," Nujoma told The Namibian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC), adding that he would investigate the title deeds made public by AR leader Job Amupanda to determine whether "they were authentic".

However, the minister this week at a press briefing backtracked, and said he actually signed the title deeds for the farms.

Nujoma added that some people misunderstood the transaction, and "may think that the government violated its own laws".

He said the Agricultural Commercial Land Reform Act of 1995 allows "any person, including foreigners, to lease commercial land for more than 10 years.

At the end of the 99-year lease, Nujoma said, the notarial lease shall be cancelled, and "all improvements made on the properties shall become the properties of the state".

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