Addressing Parliament late last month, Minister of Environment and Tourism Pohamba Shifeta rubbished damning findings in the report titled Motion on Human Wildlife Conflict released by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Natural Resources.
The contested report found that the government’s previous public reports on positive earnings and benefits derived from the 82 gazetted communal conservancies are in stark contrast to the facts on the ground.
Shifeta said that the report’s findings are factually incorrect and consequently, the recommendations made have been based on inaccurate information.
He added that the information contained in the report has the potential to reverse the gains of communal conservancies. He said it was clear that the committee omitted detailed information from conservancies that have recorded benefits from the land and that are directly affected by human-wildlife conflict issues.
The report highlighted that the ministry was supposed to review the community based natural resources management (CBNRM) programme because some conservancy members have complained that their communities were not benefiting as much as the ministry and non-governmental organisations have previously announced.
Shifeta said that the report made it seem like communities were being forced to register as conservancies, while in fact, they voluntarily chose to apply to the ministry for their areas to be gazetted as official conservancies under the Nature Conservation Amendment Act No 5 of 1996.
“No community had been put under duress to form a conservancy or given false promises. To this end, conservancies are benefiting thousands of our citizens living in rural communities through employment, cash income, social projects and in-kind benefits such as training in various aspects of wildlife management and tourism enterprises, game meat quotas for both community programmes and for traditional authority events, thereby developing rural areas,” the minister said.
Shifeta gave examples of several conservancies that had managed to develop their areas, including Bamunu Conservancy in the Zambezi Region, which has used revenue generated from the joint venture contracts with professional hunters and their own management of the natural resources on their land, to electrify their villages. They have even been able to buy a tractor to plough crop fields for all people who live in the conservancy.
One of the report’s recommendations was that the ministry reviews the conditions of service for conservancy employees. There were complaints submitted to the committee regarding the low salaries paid to those working on conservancies, which also criticised the challenging working conditions.
Minister Shifeta responded to these accusations saying that his ministry was not allowed to unilaterally intervene on operational issues as communal conservancies have a governance system that includes all members in decision-making. The ministry did not interfere in their internal democratic processes by dictating from the top down how they run their day-to-day affairs. There are internal mechanisms for any conservancy member to challenge rules that have been collectively made.
“It should be noted that conservancies are legal entities and therefore the ministry has no influence in the issues of conditions of service for their employees, including concerns around low wages for resource monitors, game guards and conservancy management officials,” he said.
Chairperson of the Parliamentary Standing Committee, Swapo Member of Parliament, Sophia Swartz, however said that they stand by their findings and they urged the line ministry to take action regarding the complaints and recommendations within the report.
The committee members consulted communities in the Zambezi, Kunene, Kavango East and West regions during the period April to May 2016. It was there that they learned that the money paid as compensation for the loss of livestock and crops due to wildlife is not sufficient.
The report is hand-signed by all but one of the members of parliament who made up the committee. The signatories are Marina Kandumbu, Agnes Kafula, Annakleta Sikerete, Liina Namupala, Salmon Fleermuys, Vipuakuje Mahaurukua, Clara //Gowases and Margaret Mahoto.