Namibia: End the Fishing Madness

editorial

THE LATEST reports about investigations of large-scale and sophisticated corruption in Namibia's fishing industry (as much as N$500 million in kickbacks) is the tip of an iceberg that will not be cracked until politicians overhaul current regulations.

Questions have been asked why fishing rights and fishing quotas are given to a few individuals at the discretion of the minister, only for those Namibian beneficiaries to sell such pieces of paper (rights and quotas) to foreign investors, who make the actual catch.

The broad mass of Namibians are being sold short. Tax revenue that could have gone directly into the national coffers to build schools, hospitals and sanitation infrastructure are being lost.

Over the past seven years, the fishing industry has contributed about N$4 billion a year to the national economy. That is some N$28 billion generated by the sector. Yet, taxes are believed to be less than a tenth of its contribution to GDP.

How does one explain official statistics showing that the mining ministry generates about 8% of tax revenues through exploration licences and levies, while fisheries make only 3% in similar fees (fish quota levies)?

After all, fishing is nearly 100% guaranteed income, and return on investment is instant compared to mining, which often takes a long time to materialise.

These figures suggest that few individuals (chosen by the minister and a few officials) have privatised a national resource at the expense of the rest of society.

As if that is not enough, the minister of fisheries has given the Angolan government fishing rights and quotas worth around N$150 million. For what?

It is transactions like this, which create room for unjustifiable kickbacks to individual Namibians and a licence for corruption. Just what is Esau's dealings with murky business people from Angola all about?

The Namibian reported last year that he gave another Angolan company fishing quotas worth N$1,2 billion for 15 years in order to partner with the state-owned Fishcor, where he installed people closely connected with him to oversee the parastatal.

How does one person end up having so much power and discretion over an industry that is among the three biggest in the country?

Adding salt to the wound, Esau orchestrated a change of the law to arrogate even more powers to himself. And the results are showing in how destructive regulations can be when vested in one person.

For example, with the stroke of a pen, Esau single-handedly destroyed the Bidvest fishing company and about 1 000 jobs. The only reason that seems to come through is that he had a personality clash with Bidvest managing director Sebby Kankondi.

We do not have to look far for a case study on how politicians can damage investor confidence.

If the national interest is to be served, a major overhaul of the regulatory process in the fishing industry should be a matter of urgency.

That is, if president Hage Geingob and finance minister Calle Schlettwein care about redirecting money generated in fisheries to the tax kitty and further to needy Namibians.

The government should immediately scrap the so-called Namibianisation programme in fisheries. It is nothing more than a ruse perpetuated under the guise of black economic empowerment.

A completely transparent process should be put in place to regulate the industry. It should under no circumstances be left to the discretion of the minister.

We trust that politicians, many of who are themselves beneficiaries of this rigged system, will act in the best interest of the most needy Namibians and change the industry regulations for the better.

Only an urgent overhaul can help save Namibia's fishing industry from a coterie of well-heeled vampires that are sucking the sector dry.

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