In 2016, the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) hit three huge icebergs, sinking low, with Community-based Natural Resource Management, the Directorate of Scientific Services, the Directorate of Tourism and other survivors clinging on to credibility for dear life.
The grade for 2016 for MET and its sharply dressed Minister, Pohamba Shifeta, is a D-, and this is being generous.
In our view, the minister should be held accountable for his ministry’s successes, as well as its abysmal performance in 2016. Weighing the two, Shifeta should be fired.
Of course we know that ministers in Namibia don’t get fired for losing millions to the Kora Awards criminal from Benin, rising poaching figures (rhinos, elephants, cheetahs and lions) and the questionable phosphates clearance certificate, unless they say something the ruling party or State House doesn’t like. Tens of millions of dollars wasted is okay, but speaking negatively in public about another minister is not.
The reasons for this low grade for MET are obvious.
In spite of interventions from security forces, increased training for diligent park rangers, new equipment and public support for the ministry’s efforts, poaching has escalated to levels that are beyond alarming.
Elephant tusks, as well as rhino horns and the skins of various animals (endangered or not) are still being confiscated at Hosea Kutako International Airport, en route out of the country. One cringes at the illicit animal trade products that actually make it out of the country.
Namibia’s national heritage is being exploited for a pittance, so that foreign businessmen can steal massive profits from our natural resources; it is like apartheid and colonialism all over again.
Namibians participating in this rape of their country must be held accountable and all ill-gotten gains stripped away. The middlemen fuelling these cartels must be hit in the hardest way legally possible for what they are doing.
On Shifeta’s watch, our precious and world-renowned wildlife is being slaughtered. He must be held accountable.
The entire debate and debacle around phosphates does not need much of a rehash and further explanation. Environmental Commissioner, Theofilus Nghitila, likely under pressure from the powers that be, who have profits to be made from phosphates, issued a controversial clearance certificate, paving the way for the mining to begin, even though the process for deciding whether to do this was incomplete.
Procedures were not followed to the letter, a fellow ministry was not informed through Cabinet channels, and yet a letter was quietly issued a full month before the public was made aware of this. When it came to light, the time had lapsed for objections.
The smell of conspiracy, as well as actions not in favour of protecting the environment, which is the exact constitutional mandate of MET, as reiterated beautifully by the Founding President Dr Sam Nujoma, permeate through this entire affair.
Shifeta must be held accountable. At the very least, the environmental commissioner should be sacked to pay the price for selling out the nation, not following processes, acting without a letter to cover his backside (a letter from the minister ordering him to issue the clearance) and trying to do so under cover.
The Kora debacle and the minister’s failure in this regard, are well reported. The Namibia Tourism Board (NTB) was used as a conduit for MET to transfer N$24 million as a payment for supposed television commercials and advertisements to be aired during the mythical awards event.
Sources confirmed that the NTB directors opposed any NTB role in the payment, as TV ads are not a part (nor have they ever been) of the marketing strategy for the company. Most importantly, the amount required represented nearly 100 percent of their annual budget from Government. Thus, MET transferred to NTB the funds required, which are ring-fenced in the NTB budget. NTB then onward transferred the funds, using the instructions and information provided by MET. Those funds were payment in full, before a single service had been rendered. The payment was made to a foreign account, with no control over withdrawals by the NTB. The money was subsequently stolen. Expensive legal and investigatory actions have yielded the truth that we all knew at the start: that the money is long gone and will never come back.
While the board and chief executive officer bear responsibility for any fiscal decision of their parastatal, Minister Shifeta, who proudly announced the Kora Awards arrival in Namibia as early as June 2015, back-peddled and blamed the NTB for everything, when things blew up in March this year.
On a different note, according to sources within the tourism industry and interviews with officials in MET, it can be ascertained that the Directorate of Scientific Services, all staff working with communal conservancies and NGOs assisting them, and the vaunted park rangers and MET staff stationed in the parks, have done outstanding work in 2016, as in years before.
MET has released several outstanding statistical reports on tourism arrivals, national investment strategies and a national growth plan. These documents, though late in their release, are well-researched and analysed, and give statistics and analysis of the sector that are drastically needed. These are all achievements that Minister Shifeta can take credit for, as they happened under his stewardship.
We note Namibia’s failure to get the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) to lift the sales ban on ivory, even for a once-off sale of existing stockpiles, as was done in 2008. Budgets to fight poaching, train the rangers, get updated equipment, educate the public, investigate suspects, get accurate wildlife counts and other statistics are strained.
Interestingly, the United States government, which was once wrongly and mischievously accused of trying to usurp Etosha’s ownership, is now fighting the good fight and is paying for a significant portion of Namibia’s anti-poaching training and equipment efforts.
At this year’s CITES gathering, Namibian and Zimbabwean efforts fell flat, as their lobbying and cajoling of other African nations was inept. As Namibia’s ivory stockpiles rise and the United Kingdom calls for the wasteful, ridiculous and banal symbolic action of burning them, the chance to use that properly obtained resource to benefit MET strategic goals must wait another cycle, for the next CITES meeting. Shifeta should shoulder the blame for this.
NTB’s budget was cut by 20 percent, when they need to intensify marketing efforts to bring more tourists to Namibia. Sources say that Shifeta did not fight the good fight against Finance Minister Calle Schlettwein’s budget axe.
They claim that he did not defend NTB’s needs vociferously, from an informed, statistical standpoint.
The private sector laments the evaporation of good relations between MET and those in the industry that are actually bringing tourists into the country. Previously, there had been better relations between NTB, MET and the private sector, under former Environment and Tourism Minister Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah, which led to the Adventure Travel World Summit being held in Namibia and increased private sector investment in communities. Things are back to the ‘white tourism industry vs GRN’ unproductive, suspicion and fear game that existed before. Shifeta’s desired distance from the private sector is blamed for this situation.
Complaints about NWR’s facilities, maintenance, booking system, customer service and value for money are on the increase, yet again. Its Managing Director, Zelna Hengari, has still not signed a contract and its budget is still in the red, with a presumed ‘bailout’ request on the cards in the near future.
When the appropriate legislation is adjusted, the Ministry of Public Enterprises will step into the role of the line ministry for NWR, but for now, this errant and indebted parastatal (that hasn’t submitted audited financial statements to parliament – in contravention of the law- in several years) is in the hands of Minister Shifeta.