We rise in qualified support of the tenacious efforts of the Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources, Bernard Esau in his on-going efforts to strengthen his sector,
and for standing firm against marine phosphate mining he sees as a detriment to the industry he is charged with protecting.
It is disconcerting to read that the minister was called in by the president to explain allegations of corruption related to his decisions, particularly in the case of a fishing allocation to the SOE, Fishcor.
We believe this is a politically-based, avarice-driven red herring.
All too often, whenever decision-makers in ministries in control of profit-generating natural resources do a credible job, those who have become rich by benefitting from previous maladministration, poorly trained officials and inattentive management, seek retribution.
They denigrate any regulatory action taken using the overt smokescreen of corruption allegations when covertly they are smarting at the cut in their massive profit margins. We urge Esau to stand firm, he is on the right path.
This is not to say that the processes and procedures used to implement the various plans of the fisheries ministry over the past years are always perfect.
When looking at Esau’s recent regulatory change to exclude closed corporations (CCs), in favour of proprietary limited companies (PTYs) as potential recipients of fishing quotas, we believe his action has overall merit, but the practicality of making such a hugely bureaucratically dependent, unexpected regulatory change at virtually the last minute just before the application period opens (June 1- July 31) is questionable.
The ministry of trade, which is responsible for registering companies, is already backlogged with processing existing paperwork and this influx could overtax their systems even more, making the fisheries application deadline unreachable for some of the very people the minister is trying to empower.
The legal implications of forming PTYs anew may not be well-known amongst the wider public who have been invited to submit fishing quota applications.
The costs of filing the paperwork or buying shelf PTYs already formed and owned by various accounting and legal firms is prohibitive for the ordinary Namibian who may be interested in applying for a quota.
No doubt, the application regulations present challenges to newbies who may be interested in entering the fishing sector.
Nevertheless, ending the exploitation of communities, churches, disabled people, youth and women’s organizations who were misled by previous CCs that are quota holders into signing on in vain hopes of cash profits, can be achieved by this change.
No matter how clumsy the step forward is, the step is in the direction needed based on the independence promises made.
At independence one of the promises was that the revenues earned from the natural resources of this country with be taken out of the exclusive hands of whites and foreign individuals/entities and made available to a wider base of people.
That promise now includes expanding the group of substantive beneficiaries even wider, including not just the newly advantaged elites, but also continually marginalized communities within Namibia.
We are becoming alarmed that the ‘corruption’ moniker (the c-word) is being wielded like a hammer in any case where previously advantaged Namibians who have controlled entire economic sectors of the country over generations, fear that their cash cows will be slaughtered when they are forced to share their monetary fiefdoms with black Namibians.
When farms and land historically taken from Namibians or from which black Namibians were legally prevented from owning, comes under scrutiny, the c-word emerges and insulting cautions that Namibia will “go the way of Zimbabwe” become mantras repeated by the media, international development partners and within the circles of affluent Namibians (who have been made wealthy by that very land).
When the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) some years ago seized better control of State hunting and tourism concessions, again, the c-word, accusations of mismanagement, government ignorance of the ‘business’ of tourism and other complaints (true or not) cropped up immediately.
A small cabal of previously advantaged Namibians and foreign based companies systematically controlling those concessions before independence and immediately after (due to multi-year ‘contracts’ that remained in force) didn’t like losing their exclusive financial fiefdoms.
Now that we have fisheries and marine resources that have been long-dominated by certain previously advantaged segments of society, corporate interests like the various fishing companies under the Bidfish umbrella or foreign entities seeking to exploit cheap primary resources, the ‘corruption’ whip is cracked yet again.
If the mining industry undergoes a transformation and entrenched corporate entities and previously advantaged Namibians who for generations have had their hands in the mining pie are forced to earn lesser profits in favour of a wider base of Namibians sharing ownership, will we see the c-word wielded yet again?
There is no doubt that corruption is a scourge raging in Namibia on varying levels. Therefore, to cry wolf and use that loaded term recklessly touching the name of a minister whose work disadvantages a few heavily invested, rich entities and individuals does a disservice to the nation.
The horse mackerel quota allocation to Fishcor seems to be at the nexus of the discontent some have with Esau. While we do not claim to be fisheries experts, we can be convinced to accept that giving access to government assets (i.e., fishing quotas) to government-owned enterprise (Fishcor) charged with generating profits to be turned over to the State (at least in theory), is logical.
In fact, with empty State coffers right now, it seems like a necessary move to get more money generated by national resources, back into the fiscus and spent on national development programs.
If others in the sector whinging over cuts in their quotas (and thus, their profit margins) have evidence of illegality or provable damage, then take it to court.
Let us take care how we throw around the word, ‘corruption.’ Over-use of the term does a disservice to the nation; it allows the entrenched corrupt culprits who are part of the reason the country is broke, to burrow even deeper into the woodwork.