Ombudsman clashes with seal activistsBy: CATHERINE SASMAN
OMBUDSMAN John Walters says he has not stopped the investigation into Namibia’s controversial seal culling, but stressed that he would conduct it of his own volition without any interference, threats or demands from elsewhere.
“I will determine the nature, extent and direction of the investigation,” said Walters in response to Seal Alert South Africa’s insistence that he had withdrawn from the investigation.
“No one will prescribe to me how I should do my job, otherwise I am not independent,” said Walters.
On June 22, Seal Alert SA’s Francois Hugo sent the Ombudsman a legal opinion by Peter Edwards of Dawson Edwards & Associates that maintained that Namibia’s
seal harvest was illegal, and wanted an urgent interdict to stop the seal harvesting.
The advocacy organisation and European Parliamentarian David Martin said there were sufficient grounds on which to obtain the interdict pending further investigation into the legality of the harvesting.
Walters responded that a preliminary investigation from his office suggested two mutually contradicting versions – the one from Seal Alert and the other from the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources – and that he could not approach the High Court to obtain an urgent interdict preventing the harvesting “simply because I do not have all the facts”.
In another letter to Edwards, Walters also indicated that he was not bound by Seal Alert’s legal opinion, adding that he was “not the advocate of any party but ascertains facts independently”.
A stakeholders’ meeting with Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources Berhard Esau on June 25, days before the seal harvest kicked off in July, failed to take place.
A month after the request for an interdict, on July 25, Hugo insisted to know Walters’ position on the Namibian Police’s confiscation of visual material gathered which reportedly showed a “collapsed seal colony with just a few hundred endangered seal pups left” a week into the 2011 seal harvest.
Hugo pressed Walters to “speak out” and demanded to know when he could receive the official findings from the Ombudsman’s investigation.
“On what basis is the Ombudsman turning a blind eye to crucial evidence being deleted from captured evidence by Namibian Police?” questioned Hugo.
Hugo went on to say that Walters should either release his findings, or halt the harvest pending investigation, or chair a mediation between Seal Alert and Minister Esau.
Failure to do so, said Hugo, would leave Seal Alert with no alternative “but to call for increased sanctions and boycotts to Namibian tourism and products”.
Walters replied in a letter to Hugo’s lawyer that this threat bordered on extortion.
Walters said it appeared as if Hugo wanted to prescribe to him how to do his job, and wanted him to blindly accept the Seal Alert legal opinion and that of the European MP Martin as proof beyond doubt, and forced him to accept unsubstantiated allegations as facts.
“Unfortunately, Mr Edwards, that is not how the Ombudsman in Namibia and everywhere in the world conducts its affairs,” Walters wrote to Hugo’s lawyer on July 29.
Hugo fired back in a press release on July 31 in which he questioned Walters’s independence and accused the Ombudsman of taking an “avoidance escape route out to back out of investigating”.