Saturday 17 April 2021
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MET, community divided over ‘Sossusvlei’ concession

A community that was awarded a Concession Contract 14 years ago to construct a campsite in the lucrative Namib Naukluft Park have accused government of deliberately blocking their attempts to get the project off the ground.
The Ada Khaibasen Community Trust (ACKOTT) has repeatedly expressed dissatisfaction in the alleged delay caused by MET (Concession Unit and Concession Committee), accusing the ministry of trying to dictate who the trust should partner with. The group signed the Head Concession Contract with the ministry in 2013, but five years later they continue to clash with the ministry because of issues hampering the signing of an operational agreement that will give the Trust the go-ahead to put up the campsite with its sourced investors.
MET, according to the documents seen, underscored the need to follow the outlined process of appointing an operator in line with the regulations stipulated in the contract.
The ministry has also shot down an application by the Trust to be given more land in the area for its business activities.
ACKOTT chairperson Hiskia Auchab, in an interview with this newspaper, has since accused the ministry of deliberately delaying the process because it wants to impose investors onto ACKOTT.
Auchab also made stark claims that some officials in the ministry have tried to benefit from the project by forming companies to claim a stake in the project through joint ventures.
The Ministry of Environment and Tourism has repeatedly told the group that it should follow all set guidelines if it wants to be granted the necessary authorisation.
Today that project hinges on whether the two parties can find common ground going forward, but the ministry is adamant that it will not flout procedures or risk the environment to heed the demands of the group.
The Ministry allegedly assisted to put out the concession on tender, but ACKOTT was not happy with the outcome of the tender process which led to the cancellation of the entire process.
Hiskia noted said a letter was drafted to MET to stop the process as “we were not happy with the preferred bidder selected by MET, and they opted to take up the project themselves to build and manage the concession.”
According to correspondences between the ministry and ACKOTT, the trust then moved to source for funds from different institutions and eventually got funds for training of the ACKOTT members in tourism business.
This was followed by a marketing drive through they marketed the concession which lured two investment partners.
Hiskia said the investors were introduced to the Ministry via a MOU which they signed between themselves and the two investors.
“For the ministry to intervene and impose an investor who will give us less than the investor we found, will just make us poorer when it comes to community upliftment because it has little benefits to community,” Hiskia said.
The trust even went as far as writing to the President seeking an audience so that the process to appoint their preferred investor could be expedited.
The MOU between the investors and ACKOTT, information at hand indicates, was later revoked to allow for the concession to be put back on tender.  Hiskia bemoans the fact that the delay has caused severe financial losses to the community because they have lost out on the possible investment.
The ministry claims that the delay to finalize of the process was caused by ACKOTT when they prematurely stopped the process of appointing the operator for the concession.
Another reason advanced by the ministry was that ACKOTT did not comply to the contract in terms of appointing an operator.
The ministry’s Director of Scientific Services Elly Hamunyela said the approval for ACKOTT to conduct the business on their own was under the impression given by Hiskia that they will construct and manage the concession themselves.
She refuted accusations advanced that MET appointed an operator.
“The process was conducted from the beginning of the tender process to the end of the tender process and Mr. Hiskia was part of the technical team,” she explained.
The ministry further appealed to ACKOTT, saying: “For the progress of the project, follow the agreement and allow the agreed process to take its course[the public tender process, which will be open to your[ACKOTT] preferred bidder to partake in the tender].

Bigger land
Hiskia also informed the ministry that the area awarded to them “is small and not viable to incorporate the entire design.”
He said they have been applying to the ministry for the adjacent farms and the exclusive gate but to no avail. The ministry has disapproved the application and does not have reasons for the decline of the application, he lamented.
MET minister Pohamba Shifeta in the past informed the group that “it’s best to start with what is available or which has been awarded to you.” Shifeta said he declined the application to avail additional land due to security issues, conservation and a need to preserve the area.
According to minutes of a meeting that took place between the ministry and ACKOTT, Shifeta said, once in operation, they can apply for an amendment to the Head Concession Contract to allow the rights to construct a lodge.
“He[Shifeta] further stressed that the granting of the rights is not automatic after the application ” Shifeta reportedly said.
Hiskia said they are tired of the long and frustrating process they had endured in the past and that they are no longer willing to wait, hence calling on Shifeta to shorten the process. Shifeta said benefit to communities cannot be maximised by disregarding the sustainable use of our resources.

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