By Fikameni Mathias
The Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources Bernardt Esau faces one of his toughest times on the job as he begins the process of distributing a limited number of fishing rights to over 5100 applicants.
All eyes are on the minister to see whether he will use his discretionary powers responsibly to distribute the rights in a transparent and equitable manner.
Esau promised a transparent process.
Out of 5193 nationwide applications of interest for fishing rights, the fisheries ministry can only award anything between 90 and 120 fishing rights to entities that meet the criteria.
This was announced by the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources this week when it announced the number of applications of interest nationwide after the submission closing date.
“I wish to remind all Namibians of the fact that because of our limited fisheries resources, that means not all Namibians for sure will be given the fishing rights,” said Minister Bernard Esau.
“This is a fact that the resource is limited. If we issue every applicant with a fishing right, it will make the fishing sector uneconomical. And the free for all concepts will lead to an unsustainable scramble for this natural resource which will lead to its collapse,” he added.
The minister said the basic principles of demand and supply will come into this matter while highlighting that a collapse in the sector is nothing we wishes to see in the fraternity, “at least not in my time.”
Many local and foreign companies are pushing to get their hands on this most coveted entitlement. A total of 75 fishing rights are set to expire by December 31, while 32 fishing rights already expired on December 31, 2017. These fishing rights are and have been, as per usual, valid for 20 years.
Official figures indicate that 4013 applicants were received from Khomas followed by Erongo (661), Oshana (110), //Karas (96), Hardap (49), Otjozondjupa (46), Kavango East (34), Ohangwena (32), Zambezi (31), Kunene (28), Omusati (27), Omaheke (25), Kavango West (23) and Oshikoto (18).
“The interest is overwhelming. When we started this process in the past, we had around 500. Then we moved to 1500 application and now we have 5193. The interest is overwhelming in comparison to the years before,” he said adding that regional representation will be informed by the evaluation committee which he is yet to appoint.
Esau also refuted to public allegations that the national call of interest that started in May was just a roadshow as the preferred candidate for rights were already known.
“It is not a roadshow at all. This process of inviting people to apply has happened in the past and it will happen in the future for as long as the Marine Act is in place. The evaluation committee composition will be professional. Those people will be vetted to make sure that they should not have interest in terms of shareholding.
“Our policy objective in this matter is to give meaning to our government policy of inclusivity and particularity the empowerment of our previously disadvantaged Namibians while ensuring that we protect our Namibian job,” he added.
Esau emphasized that the rigorous evaluation process will take into account that the few who will be awarded rights will have a responsibility on behalf of all Namibian to add value and to make sure that its economic benefits are shared by all Namibians.
The fisheries ministry has faced criticism from members of the public who constantly accused the ministry of favouring the well-connected when it comes to distributing the country’s fisheries resources. Fishing rights have been regarded for long as the new route to riches and the dominance of a favoured few in the sectors has raised public concern. Esau said his ministry will take into the need to jack-up control mechanisms in the sector.
“We cannot give a right to somebody who will float this right on the market and sell their right/quota to another company and not even participating in the process. Also, we don’t want to see a situation where fish is exported raw. We want to see that the fish is processed onshore. This will ensure that people are employed in the sector,” he said