Namibia: Fishrot Probe Could Take Years - Kawana

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(File photo).
12 December 2019

Acting fisheries minister Albert Kawana says the planned investigation into the fishing sector could take years to complete.

Kawana said people should not expect issues of maladministration, corruption and nepotism in the fishing sector to be fixed in a week, a month or a year, because some of the anomalies could require the government to amend the Marine Resources Act.

The acting minister explained at a media briefing on Monday that he was ordered by president Hage Geingob to investigate if there were any instances of maladministration, corruption and nepotism in the sector.

These orders came in the wake of a media exposé of a fishing scandal - now known as the Fishrot scandal - involving government ministers and their cronies, which generated kickbacks of at least N$150 million over a four-year period.

The Namibian reported that the Fishrot scandal could involve transactions worth as much as N$2,5 billion.

Kawana was also told to review all affairs and the administration of the fisheries ministry and state-owned National Fishing Corporation of Namibia (Fishcor) over a 10-year period.

Fishcor was given a 15-year fishing quota worth N$1,8 billion by former fisheries minister Bernhard Esau, who has since been arrested for his alleged role in the bribery scandal.

Part of the fishing quotas allocated to Fishcor by Esau were taken from other companies such as Namsov Fishing Enterprises - which employed about 650 people by 2014 - to favour briefcase companies. Esau's actions resulted in massive job losses in the fishing sector.

The briefcase companies which were awarded quotas turned out to be a scheme through which politicians and some of their business cronies benefited.

Five other people linked to the scandal, including disgraced former justice minister Sacky Shanghala, are also behind bars with Esau - on charges of fraud, money-laundering and corruption.

They are being accused of unlawfully benefiting from a fishing quota donated to the Angolan government that was meant to benefit marginalised communities.

Other people embroiled in the scandal are former Investec Asset Management managing director James Hatuikulipi, his cousin and Esau's son in-law, Tamson 'Fitty' Hatuikulipi and businessman Ricardo Gustavo.

Court papers estimate that N$103 million was paid in bribes from 2014 to 2019.


Kawana said the proposed investigation has not yet started because he is still consulting stakeholders and experts in the industry.

He said a team made up of experts in the fishing sector, people with financial and auditing background as well as lawyers and administrators will be established to conduct the proposed investigation.

Kawana yesterday told stakeholders in the fisheries sector that he would need help to put together a "strong team of skills and workers" to conduct the investigation.

"It is not easy to play fire brigade in one week, one month or in a year. It is an exercise that could take years. Some of the issues will require an amendment of the law, so it will take time," he said.

Kawana, however, said the proposed investigation will be done in a manner that does not disrupt or halt the ongoing operations in the sector, which could affect jobs.

He, therefore, urged people with information which could aid the proposed investigation to come forward to "give such evidence to facilitate the investigation".

"This is a very sensitive sector, employing about 16 000 Namibians," Kawana said.

He added that some established companies which could be affected by the proposed investigation have acquired vessels through financing schemes, and some of the factories were set up through such schemes.

The chairman of the Confederation of Namibian Fishing Associations, Matti Amukwa, said there were many issues in the industry which needed to be seen in context, but they will cooperate with Kawana until there was certainty.

The National Union of Namibian Workers' secretary general, Job Muniaro, said the #Fishrot scandal was a "very unfortunate situation" which needs to be addressed on a serious note.


Going forward, Kawana said he will propose that the Marine Resources Act be amended to strengthen the manner in which fishing rights and subsequent quotas are awarded to individuals and companies.

Such proposals, he stated, will include a process that will compel the fisheries ministry to inform the public of all the applicants through the Government Gazette for scrutiny.

If Kawana's proposals are approved, the public could also object to the awarding of fishing rights to "individuals and companies they feel are not worthy of being awarded the rights".

"We will inform the public through the Gazette why we are proposing to grant fishing rights to some people or entities because they qualify for specific reasons.

"Reasons will also be provided why other applicants do not qualify, [so that people can] revert to us with recommendations as members of the public.

"This will apply with the process of allocating fishing quotas, as we will gazette and invite objections from members of the public," Kawana stated.

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