Fishing rights fiasco as foreign firms get lion’s share

By Confidente Reporter

ABOUT 120 local and foreign companies who have benefitted from fishing rights for the past 20 years have recently had their rights renewed for another seven years, contrary to the government’s stated commitment to treat all applicants for fishing rights equally, including new Namibian entrants to the industry.

Confidente has reliably learned that the Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources, Albert Kawana, has already issued new fishing rights to all companies that previously had fishing rights, and whose rights had expired after the mandatory maximum period of 20 years.

The awarding of the additional fishing rights to 120 firms who had profited from the country’s marine resources over the past 20 years leaves no room for the over 5,000 new applicants who had applied in terms of the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources Government notice, as gazetted on 24 May 2018 by former minister Bernard Esau.

Minister Kawana in response to questions sent to him seeking clarity on who had been issued new fishing rights, only said: “I will make a public statement once all stakeholders have been informed.”

Most of the companies awarded new rights are said to be Spanish, South African, Icelandic and other foreign companies were granted fishing rights in Namibian waters at the expense of desperate Namibians, said an insider source that asked not to be named.

“The number of 120 rights were available as a result or the 20-year rights holders leaving them vacant for the new applicants to come on board,” but “There are no more rights left to be given,” they said, further insisting that the renewal of the fishing rights of these 120 previous right holders was done unlawfully “because they have not passed through an economic evaluation assessment from the ministry.”

“The 120 rights that have been renewed for the next seven years are the same rights which the minister invited all Namibians to apply for competitively, via Gazette notice number 92 of 2018, and [he] promised that all applicants will be treated equally and fairly. “Once you reach 20 years of benefitting from fishing rights, you are then treated like any other new applicant,” they said.

“The whole reason why the minister was asking Namibians to apply for fishing rights is because all applicants expected to be treated equally and fairly, and the process to be transparent. The evaluation process in this instance was not complete. The granting of these rights has not gone through an evaluation process and the University of Namibia only checked on compliance of applicants, and did not produce a shortlist of eligible applicants to be considered for rights,” the source said.

“It is clear that all the old right holders failed to meet the eligibility criteria published in the Gazette notice,” they added.

“Extending the fishing rights of previous 20-year right holders whose rights have expired discriminates against Namibian applicants who never had fishing rights before,” said an industry expert, who also asked not to be named. “They (previous 20-year right holders) are being treated special and this is not in the interests of the law,” the expert said.

The chairperson of the Federation of Fishing Associations, Matti Amukwa, in turn acknowledged that new rights have been approved, noting that those companies whose rights had expired have had their rights renewed for seven years.

“We are still waiting for full communication but what I can tell you is that those whose rights were still active got quota allocations, and those whose rights had expired got new rights for seven years.

“I have only heard about the hake and horse mackerel industries, but I’m certain that we will hear about monk [fishing rights] this week,” he told Confidente, adding that it is crucial that the industry is now moving and people are returning to work again.

The president of the Trade Union Congress of Namibia (Tucna), who doubles as president of the Namibian Seamen and Allied Workers Union (NASAWU), which represents at least 70 percent of fishing industry workers, Paulus Hango, said he had not yet seen the list of new rights holders, but felt it would be problematic if the ministry only considered old right holders who did not fend for employees when they enjoyed the benefit of these rights.

“If you award rights to only those who have been enjoying them for all these years, you will end up with a situation where the rich get richer and poor keep getting poorer. We hope that this won’t be the case, because we will not tolerate it. We need the workers to also benefit from the rights, or what would have had been the purpose of getting those 5,200 applicants?

“Those who had rights before did not bring any concrete development to the workers. They only get a salary and nothing else. Not even decent housing. It is also strange that the workers have never been involved in this whole process of [the allocation of] fishing rights  and NASAWU is also not part of the Fishing Advisory Council at the ministry, making it difficult for our voice to be heard and considered.”