Fish law gets smelly


HE Namibia Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NCCI) has slammed the proposed changes to the law regulating the issuing of fishing quotas that gives more power to the fisheries minister.
Apart from the NCCI, a coastal lawyer, Shakespeare Masiza, who made a presentation on behalf of secretive private firms, pointed out that the inclusion of the word “reserve” in one of the clauses grants broad powers to the minister without guidance of how it is determined.
The bone of contention is the amendments to the Marine Resources Act of 2000 that were passed in the National Assembly in July this year and are now being debated in the National Council where the NCCI, Masiza and Esau presented their arguments last week.
NCCI chief executive Tarah Shaanika, who attended the session in the National Council, told The Namibian on Saturday that they called for a transparent system in the allocation of quotas.
Even though he supports the idea of poverty eradication, Shaanika said the proposed changes leave room for abuse not only by the current minister but by future fisheries ministers too.
“Natural resources belong to the people and not the minister,” he said, adding that a tribunal that would allocate quotas should be set up.
Masiza declined to give the names of his clients and even refused to confirm or deny that Namsov Fishing Enterprises was one of them.
He told the National Council that his clients’ concerns are linked to a December 2014 ruling in the High Court which found that Esau acted beyond his powers when he allocated quotas to non-rights holders.
The lawyer said Esau allocated horse mackerel quotas to parties who were not horse mackerel rights holders in the past three years.
“The minister has in this manner squandered Namibian natural resources in excess of N$355 million for the exclusive benefit of selected individuals and entities,” Masiza, whose offices at the coast were ironically inaugurated by Esau in 2013, said.
He said the “minister wants to abuse the legislative process to do what he knows he is not legally empowered to do” and that a decision to pass the amendments will undermine the powers of the judiciary that is working on the case.
Masiza complained about the lack of consultations before the new fishing law amendments were made and asked the National Council to set up a committee to engage the industry on Esau’s plans.
The aggrieved private entities also suggested that a tribunal consisting of independent people with good repute to allocate and renew fishing quotas be set up.
Masiza also wants the minister to be compelled to publish and gazette all allocation of quotas and fishing rights as stipulated by the law, adding that quota holders should be informed timely if and why their concessions will not be renewed, and why others are increased or reduced.
Esau told The Namibian on Saturday that he is not bothered by allegations that he is trying to amass power.
He believes that companies who went to the National Council are greedy, have a sense of entitlement and that Shaanika is being used to gang up against him.
Esau accused Shaanika of siding with a cartel that has enjoyed a monopoly on Namibian fish for decades fronted by few well-connected businesspeople who did not add value to fish.
“Tarah is being a puppet of the highest order,” Esau said.
The minister said Shaanika himself is a quota holder but his company never raised the concerns before.
According to him, Shaanika appears to have been “bought off” by Namsov to push their agenda because NCCI did not even hold a special meeting to discuss the stance of its members.
He said NCCI joined the fray to defend Namsov, a scenario he says is tantamount to conflict of interest since Sebby Kankondi doubles up as NCCI vice president and chief executive of Bidvest Namibia, the company that owns Namsov.
“Whose interest is NCCI pushing for. Is it for the members or for a few individuals,” Esau said, adding that the National Council agreed to pass the bill.
He accused aggrieved firms of maybe using the previous minister to be in their pockets which according to him, won’t happen with him.
“Maybe they controlled the previous minister. We fought for this country and for the fair distribution of our resources. I was not born to cowards and I won’t be a coward,” Esau added.
Esau said Namsov was angered by his decision to give state-owned fishing firm National Fishing Corporation of Namibia more powers which according to him will slash Namsov’s profits.
According to the minister, Namsov is also bitter that its contract to catch fish on behalf of the Namibia Fish Consumption Promotion Trust will come to an end in December this year.
The trust promotes fish consumption countrywide.
He said Namsov is against his decision to give the trust an extra quota.
The minister insisted that he consulted industry players since 2012 and that there is no need for a tribunal because he checks with fellow executives on decisions he makes. He questioned why fishing quotas should be decided by a tribunal while exploration licences are not.
Esau denied allegations that he has handed out fishing quotas worth N$355 million to well-connected individuals.
Shaanika denied that he is being used or that he is a puppet. “The minister is taking this issue personally. I don’t like it when we kick the player rather than the ball,” he said.
Kankondi told The Namibian that he represented the interests of NCCI and not Namsov. He denied pushing for Namsov’s agenda.
“Let’s not divert the matter, the issue here is the lack of consultation which should be done in any democracy. All we want is to be consulted when laws affecting our members are being changed. No consultations were held in this case,” he said.

-The Namibian



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