Fishrot sends 200 workers home at Usakos
By Hilary Mare
THE fallout of the Fishrot corruption scandal has devastated communities as far afield as Usakos, where at least 200 employees have been sent home due to the imminent closure of a dried fish factory – Global Fishing Enterprise – which is said to be one of the biggest employers in the town.
Well-informed sources have revealed to Confidente that the imminent closure of the factory comes as a direct result of former fisheries minister, Bernhard Esau’s reluctance to respond to numerous calls for assistance in the supply of inputs (specifically horse mackerel) by the owner of the factory, Pieter Roos.
A shadow of doubt was cast over the future operations of Namibia Dried Fish factory in 2010 when Esau abruptly took fishing quotas away from two established players in the sector, Namsov and Erongo Fishing, which were the regular suppliers of fish inputs to the factory at Usakos.
It is said that Esau in 2010 also denied Namibia Dried Fish any fishing rights, despite it being the only and biggest fish processing plant outside Walvis Bay.
“It was the minister’s (Esau) negligence and arrogance that cost this factory years of operational efficiency. Over the past few years, Mr Roos made several requests for help and none of the current fishing rights holders could provide the factory with fish since they wanted to sell to the lucrative Icelanders.
“For a factory that employs 150 women and subsequently directly benefits at least 500 children, it is mind-blowing that government is not doing anything to assist the factory and looks willing to have Usakos people struggle,” said a source who declined to be named.
This negative development, they say, should be seen in light of the fact that at the run-down and dilapidated town of Usakos, the unemployment rate is variously estimated to be between 60 and 70 percent. The youth are worst affected by the jobs crisis and most households are in arrears with the town council for unpaid water bills, rates and taxes, which in turn limits the council’s ability to delivery or expand adequate services due to lack of income.
Established in 2002 with an initial investment of N$20 million, Global Fishing Enterprise, exported its products to markets, such as Angola, Zambia and Zimbabwe. It is understood that the factory at Usakos has the capacity to process 30 tonnes of fish daily but has been unable to get this supply for some time, resulting in the gloomy prospect of imminent closure of the factory.
Upon inquiry, Roos was optimistic that their application for fishing rights would be considered this time around and was hopeful that operations at the factory could be revived before a decision to completely shut it down is necessitated.
“We are the only horse mackerel salted dried fish factory in Africa, and what is more important is that we have made huge investments here, and we have given hope to Usakos and surrounding areas by creating jobs. There has not been any new business in Usakos for the past 15 years and I think it is important that government recognises this and promotes those that are giving hope to the masses. Something has to give, because all the women we employ – that make up 98 percent of our workforce and over 500 children under them – cannot go hungry. That would be extremely terrible,” he said this week.
In one of several letters written by the factory’s management to Vice President Nangolo Mbumba late last year, they noted that since January 2019, the workforce had been unemployed due to the unavailability of horse mackerel at the factory.
“We have been in constant contact with all horse mackerel fishing companies to supply us with fish but to no avail,” the company said, requesting a meeting with the vice president to try to avert job losses, to discuss possible solutions with the allocation of fishing rights at the top of the agenda for such a meeting.
Prior to this, Roos sought an audience with the Governor of the Erongo region, with the secretary general of the Namibia Seamen and Allied Workers Union (NASAWU), with Swapo officials in Usakos, as well as the Ministry of Labour to discuss the seriousness of the situation and its implications for the town.
‘NOTHING TO VOTE
One of the factory workers that Confidente spoke to also revealed that during the Presidential and Parliamentary election last November, Roos offered to provide his company’s busses to transport all 200 workers to voting booths across Usakos but they refused, saying: “There is nothing to vote for if we must suffer this way.”
Usakos branch coordinator of the Swapo Party Irene Kurz-Simeon confirmed the dire situation, saying: “Between 200 and 300 affected employees did not vote because of the Global Fishing Enterprise [factory] closure and no other job or investment prospects. The district performed well in the elections, but we lost out on these extra votes. This was disheartening. These people refused to vote. It definitely had an effect on… the November elections.”
Kurz-Simeon added that from a business point of view, Global Fishing Enterprise is one of the biggest investments in Usakos and the implications for the local economy of closing the factory were severe.
“Remember, this is the society and the society is our voters. Two hundred people of Usakos which are seasonal workers in my view will be out of work, meaning the supply chain will be affected. Supply chain meaning other businesses will suffer too, supermarkets, service stations, clothing shops, etcetera.
“The restaurants and small shops in the town start to see a drop of traffic in their shops. Beyond the employees directly impacted by the closure, the community are tightening their belts because there is no flow of money in the town. A handful of people are employed.
“Our businesses are dependent on the community, the society. Closing down this facility means not only will these employees be without jobs; there will be further job losses in other sectors because of no income in the town,” Kurz-Simeon warned adding that the feedback is based on complaints received from the fishing company closure.