Namibia: Kawana Cooks More Fishrot Gravy

President Hage Geingob presenting latest Covid-19 guidelines during press briefing.
26 February 2021

THE NAMIBIAN government has just shown that it has no intentions of liquidating the very system that resulted in the Fishrot scandal. Rather, it has delivered a resounding slap in the face to citizens who, once again, will have to carry the cost of a scheme that favours and benefits a chosen few.

News reports based on leaked information over the past week quoted fisheries minister Albert Kawana confirming that he had finished allocating fishing rights and quotas - mainly to the same old players, in the same old fashion, that of oiling a patronage system.

The latest media exposés run contrary to pronouncements by president Hage Geingob and Kawana that Cabinet intended cleaning up following the Fishrot scandal.

The Fishrot scheme was deployed mainly in the horse mackerel industry. Kawana retained about a third of the 330 000 metric tonnes quotas for the government to play with, including the so-called "government objectives".

The "government objectives" quota is what disgraced former ministers Bernhard Esau and Sacky Shanghala are accused of using to get kickbacks, perpetrating grand corruption on a scale Namibia has not seen before.

Following his appointment, after Esau and Shanghala resigned and were arrested, Kawana vowed to be transparent.

However, to put it bluntly, Kawana has been dishonest. He has done the opposite of what he said - providing selective information long after making his decisions. The system Esau and Shanghala are accused of creating for personal gain is thriving under Kawana.

Confidénte newspaper quoted Peter Carlson, chairperson of the Midwater Trawlers Association that catches horse mackerel, asking why the government keeps increasing quotas to itself and its entities at the expense of the private sector from whom job creation is expected.

The Namibian's report this week that Kawana allocated 80 000 metric tonnes of horse mackerel to Fishcor is even more shocking. Fishcor was the epicentre of the Fishrot corruption scandal.

Esau lost a court case to Namsov because he unlawfully gave Fishcor horse mackerel quotas.

Esau responded to the High Court loss with a contemptible change of the law. Supported by the Swapo majority in parliament, the law gave the fisheries minister unfettered powers over the use of fishing quotas and rights.

Then, Esau and Shanghala starved Namsov of horse mackerel quotas. Namsov collapsed and was sold to Tunacor. In the process, more than 1 000 people lost their jobs.

Tunacor, now the biggest beneficiary of quotas, was recently exposed as harbouring families of presidents and prominent Swapo politicians as shareholders.

Another familiar player favoured by Kawana is Omualu Fishing, owned by Swakopmund lawyer Sacky Kadhila Amoomo, who appeared in an Al Jazeera documentary on an undercover investigation which lifted the lid on how corruption thrived in the fishing industry.

Kawana told The Namibian this week: "The arrangement that I inherited was that Fishcor is allocated a quota and then it allocates quotas to subsidiaries."

He also said: "I know some of these guys are selling their quotas to some of these companies."

Kawana's nonchalant embrace of the tainted system points to the high stakes of vested interests by top Swapo leaders and their cronies.

The government has ignored proposals to ensure that quota fees be redirected to tax coffers to be used in the interest of all Namibians.

President Geingob and his Cabinet must get serious about transparency. Fishing rights and quotas should be publicly advertised for bids; those bids must be published widely and room for objections should be entertained before any allocations are made.

As things stand, only the fisheries minister and the Cabinet decided on why there are only 15 new entrants out of 50 allocated for horse mackerel.

Namibians deserve more than a lazy shrug of the shoulders about the system you inherited, minister Kawana. In doing nothing, you have effectively made a choice.

So much for "government objectives".

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