Fishchor feud headache for SWAPO government
NKC African Economics.
The struggling fishing industry, usually a major export earner for Namibia, has suffered yet another setbacks as the relationship between the board of directors and managers at the scandal-tainted state-owned National Fishing Corporation of Namibian (Fishcor) is on the rocks.
A group of senior managers at Fishcor, who say they are fed up with being sidelined, has sent a letter to The Namibian newspaper that claims the company is technically broke and that 300 workers may not receive their salaries this month. Meanwhile, the board has decided to exclude the managers from meetings, because the board b believes the managers are sabotaging them with leaked information that can be used in upcoming trails.
The company is implicated in the Fishrot scandal, the biggest corruption scandal since Namibia gained independence, that surfaced in November 2019. Wikileaks published a collection of documents it called the ‘Fishrot Files’ which indicated that Icelandic company Samherji had paid large sums of money to high ranking Namibian politicians for fishing quotas. The scheme is estimated to have involved the laundering of N$150 million and it involved the former Fisheries Minister Bernhard Esau and former Justice Minister Sacky Shangala. The company has been struggling since its former board Chairperson James Hatuikulipi and former Chief Executive Officer Mike Nghipunya was arrested, both of them are currently in jail and awaiting trail.
In January this year, the government allocated a 25 000 metric tonne horse mackerel bailout quota to Fishcor amid fears that the company faced retrenchments. Fisheries Minister Albert Kawana said at the time that the company did not have enough money to pay salaries for December and January.
This triggered questions about how the company finds itself in these circumstances, despite receiving preferential treatment from the government. When Esau was in office, he valued at N890 million between 2014 and 2019. However, Fischor does not have the capacity to catch horse mackerel, as it specialises n catching and processing hake. Over the years, it has been selling its quotas below market value to third parties, such as Samherji.
As part of an attempt to raise funds for equipment and medication to fight COVID-19, the government put a 60% share of the country’s horse mackerel and hake on auction to the highest bidder in October. The auction turned out to be a dismal failure in which the government collected only N$8 million a mere 1.2% of the expected N$630 million. A few weeks later, Kawana told the public that he is in the process of giving away fishing rights which will last five to 25 years to ‘new’ beneficiaries,.
Opposition politicians and local fishermen are critical about the auctioning off quota to foreign companies that there better positioned financially to benefit from the system. The Confederation of Namibian Fishing Association Chairperson Matti Amukwa told The Namibian newspaper that ‘the general sentiment is very negative, toward such auctions without first attending to the needs of local operators, that sustain thousands of jobs.
Last year, processed fish accounted for nearly 20% of total exports, but many years of maladministration of fishing quotas in Namibian has enabled corruption, the side-lining of local fishing companies, and the over exploitation of fish stocks. The quota bungling aggravates other challenges such as climate change and illegal fishing which endanger the industry’s prospects. Judging by the dismal outcome of the last auction, the exposure of the Fishrot scandal has led to companies steering away from the fishing industry in Namibian.
Furthermore, the fallout from the Fishrot corruption scandal is affecting the administrative performance of Fishcor, which may lead to further government intervention to rescue the company. However, this will come without resistance from the discontented public who have showed their deep dissatisfaction with the SWAPO government recently, paining it as a comfortable and unaccountable government that has not fulfilled its socio-economic development promises.