Agribank halts controversial farm auctions

27 July 2018 Author   CHAMWE KAIRA
Agribank CEO Sakaria Nghikembua

Agribank has halted the planned sale of two farms in the Otjozondjupa Region, which was supposed to take place this Friday, 27 July after the owners settled their arrears with the agriculture lender, a person with knowledge of the auctions, has told the Windhoek Observer.

Agribank has halted the planned sale of two farms in the Otjozondjupa Region, which was supposed to take place this Friday, 27 July after the owners settled their arrears with the agriculture lender, a person with knowledge of the auctions, has told the Windhoek Observer.
The Deputy Sheriff offices in Tsumeb and Windhoek also confirmed that the planned auctions, which had drawn widespread criticism from political parties and civil society, had been cancelled at the eleventh hour. 
Earlier this week, Agribank announced it would auction the two farms, saying it had moved from a soft to a hard collections approach. 
The farms were scheduled to be auctioned by the Deputy Sheriff of Tsumeb. 
“This is a last resort for us. There is no other option, but to execute on the auction. The only thing that can stop the process now is payment of the arrears by the clients before the auction date. In the absence of that, the process will go through to the end,” Agribank CEO, Sakaria Nghikembua, had said.
One of the farms, Farm Omsons No. 233 Registration Division B, is owned by a certain Cedric Shilongo. 
The other farm is Farm Rietfontein No. 44 Registration Division B. 
Agribank spokesperson, Rino Muranda, and Nghikembua declined comment when asked how much the bank was owed. 
Nghikembua, in the Agribank statement, said the two auctions should not be seen in isolation, but as part of an ongoing series. 
Agribank first engaged two debt collectors, Redforce Debt Management and the United Africa Group, to recover its debts, a move that also drew criticism from the farming community, with some farmers claiming the bank was persecuting them through its debt recovery methods.
The bank has, over the past 18 months, requested defaulting clients to make repayment arrangements to settle their arrears. 
Some of the farmers have heeded the bank’s call and have continued to honour their arrangements, while others made arrangements and failed to honour them.
Others made no arrangements and no payments, ostensibly on the mistaken understanding that, being a state-owned bank, Agribank will not repossess their farms. 
 “The bank wants to place on record that it is not its objective to auction any farms except as a last resort,” Nghikembua said. 
SWAPO Party regional leaders condemned the planned move by Agribank, saying the bank should stop the auctions at least until after the Second National Land Conference.
Ottilie Shinduvi, SWAPO Regional Coordinator for Kavango East, told the Windhoek Observer that the bank should stop the process until after the land conference, which is scheduled for October. 
She said Agribank must first offer such farms to the government because they might end up in the hands of previously advantaged Namibians if they are auctioned, which defeats the purpose of the resettlement programme.
“You can’t auction the farms in the open like that; the government must buy them first for resettlement.”
SWAPO’s Regional Coordinator for the Karas Region, Matheus Mumbala, also said the auctions must be halted until issues like the affordability of agriculture land are discussed at the land conference.
“This is uncalled for, we are in the middle of an economic crisis, people have no money, the farms may end up in the hands of foreigners,” he said. 
In June, Nghikembua said the bank had only recovered about N$40 million of the estimated N$500 million owed by farmers. 
By June, the bank’s arrears stood at 21 percent of the N$2,6 billion total loan book.
The bank’s lending rates for several loans for commercial and communal farmers range between four percent and 8,25 percent, according to information on its website.

WINDHOEK OBSERVER

The Windhoek Observer is an English-language weekly newspaper, published in Namibia by Paragon Investment Holding. It is the country's oldest and largest circulating weekly.

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