Namibia: Call to Stop Irrigation Project Bidding Process

9 September 2019

Keetmanshoop business people have urged the government to stop the invitation of bids from potential investors interested in crop cultivation at Neckartal Dam irrigation scheme.

The business people claim the local community was not consulted on the process, and the bidding should therefore be placed on hold to allow for proper consultations.

The call followed revelations by Agribusdev engineering manager, Ignatius Endyala at a business seminar that preparation of the bidding documents for potential investors at the irrigation scheme had reached the final stage.

The Keetmanshoop municipality last week hosted a business seminar themed 'Unlocking new Opportunities Through Smart Partnerships' at the town as part of the local agricultural, industrial and tourism expo.

Endyala said the bidding document calling for expression of interest from potential investors at the irrigation scheme is expected to be available on Thursday, adding that the development of irrigation plots will be done through private-public partnership (PPPs) on a build-operate-transfer (BOT) basis. BOT is an agreement between a private company and the government, under which the private company builds and operates a facility for a set period of time, before transferring the ownership of the facility to the government. During this time the private company is expected to recoup its costs of building the facility.

Endyala added that the lease period for the irrigation plots is 20 years, but this is subjected to the of investment amount.

The engineering manager said only 1 900 hectares of land is available for irrigation, contrary to 5 000 hectares stated in the feasibility study report.

He said the irrigation land will be subdivided in three units: two 720-hectare plots for commercial investors, a 250 hectare plot for medium-scale farmers, and a 150 hectare plot for small scale farmers. The engineer said the government will develop the land earmarked for medium and small-scale farmers.

However, he added that potential investors will have an option to develop the plots themselves.

"We don't really look at the locals. Anyone can bid," he stated.

Disappointed by the bidding terms of reference, the businesspeople were of the view that it dashes the local community's hope of benefiting from the Neckartal Dam irrigation scheme.

"This is an emotional attack on people from this part of the country. Their hope of benefiting have been dashed," businessman Henry 'Bruce' Line said.

"The project is already set up for failure looking at the manner in which the bidding is set," he added, saying only those with financial resources will take advantage of this business opportunity.

Another businessman, Desmond Andreas demanded that the bidding process be halted forthwith.

"Stop this bidding process, and engage the local community first," he suggested.

Andreas said the Neckartal Dam irrigation scheme is a perfect project "to address agrarian reform," and is a "perfect example of restitution".

Supporting calls that the bidding process be stopped, Blasius Stephanus stressed that there is need for consultations on how the local community will benefit from the scheme.

"We've been kept in the dark for too long," he remarked.

Michael Wimmert said bids inviting interest from potential investors at the irrigation scheme would only attract foreign investors, while those who are entitled to reap benefits of their country's resources shall remain workers.

"It should not be how the government wants it, but how the nation wants it," he added, referring to the government's failure to consult the local community on how they want to benefit from the irrigation scheme before bidding was started.

"That is true," Endyala commented, pointing to claims that the local community were not consulted.

"I will take this up," he pledged, and advised the business people to also channel their calls for the bidding process to be stopped through the regional government structures.

The Neckartal Dam is located in the Berseba constituency, and its construction started in 2013. Italian company Salini Impregilo was awarded the tender (initially budgeted at N$3,2 billion) to build the dam that will cost over N$5,7 billion once completed, and will supply water to the irrigation scheme.

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