Namibia: Shifeta Accuses Topnaar Leaders of 'Eating' Community Money

Minister of environment, forestry and tourism Pohamba Shifeta on Saturday accused Topnaar Traditional Authority leaders of mismanaging community funds.

Shifeta was speaking at the inauguration of the Community Association for Topnaars in the namib Naukluft and Dorob National parks at the Utuseb settlement near Walvis Bay.

The minister said the Topnaar Concessional Trust has collected around N$3 million from tourism activities in the national parks, however, when he enquired about this amount he was provided with another amount.

John Kooitjie, acting chief Stoffel Anamab's personal assitant, told Shifeta the trust earned about N$15 000 per month before the Covid-19 pandemic stopped their operations.

This amounts to N$180 000 per year, he said.

"Something is wrong here. I saw the (financial) books showed you made N$3 million," Shifeta said.

The Topnaar community, comprising about 2 000 people, has commercialised the !Nara plant, harvesting and selling !Nara pips to the occasional tourist, and now to a company called Desert Hills.

This is one of the community's main economic activities alongside small-stock farming.

Shifeta said he has spoken to the Topnaar Traditional Authority about the misuse of funds twice before, but "it seems nothing has changed".

"I have seen the books. They make about N$3 million. Show me your bank statements that show that [amount per month]," he asked Kooitjie and Anamab.

Anamab, however, denied allegations of mismanaging community funds.

He said he previously almost resigned from his position due to these allegations, and cannot answer to them.

Florian Donatus, Walvis Bay Rural constituency councillor said the community was earlier this year unable to foot their water bill of N$600 000 with NamWater.

"We had to step in. I could not understand why a community of 2 000 people would not be able to pay for their water," Donatus said.

The minister said the money generated through the utilisation of wildlife and tourism concessions should be allocated to building classrooms, providing rural electrification, medical support, water, and support to pupils and students, among others.

Deputy xecutive director of environment, forestry and tourism Colgar Sikopo said the ministry has been observing a number of issues pertaining to the administration of tourism concessions.

"This is one of the main reasons why we are establishing an association," Sikopo said.

'NO TRANSPARENCY'

The ministry through its national park directorate has taken charge of the concessional fund and will be handling the community's finances.

"A community association is . . . a vehicle towards rural economic emancipation, and this should be very clear to everyone concerned," Shifeta said.

According to the newly elected chairperson of the association, Edward Swaartbooi, funds have been mismanaged as there was no transparency on where exactly the money goes.

He said the association would ensure that the spending of community funds would be well communicated to all members.

Rachel Isaacks, a community member, said they are happy that the minister addressed the issue of transparency.

"We are really just hoping there will be a big difference in the way we live now," she said.

Donatus said fishing rights had been allocated to the Topnaar community.

He said the Topnaar community does not know how to use their resources effectively, which is why they are suffering.

"When I came in, their water was cut off, because they were in debt of over N$600 000, which we managed to pay.

"We are busy now putting up prepaid water meters. They are not really poor, as they have a lot of resources at their disposal. They are simply not managed properly," he said.

Donatus said certain individuals are, however, tapping into resources and funds.

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