By Staff Reporter
The President of Namibia, Dr Hage Geingob baptized 2020 at the “Year of Introspection”. In what will become a series of Reflections, The Patriot kicks of our first interview with Matti Amukwa, the Chairperson of the Confederation of Namibian Fishing Association. We spoke on the aftermath of Fishrot, the extent to which the fishing sector was impacted and also the plight of the hundreds of unemployed fishermen of Walvis Bay.
The Patriot ( TP ) : What is the official view of the Confederation in regards to the expose that sent shock waves throughout Namibia last year? Matti Amukwa ( MA ) : The Confederation condemns any form of corruption and fully supports the efforts of our Government and related institutions to eradicate these activities in our country.
TP: So while we are aware that the matter is in court and is being dealt with, do you have an opinion in regards to the obvious corruption evident in this case?
MA: The evidence disclosed so far indicates that the quota system has been abused to benefit a few individuals. Even if the extent of those actions is yet to be proved and judged in court, the truth is that unfortunately all the fishing industry has been tarnished by this case. I understand the general public discontent, the Namibian Fishing Industry is mainly an example of success in employment creation, sustainability and economic contribution to our country. This episode should not be generalized nor used for political reasons as it may affect the viability of our industry and the lives of thousands of Namibians who are currently employed in fishing sector.
TP: A few hundred fishermen remain unemployed and yes, we know Government has said they will be reemployed, to what extent are you being consulted?
MA: We are well aware and applaud our Government efforts to find a solution for the affected
fishermen. The industry has been formally requested to provide availability and formulas to reemploy them. Each company that was able to assist has submitted its interest to the Government. It is important to note that there are 3 different cases of affected employees and not all of them are related to the Fishrot case:
a) Namsov personnel affected by the cut in their direct quotas. Those quotas were later redistributed and given or sold to other parties without generating much employment and ended up generating the corruption case.
b) Wildcat strike in 2015: A large number of fishermen went on an illegal strike lead by some
unscrupulous unionist that were following their political agendas. This episode ended up with many of them being dismissed after repeatedly refusing to end their illegal action and causing much economical damage to the industry. Even if we understand that government wants to assist them and get them back to work, this has nothing to do with the Fishrot case.
c) Small Pelagic (pilchards) moratorium: The overfishing of pilchards back in the 90s and also prior to independence ended up reducing the stocks of this specie to non-commercial status. After several years of very low catches, the Ministry attended to the recommendation of the scientists to put a moratorium to this fishery. Pilchard was used in canning and thus the moratorium affected the remaining operators and activities in this sector. Consequently, this ended up in some job losses. As much as these employees may also deserve to be assisted by our Government, this has also nothing to do with the Fishrot case.
TP: What is the best way you think in which we should handle the rights allocation? Are we doing it in the best way available?
MA: The quota allocation principles are still sound and it is probably the best system to reach and implement national objectives in the fishing sector to the benefit of all. Most developed countries use similar systems in their fishing sectors. The problem arises when the management of that system lacks transparency and accountability, thus resulting in abuse and corruption by its custodians.
TP: You have been on record to say that the Ministry of Fisheries should be applauded for the way it managed our Fisheries resource – are you of the same opinion now after FIshrot?
MA: I am still of the opinion that the general management of our Fishing resources is well founded and has been a worldwide example of sound fishing exploitation. We have to consider that even if jobs were lost through the corrupt activities, various land-based value addition initiatives have been pushed over the last years which have created and are still creating numerous jobs. However, it is fair to say that should those initiatives have been pushed harder and without the misappropriation of fishing quotas, the industry could have created more jobs.
TP: How can your organization operate to close the gap between the large fishing companies and the affected communities to ensure there is a real benefit to the people?
MA: Once again, the fishing sector is one of the few that is really benefitting the Namibian economy through employment creation, local value addition, taxes, levies, fees, auxiliary industry (workshops, engineering, construction, scientist, observers, transport, fish distribution and many others. The wealth generated from our fishing resources does not compare to any other national resource, particularly on employment. The large fishing companies drive this industry which, due to the large investments needed (vessels, factories, etc), needs certain minimum size to operate successfully and to be able to compete within the international markets with many other fish producing countries. Unfortunately, the public perception of the sector is very negative due to the recent corruption cases and also due to the
greed and actions of some “paper” quota right holders that have not respected the principles and conditions attached to being granted such a fishing right. It is a clear example of how the actions of a few have been very detrimental to all. The Namibian Fishing Industry is a sustainable and responsible one that is and has always been ready to engage constructively to add further value to our national economy. The principles and regulations within our Fishing Act are clear and the National Development Plans for the sector are very sound. It is now more important than ever that our government ensures transparency, accountability and fairness within the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources to implement those principles and regulations to achieve the national objectives for the Fishing sector to the benefit of all Namibians.