21 Sep 2011 - Story by Desie Heita
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WINDHOEK - Emotions ran high with the Ombudsman in the middle, during a closed-door meeting on seal culling yesterday, with foreign animal rights activists and peeved senior ministry representatives on either side during the talks.
Ministries' representatives, the few who bothered to show up, expressed " lamentation and indignation" for being required to share the platform "with these foreigners [who] deliberately obscure facts and play on people's emotions for their own benefit" on an issue pertaining to Namibian sovereignty."
"The laws of this country seem to be considered not by the National Assembly but by foreign organisations," was one of the comments made during the meeting.
They also took exception to the Ombudsman convening the meeting with foreign animal activists instead of opening up the debate among Namibians.
The comments irked the activists, who although happy for the platform, were visibly not pleased to be labelled foreigners interfering on issues of a sovereign state, and tried to appeal to Namibia to "work together in finding a solution".
Advocate John Walters had to remind participants again and again that the purpose of the meeting was to gather information and facts from all sides, as an independent institution, before the Office of the Ombudsman deliberates and makes its final recommendation on the matter.
He emphasised the independence of the Office of the Ombudsman to the government representatives, and to activists that the platform is not for them to " hold the gun to heads, dictate what we should do" but make convincing and fact-based
arguments before the Ombudsman.
One of the animal activists suggested that " animal rights are linked to human rights" and as such there was a need for the Ombudsman's intervention.
Sea Shepherd, one of the prominent activists organisations in attendance, pledged to facilitate an annual 30 000 British pounds (about N$310,000) towards job creation activities, if Namibia stopped culling its seals.
The organisation claims that seal hunting generates about 300 000 British pounds (about N$3,1million) for the Namibian economy, while eco-tourism centred on seals could generate about 1,2 million British pound (about N$12 million) annually.
However, it is these figures that peeved off ministries' representatives more, saying the activists purposefully ignore the verified findings done by Namibian professionals.
The animal rights activists, in their defence, said the government is not transparent enough and does not give out all the required information.
"Seal culling is not the way forward. Yes, there is guess work [involved in the figures presented] but there are no hard facts on money generated," said representatives of Sea Shepherd, going on to blast government for deploying Navy army patrol at sea to keep out animal activists instead of guarding against illegal fishing.
Government did admit that the method of culling is perhaps not the most humane,
saying there is a lot of work in progress to find out the most humane way. But reminded them that "seals are wild animals, methods of abattoir do not apply".
Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources, Bernhard Esau, issued a public statement yesterday saying "claims that Namibia's seal population is diminishing due to seal harvesting are false and devoid of any truth".
Meanwhile, Hatem Yavuz, a Turkish entrepreneur who harvests and processes Namibian seals into fashion garment described the meeting as a "waste of time and noise pollution".
"Everyone knows as long as seals are culled, activists will continue to make money from donors. Donor income from seals is over N$100 million per annum, but activists organisations spend roughly 30 percent of the income in actual activism," said Yavuz who did not attend the meeting.