Uncertainty, anxiety grips fishing sector

By  Confidente Reporter

THE continued delay in the allocation as well as alleged irregularities in the process to award Namibia’s lucrative fishing rights has put the fishing industry on edge with potential legal battles to halt the awarding of the rights looming.

Confidente has been well informed that industry representatives particularly the workers union have become restless and are plotting to put their emotions into action if nothing is done to galvanise the industry that has been at a standstill pending the announcement of fishing rights holders and quotas.

“The people are suffering as they have been forced to stay at home. This process is taking too long and something has to give. The fishing vessels are now stationary and this is more destructive to the industry. This is our bread (sic) and we need this to be resolved as soon as possible,” revealed on of the players in the industry adding that the last resort could be to hold demonstrations.

Acerbating the matter, Confidente is reliably informed that the allocation of fishing rights is far from complete as the economic evaluation committee is yet to go through the applications that made it past the first phase of vetting.

The applications have already gone through a compliance stage which was completed by UNAM and now awaits economic evaluation. It was reported recently that 800 applications were deemed eligible for further vetting

This unrest also comes after Confidente recently reported that a decision by Dr Moses Maurihungirire, an executive director in the corruption-tainted Ministry of Fisheries, to write to companies that never applied for fishing rights asking them to prove whether they did has raised suspicion that this could be a ploy to add new companies onto the final list of beneficiaries.

Some industry leaders who did not receive the suspicious letters have indebted Confidente on why they have not received similar letters from Maurihungirire if they were sent to everyone who applied. Confidente also understands that these same players have been left frustrated by the muted response they have received for Maurihungirire.

Speaking to Confidente this week, Albert Kawana, minister of fisheries and marine resources highlighted that government had managed to calm the rising tensions and would make some announcements imminently.

“Want to do things properly, transparently and accordingly. We have now moved to address the issues and cabinet has pronounced itself on a number of pending issues. There will be a communication that will be sent to the industry representatives today and if you can get hold of them, you will also know what we have announced,” said Kawana emphasising that there are no longer any issues to deal with now.

“Those disgruntled fishing industry players must just communicate through the right channels and contact their association and they will be furnished with all the information.”

When Confidente contacted, Confederation of Namibian Fishing Association Chairman Matti Amukwa, he confirmed that he had spoken to the Minister and promised to receive letters allocating quotas to those whose rights have not yet expired as well as announcements on the status of those whose rights have expired.

“I spoke to the Minister earlier today (Wednesday) and wanted to consult him on the way forward regarding the expired quotas and allocations. We were informed that Cabinet made some approvals and today we will receive letters with such communication. We have not yet received these letters and we are waiting for them so that we are able to go ahead,” Amukwa stated.

By 31st December 2017, there were 32 fishing rights which had attained 20 years. By 31st December 2018, there was a further 75 fishing rights which attained 20 years.

In 2018, more than 5,000 Namibians applied for rights in the lucrative fishing industry which currently employs an estimated 16,000 workers. In the current evaluation, the Ministry of Fisheries has in the past been quoted as saying that a total of 5,190 fishing rights applications were received by 31 August 2018 for the 90 to 120 fishing rights available. This represented a massive increase from previous application rounds, which typically attracted between 500 and 1,500 applicants.

The ministry has in recent years kept a tight lid on the list of rights and quota holders, thereby rising what turned out to be well-founded public suspicion of underhand dealings and systemic corruption in the ministry.

Kawana has already been notified of a bid to halt the awarding of fishing rights through the High Court Walvis Bay-based lawyer Shakespeare Masiza who representing his aggrieved clients has written to Kawana alleging gross mishandling for the fishing rights awarding principles in denying Trusts and listed companies to bid.

In a letter to Kawana seen by Confidente, Masiza highlights that the realization that if the State through Fishcor can do business with an entity such as Seaflower Pelagic Processing, then surely the exclusion of listed companies and trusts managed by the trustees (instead of beneficiaries), was and is certainly not only absurd but discriminatory and thus unconstitutional and cannot be left unchallenged.

“This state of absurdity, discrimination and unconstitutionality is made worse by the publication that also appeared in “The Confidente” of the last weekend, wherein it seems the Ministry of Fisheries is considering to allocate Fishing licenses to companies that did not even apply. If the Ministry of Fisheries wants to allocate fishing rights to entities which did not apply for fishing rights, why not then call off the allocation of the fishing rights all together and restart the process, without this blatant discrimination, which invariably will result in costly and very prolonged litigation,” reads the letter in part adding “We hold instructions to certainly approach the High Court of Namibia if such allocation will be made.

“On that one I refer you to the government attorney. We really do not deal with faceless people and why complain now after two years? We will have to meet in court!,” Kawana told Confidente.