15 April 2019

Namibia: Thirst Kills Animals At Govt Game Farm

An unknown number of wild animals have died of thirst over the past two months at the state-owned game farm Vergenoeg near Koës village in the //Kharas region.

People in the Koës district familiar with the happenings at the farm said the animals had died because of the lack of water.

According to sources, the water problem hit the farm when NamPower disconnected supplies last month over payment defaults for services, and the electricity-powered borehole pumps stopped functioning.

The government bought the 11 193-hectare game farm in 2009 under its resettlement programme, and allocated it to the //Kharas Development Trust (KDT) in 2011 to use optimally for the benefit of the region's inhabitants. The //Karas Regional Council administers KDT.

The Namibian has it on good authority that the regional council in 2017 leased the farm out to Eric Hansen at an annual fee of N$250 000.

Hansen is the parliamentary secretary of the portfolio committee on foreign affairs, security and defence.

The regional council's chief regional officer, Beatus Kasete, on Thursday confirmed that the council had also received reports about wild animals perishing at the farm due to the lack of drinking water.

He added that he is not at liberty to divulge details because the council and tenant, Hansen, were embroiled in a legal battle over contractual disagreements.

"This matter is sub judice. Therefore, I am unable to give more details", Kasete said, also confirming that NamPower had recently disconnected power supplies to the farm, but that the bulk electricity supplier restored it after about 2 to 3 weeks.

The Namibian understands that the dispute over the contractual agreement between council and Hansen relates to the non-payment of annual fees to the council.

//Kharas governor Lucia Basson on Thursday said she has not yet been briefed by the regional council about the situation at the farm.

"I have heard animals have died of thirst at the farm due to water problems, but I have not received any official report about this," she stated.

Basson said she was against the leasing out of the farm from the onset, but the //Karas Regional Council went ahead and sealed the lease agreement with the tenant.

"Now, that deal is back-firing," she stressed.

Basson said she understands there were issues of a breach of contract between the regional council and the tenant.

She added that the government allocated the farm to KDT with the intention of empowering the people of the //Kharas region.

"But that seems not to be the case now," she added.

A Koës resident, who preferred not to be named, blamed "farm mismanagement", and suggested that the regional council must take charge of the farm to fulfil government's initial aim.

Hansen on Friday confirmed that NamPower disconnected supplies to the farm on 11 March, a few hours before he met the regional council's officials to discuss and sort out some issues hampering infrastructure upgrading at the farm.

According to him, a "misstatement" resulted in NamPower disconnecting power to the farm, but that "NamPower had restored the power supplies after I pointed out the misstatement."

Hansen suspects the regional council orchestrated the electricity disconnection to force him off the farm.

"The regional council has not even consulted me about the deaths of the animals. They only sent me photos of the dead animals lying in the veld," he stated.

Hansen claimed that his workers had kept the electricity-powered borehole pumps running with diesel-powered generators when power supplies were disconnected to ensure the animals had water.

"There were earth dams which had water when the power supply was disconnected. It is nonsensical, therefore, to say the animals died of thirst," he countered.

Hansen said his relationship with the regional council turned sour in July last year after the council "unilaterally cancelled" the 15-year farm lease signed on 26 April 2017. He acknowledged not having paid the N$250 000 rent in full for 2017.

However, he was quick to add that he had proposed to the council to come up with a payment plan to settle an outstanding amount of N$98 000, but without success.

Hansen further said he had only found out that the farm's title deed is still in the name of the finance ministry, contrary to a clause in the lease agreement stating that the regional council has the legal right on the farm.

This, he said, impeded his plans to upgrade infrastructure at the farm to attract trophy hunters and tourists.

The regional council is obliged to help him get approval from the finance ministry to start with the intended infrastructure upgrading works at the farm, he stated.

He then accused the regional council of hampering development at the farm.

Because of that, he added, he had not realised any income from the farm since the lease agreement was sealed two years ago.

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