Minister of public enterprises Leon Jooste says the government will not be manipulated into propping up a Fishcor-owned company linked to the Fishrot corruption scandal.
“Neither the ministry nor the board of directors will allow ourselves to be manipulated or influenced by reports and/or strategies to achieve goals that might not be in the best interest of the public,” Jooste earlier this month said.
The company in question is Seaflower Pelagic Processing, an entity in which the state-owned National Fishing Corporation of Namibia (Fishcor) has 40% of the shareholding.
Around 60% of the shareholding in Seaflower is held by African Selection Fishing Namibia (Pty) Ltd, whose main shareholder is businessman Adriaan (‘AJ’) Louw.
The other shareholder in African Selection Fishing is Celax Investments Number One, a company that was owned by lawyer Marén de Klerk, with a 33% stake.
De Klerk is accused of having been the paymaster in the Fishrot scandal.
Celax Investments Number One is named by the Anti-Corruption Commission in court papers as one of the companies allegedly involved in laundering N$75 million meant for Fishcor.
Part of these funds ended up financing Swapo’s political campaigns.
The government spent more than N$700 million in a partnership that was started by former minister of fisheries and marine resources Bernhard Esau.
The deal was seen as a cash cow for the Fishrot accused.
The Cabinet earlier this year directed that Seaflower Pelagic Processing be terminated.
However, Seaflower Pelagic Processing and Louw have been on a public relations drive to clear the company’s name and to apply pressure on the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources to provide it with fishing quotas.
The company, desperate to prove itself clean, commissioned an investigation to clear itself of any wrongdoing. This move appears to undermine an ongoing process that implicates one of its shareholders.
Jooste confirmed that he received the so-called investigations report, but insisted that the government will not be pressured.
“We received an audit report from them and I shared it with the [Fishcor board] for their consideration,” he said.
Some senior government officials expressed concerns that Seaflower Pelagic might threaten the government with a legal suit for pulling the plug on the opaque partnership.
Sources point to the lack of progress in implementing the termination directive by the Cabinet as a sign that the government is moving too slow.
Jooste said there was a delay in the process to appoint the new Fishcor board.
He appointed an interim Fishcor board of directors with strong ties to Swapo. This is said to have been pushed for by the Office of the Prime Minister.
Jooste said the Fishcor board had to familiarise themselves with the situation at the national fishing company.
“This has proven more difficult than anticipated due to the effects of the pandemic and also the fact that several executives have resigned from their positions,” he said.
The board has been tasked to evaluate all commercial and operational matters, including all existing agreements with partners or service providers, and they will make due recommendations when done, Jooste said.
He said the board has asked for legal advice on how to implement that task.
“It is normal practice and prudent for a board to seek legal advice when so required to mitigate potential consequences when agreements or commercial relationships are reviewed,” Jooste said.
There have been speculation that the public enterprises ministry might be giving in to pressure from South African partners in that partnership.
Jooste said this was not the case.
“The private partner [Louw] has requested a meeting with me, but I have turned down the request because the board of directors was not appointed at the time,” he said.
“It’s important to note the agreement is not with the government, but between Fishcor and his company, and I therefore found it uncomfortable to meet with him under the circumstances,” he said.
There are fears that the proposed termination of the partnership between Fishcor and the South African-owned outfit could lead to job losses.
But Jooste said the government is working on a plan.
“We are working on a strategy to safeguard the employees and will communicate this in due course,” he said.
Seaflower Pelagic Processing issued a statement last month, saying five articles published by The Namibian between 13 December 2019 and 20 July 2020 regarding suspicious payments involving millions of dollars made to various entities and individuals were “false and misleading”.
“This is simply not the truth and these incorrect media statements have been severely damaging to the business, the goodwill of the company and the continued employment of the 655-strong workforce.”
The company is now suing the ministers of fisheries and marine resources, finance and public enterprises and Fishcor in the High Court in an attempt to get an interdict that would stop the government from selling 24 333 tonnes of Namibia’s horse mackerel catch this year through a public auction.
Seaflower Pelagic is claiming that in terms of an agreement it has with Fishcor and an agreement which Fishcor and former fisheries minister Bernhard Esau signed in 2017, a horse mackerel quota of 50 000 tonnes is supposed to be allocated to Fishcor annually and made available to Seaflower each year for a 15-year period until 2033. It is also claiming it has not received 24 333 tonnes of the 50 000 tonnes of horse mackerel supposed to have been made available to it during 2020.