Namibia: Green Scheme Parastatal On Its Knees

The management of the state-owned agency that runs green scheme projects in the country has warned workers to prepare for "unfavourable events" due to continued financial troubles.

The Agricultural Business Development Agency (Agribusdev) was formed to improve Namibia's food security. At its peak, the agency managed 10 green schemes, but that number decreased after the entity was forced to privatise some projects.

However, the latest communication paints a bleak picture of the company's finances.

Agribusdev's finance manager Natanael Amoomo informed staff members last Friday that the agriculture ministry had not yet approved their 2019 budget.

"Be advised that no funds to sustain the company have been advanced since the beginning of the financial year. Therefore, the status quo as far as company finances are concerned remains, and we should prepare for any possible unfavourable events," Amoomo said in an email.

The Namibian understands that the agency's finances are drained to such an extent that workers are now paid without benefits such as pension and medical aid, while individual income tax to the finance ministry are not paid over. The company's 2017 annual report states that it has 130 employees.

The workers complained to agriculture minister Alpheus !Naruseb in a 12 June 2019 meeting.

"Employees and their families are put at financial and health risks because of the suspended benefits by various service providers. In addition, employees are made to settle their own medical aid bills with service providers in order to keep their membership active, while at the same time funds are being deducted monthly," the workers explained.

Agribusdev officials said late salary payments dragged them into trouble, and affected their financial ratings with creditors.

Workers reportedly fear for the worst, despite assurances from prime minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila and !Naruseb that they will find a solution to their problems.

The company is not only struggling to convince the government to give it financial aid, but the entity also does not have a board.

The board is normally a go-to body between management and the line ministry.

It is understood that Sophia Kasheeta, the deputy executive director in the agriculture ministry, has been running board affairs on her own after the last board's term expired in December 2018.

"The process of appointing a board is not as stringent, hence we are wondering why it is taking so long. We need a permanent board with the best minds to find creative solutions to the Agribusdev crisis," the workers said.

News of Agribusdev's financial nightmares comes at a time when the government has approved plans to lease out some green schemes to reduce the financial burden on the company.

The projects which were set to be leased out include the Kalimbeza national rice project in the Zambezi region, Orange River in //Kharas, Ndonga Linena in Kavango East and the 300 hectares at the Etunda green scheme irrigation project in the Omusati region.

Although this was done, the company did not downsize the number of employees, which meant the operational budget hardly changed.

Agribusdev's managing director, Petrus Uugwanga, said the financial problems at the agency are not entirely caused by management.

He also blamed the woes on the poor economy, lack of funds from the state, and a crop-eating pest, known as the "fall army worm", which hit Namibia between 2016 and 2017.

Uugwanga said the company's financial position "at this stage remains weak, and our operations remain constrained to below optimal level".

He added that he was communicating with the line ministry to find a solution to the matter.

"I remain engaged with our shareholder [government] to see how best this situation could be turned around. On the other hand, I continue to vigorously pursue other initiatives that would bring money into the business, and also others that would improve business efficiency," he stated.

Uugwanga also feels the green scheme projects have empowered small-scale farmers with skills and knowledge to the extent "that some are highly productive, even much better than many resettlement farmers that I have come across thus far."

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