27 June 2019

Namibia: Geingob Defends Meeting With Billionaire

PRESIDENT Hage Geingob says it was nobody's business if he meets business people behind closed doors at State House.

Geingob yesterday met Mexican billionaire Alberto Baillères, who wants to buy Erindi private game reserve for nearly N$2 billion.

The meeting was meant to brief the president about the status of the N$2 billion deal, and to discuss the Mexican's intentions on Erindi, amongst other things.

Before Baillères was presented to the media, he had a closed-door meeting with Geingob, land reform minister Utoni Nujoma, finance minister Calle Schlettwein, and attorney general Albert Kawana, among other top government officials.

The president has over the years insisted on transparency when hosting meetings at State House, including inviting the media to witness the meetings.

However, yesterday, the president decided to have a closed-door meeting with the Mexican billionaire at a time when the public has called for the government to stop the transaction.

Geingob yesterday said Baillères only visited State House to pay a courtesy call, and to brief him about his intentions on Erindi, but not to discuss personal business dealings.

The president added that Baillères was allowed to visit State House because he was a "special investor and a man of standing".

"So, if you say I got him individually to talk, that's a different story. Daily, I have investors here covered by the press. You must respect people. He is not an ordinary investor. There are classes also. That's how it is," he said.

When asked why the briefing was done without the presence of the media as usual, Geingob snapped and said it was "none of your business".

"Are you telling me I cannot meet a person? Is it a closed door when you have four ministers present? We do that daily. That's how you distort things. Why did we come out if it's closed-door. Let's not go that far," he added.

Geingob yesterday reiterated that the farms to be sold to Baillères were not suitable for resettlement, and that the government could not afford to buy the private game reserve.

He said despite the calls by several concerned groups to stop the sale of Erindi, the government does not have the power to do so because the existing laws allow foreigners to buy land in Namibia.

Concerned groups and some opposition parties, including Nudo and Swanu, recently called on the government to stop the sale of Erindi while the commission of inquiry into claims on ancestral land and restitution completes its investigation.

The president also stated that the sale of Erindi cannot be halted by the ongoing investigation into the issue of ancestral land.

He said the government will address the issue when the committee has completed its job.

"So, while they are doing that, life doesn't stop. We don't even have a law to prevent foreigners from buying land so far. People are going to claim things, but are we going to say we must break down all the buildings in Windhoek for people to claim their ancestral land? But ancestral land to reward or so on, that is going to be done, but that's going to come," he said.

Erindi has been on the market for five years.

The government earlier this year abandoned plans to buy the reserve because it could not afford it.

The private game reserve is made up of three farms: Farm Erindi, Constantia and Otjimukaru, situated between Okahandja and Omaruru, and measuring a combined 65 000 hectares.

The president said Baillères briefed him that he was not buying Erindi to make money, but to conserve the environment and to later transform the private game reserve into a conservancy.

"We told him that he is welcome, but he must also invest in Namibia. We told him to join us at our investment conference. We googled him, and realised that he is a true investor with means," he said.

Attorney general Albert Kawana told The Namibian yesterday that the government cannot stop the sale of land to foreigners because the law regulating the matter has not yet been repealed.

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