Namibia: Farmer to Sue Govt Over Russian Deal

A typical cattle farm near Gobabis.

A FARMER, who has been living in the corridors of Omaheke farms for 15 years, wants to sue the government for leasing four farms to a Russian billionaire.

The government signed a long-term lease agreement with a company called Comsar Properties SA owned by the Russian billionaire Rashid Sardarov.

Last year, The Namibian reported that the farmer, Asser Katjinaani, who owns more than 300 livestock, has been applying for resettlement for 15 years, but has not been successful.

In correspondence with the registrar of deeds, Dana Beukes, Katjinaani's lawyer, Norman Tjombe, stated that the aggrieved farmer was going to challenge the government in the High Court over the Russian deal because it was in "violation of various provisions of several laws of Namibia".

Tjombe also requested the deeds office to make all documents relevant to the transaction available to the public.

According to Tjombe's letter, their initial attempt to obtain such documents was unsuccessful as the documents were in possession of the registrar, "and thus inaccessible to other members of the public and us".

"Our further instructions are to make an application to the High Court of Namibia to set aside the lease agreement as violating various provisions of several laws of Namibia," the letter states.

"When we went to the registrar of deeds in the course of today to inspect the relevant deeds and another document about the transaction, we were informed that the documents are not kept in the registry, but in your possession," the letter reads.

Tjombe confirmed to The Namibian on Sunday that the deeds documents were made available to them last week and that their application would be lodged in the High Court this week.

The farms leased to Sardarov's company "under stringent conditions" were valued at N$43 million and measured a combined 17 000 hectares.

The four farms were paid for by the Russian and registered as state property by the land reform ministry.

Sardarov's company will be paying rent annually to the government, which would be equivalent to the land tax paid by commercial farmers.

Public scrutiny of the transaction reached fever pitch last week when some opposition parties, including the Popular Democratic Movement (PDM) and the Landless People's Movement (LPM), threatened to take the government to court to have the deal cancelled because it was not in the national interest.

Government officials, including land reform minister Utoni Nujoma, finance minister Calle Schlettwein and prime minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila have since defended the deal, stating that it was in the best interest of the country.

Nujoma said those who are unhappy with the deal are free to approach the courts to challenge it because "it is their constitutional right to do so".

At a press briefing last week, he also stated that the government did not violate any law and that the Agricultural (Commercial) Land Reform Act of 1995 allowed any person to lease commercial agricultural land for more than 10 years as long as they had written consent from the minister.

He said although there has been a public outcry over land ownership by foreigners, the government allowed the deal to go through because current laws had not been amended yet to prohibit such transactions.

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