Promises leave fishermen’s widows hungry for justice

By Jade McClune

ACTING Fisheries Minister Albert Kawana, speaking to industry stakeholders at Lüderitz this week, said he believes the women whose husbands lost their lives at sea should benefit from fishing quotas. This was a refrain often used by his predecessor in that portfolio, Bernhardt Esau.

“Let’s go ahead and propose some measure to make sure this industry continues to benefit Namibians. It should never be hijacked by foreign elements. Never.” Kawana went further to say, “My preference would be for the workers in the fishing industry to come together so they can be allocated a quota. If they didn’t apply in that regard, let’s see if the law allows us to consider those things.”

Appointed as caretaker amid a crisis in the Fisheries Ministry following the arrest of the former minister, and the leaking of a vast amount of records implicating government officials, Kawana this week also tried to put some distance between the government and the activities of corrupt individuals.

“Those people who were in Fishcor, they were benefiting in a different company which is today the subject of investigation. Fishcor had its own quotas completely different from Namangor (a Namibian Angolan joint venture), these briefcase companies… as it transpires, even in Angola it is not registered.”

He further rejected calls to slaughter government’s cash cow, Fishcor.

“Fishcor must continue to operate for the benefit of our nation. If there is a need to reform, to restructure Fishcor as per the investigation directed by the President, we will do so. But I see there are some who would like to see Fishcor completely disbanded. That would be to me the most unfortunate route to take.”

The newly appointed minister last week also called for the reinstatement of all the workers who lost their jobs as a result of the #fishrot scandal, although the modalities for how this would be done are not clear, except that the ministry may offer additional quotas to companies to take on more workers, and thus relieve itself of the massive social crisis its operations have produced.

Widows abandoned

On an audio recording in the possession of Confidente recorded last December when the now bribery- and fraud-accused Esau spoke to the widows of fishermen at Walvis Bay during a lunch event sponsored by Fishcor, the former minister repeatedly promised to help the mostly destitute women.

The Fishermen’s Widows Trust (FWT) have been engaged in a drawn-out dispute with a local fishing firm, Ehika Fishing, in which the Trust had a 40 percent share, but after the widows’ monthly payments stopped in 2016, they began to ask questions about their stake in the company, their representation on the board, and the annual dividends.

Esau said: “I’m definitely still together with the fishermen’s widows in the struggle for justice. We need justice.” He promised to take action to help them, but nothing came of his promises. The group of 111 widows received a monthly allowance of N$1,400 each after the company was granted a 10,000 metric tonne quota in 2012, but that allowance was soon reduced to N$700 and then stopped in 2016.

At the time it was rumoured that government-owned Fishcor, which was said to have been awarded a 100,000 ton quota, would pay the fishermen’s widows a monthly stipend, but nothing came of it. The former chairman of Fishcor, James Hautuikilipi, alongside Esau is now one of the main accused in the largest fraud and bribery case yet uncovered in Namibia.

More promises

Despite renewed promises from Kawana, the position of the widows and jobless fishing workers remains desperate. A widow who earlier spoke to Confidente said they feel betrayed by the minister, who even promised them “a little something” last Christmas, but they have gone hungry and unable to afford basic necessities for their children, while they waited for over a year for any feedback from the ministry.

Erongo Governor Cleophas Mutjavikua meanwhile also weighed in on the allegations that certain quota allocations to Fishcor led to the demise of the fishing firm Namsov and the loss of hundreds of jobs.

According to The Namibian, he placed the blame for the jobs massacre four years ago when an estimated 4,500 thousands of workers lost their jobs for going on strike over conditions of employment, squarely on Esau’s shoulders, and the system introduced by Esau.

“I had various meetings with the former minister about the loss of fishing jobs. It was not just meetings, but I also tried to address the matter through various letters to him. This attempt was not by me alone, but with the collective support of the mayor of Walvis Bay, and the Swapo regional coordinator.

“These engagements took place in 2017, 2018 and sometime this year. In all these meetings, the minister did not indicate that he would not attend to the matter. In fact, he agreed that something will be done about it. But the action was never there.”

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