Namibia: Sardarov Linked to Geingob, Masisi Desalination Deal

RUSSIAN billionaire Rashid Sardarov has been identified by State House as a prospective investor in the government's ambitious desalination project, which would provide the coastal and central parts of the country with water.

The government has over the years been weighing plans to extract water from the Atlantic Ocean to solve the problem of water scarcity in the country.

Namibia also wants to partner with Botswana on the proposed project, to provide the drought-stricken neighbouring country with water as well.

The Namibian has been informed by State House press secretary Alfredo Hengari that Sardarov is a prospective investor in the project.

NamWater this week revealed that the proposed project, which could have a production capacity of more than 36,5 million cubic metres of potable water per year, could cost more than N$3,5 billion to implement.

Sardarov is the owner of a company called Comsar Properties SA, which was allowed to lease four government-owned farms for 99 years in 2018, valued at N$43 million, and measuring a combined 17 000 ha.

Sources earlier this week said the Russian oligarch was hosted at State House last week to present his proposed investment in the intended N$3,5 billion project.

The presentation was made on Thursday last week during a one-day "working visit" of Botswana's president, Mokgweetsi Maisisi, to Namibia.

State House initially did not reveal this information to the public, only announcing that Namibia and Botswana have elevated plans to partner on a desalination project which could provide the two drought-stricken neighbouring countries with water.

Details of the meeting, however, became known to the public after Masisi tweeted about it on Thursday night.

"They have started talks with an investor who is offering to desalinate water from the Atlantic Ocean and supply them. Being a good neighbour and alive to our water challenges, president Geingob invited us to come and meet the investor and also share thoughts on the project," he tweeted.

Sources said Cabinet ministers who attended Thursday's meeting were surprised at Sardarov's presence at State House.

Sardarov's lawyer, Sisa Namandje, however, did not confirm the billionaire's visit to State House, saying he had no instruction or mandate to comment on the matter.

President Hage Geingob has over the years said he would no longer deal with business people and potential investors at State House, in order to promote transparency.

The president has been insisting that potential investors and business people should rather deal with line ministries and concerned government agencies directly. Hengari yesterday confirmed that Sardarov was the potential investor who made the desalination presentation to Geingob and Masisi. "The two presidents didn't discuss any offer for desalination, but listened in all transparency to a presentation in the presence of ministers and government officials, which is very normal in the course of investment attraction and infrastructure development, especially at a time when governments are leveraging public-private partnerships for development," Hengari said.

Hengari added following the presentation,"the matter was referred to technical committees to look into the project's modalities and feasibility".

Hengari said it was also not wrong for the president to host the prospective investor at State House, since he is promoting the country as "an investment destination"."How will Namibia develop and deal with poverty eradication and employment for our young people if the president does not promote the country as an investment destination?" Hengari asked.

He added: "President Geingob emphasised the need for investors to respect the processes, systems and institutions of our country. They must go through the relevant channels, especially line ministries."

The president in 2019 held a closed-door meeting with Mexican billionaire Alberto Baillères, who wanted to buy the Erindi private game reserve, saying he was a "special investor and a man of standing".

Minister of agriculture, water and land reform Calle Schlettwein earlier this week also revealed there was a private investor who made a "general proposal" to the government on the desalination plant.

The minister said no agreements were in place regarding the partnership between Namibia and Botswana on the funding of the project yet.

"The discussion with the president of Botswana was very general and covered a whole lot of issues. The basic agreement was that there are committees set up and they must do their work, but there are no investors identified for the project," he said.

NamWater's chief executive officer, Abraham Nehemia, said investors in the project would only be known once the project's feasibility study is approved by the Cabinet and after the project has entered the procurement phase.

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