Little done to protect fisheries jobs post-Fishrot – opposition, commentators

Namibia Economic Freedom Fighters (NEFF) deputy leader Kalimbo Iipumbu says very little has been done to safeguard jobs in the fishing sector since the Fishrot corruption scandal left many fishermen unemployed and struggling to make ends meet.

He warns that fisheries workers could face the same fate as the more than 1 000 former fisheries workers who lost their livelihoods due to corruption in the industry.

“Very little has been done to safeguard the majority of our fishermen and their families against corruption in the fishing sector,” Iipumbu says.

This follows after the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) on Thursday released a report detailing the human rights impacts of the Fishrot corruption scandal on Namibian fisheries workers.

Namsov Fishing Enterprises suffered the loss of over 1 000 jobs as quotas were redirected. Allegations suggest quotas meant for the state-owned Fishcor were transferred to Samherji in exchange for bribes.

Job losses continued with the police impounding the Samherji vessel, Heinaste, in December 2019.

The subsequent cessation of Samherji’s operations further impacted fisheries workers who lost jobs on other vessels owned by the company.

“What the current Swapo administration has failed to do is to make sure that while they attempt to restore the jobs of some of the fishermen, a corruption scandal of the magnitude of Fishrot does not happen again,” Iipumbu said.

He said the government’s failure to amend the Marine Resources Act, which granted former fisheries minister Bernhard Esau sole discretionary powers to allocate fishing quotas, is concerning.

“He (Esau) must be laughing at his colleagues from jail because he can see through their weak actions,” Iipumbu said.

The IPPR study found that many of the former fishermen and fisheries workers perceive themselves as stuck and highlighted how this situation was causing them mental stress.

The IPPR has on numerous occasions called for the government to amend the Marine Resources Act, enforcing the Access to Information Act and the Whistleblower Protection Act, as well as joining the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.

Political commentator Henning Melber said despite Fishrot becoming one of the trademarks associated with Namibian governance, policymakers have for years “annoyingly” been slow with dealing with the root causes.

“The (Swapo) party government has shown a worrying degree of silence in dealing with the rot at the core of the system, from which some of its members in key positions, if not the party itself, have benefited,” Melber said.

He said the opposition has been passive when it comes to pushing for closing the loopholes that allow for corruption in the fishing sector.

“The deafening silence adds to the scandal,” Melber said.

Comparing this silence to the recent uproar over a Supreme Court ruling recognising same-sex marriages conducted abroad for residency purposes, which led to a bill undermining the court’s decision, Melber questioned the government’s focus on governance priorities.

“This contrast displays a dubious morality, which seems to care more about discrimination than about the minimum social well-being of those whose hard-earned income in support of families was sacrificed to corruption,” Melber said.

Political scientist Rui Tyitende said if the Fishrot saga is pursued with all the required financial and human resources, a significant number of the political class will collapse.

He said all anti-corruption efforts are primarily rhetoric and about grand posturing to make it look like they are doing something, while in fact doing nothing.

“More often than not, anti-corruption efforts are devices to get rid of political opponents and not to inculcate a culture of ethical behaviour. That explains the political elites’ indifference towards those whose lives have been uprooted by this colossal political scandal,” Tyitende said.

The IPPR is planning a further study which will detail the economic harm caused by Fishrot.

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