By Surihe Gaomas WINDHOEK A Draft Policy on Tourism and Wildlife Concessions on State Land has been released. The policy paper places emphasis on empowering formerly disadvantaged Namibians in line with government’s policy of developing rural areas. The policy document places broad based economic empowerment at the fore as opposed to empowering the already empowered. Concession rights is mainly the granting of opportunities to conduct commercial business based on natural resources of the State, both in and outside proclaimed protected areas, states the paper. Officially opening the one-day public consultation held in Windhoek yesterday, Minister of Environment and Tourism Willem Konjore said he was more inclined to grant concession rights to rural communities who live in or next to natural parks. With the special emphasis of promoting rural development as stated by President Hifikepunye Pohamba, the ministry is looking at granting tourism or hunting concessions to previously disadvantaged Namibians. Namibia is awash with reports of rural people who live in conflict with wildlife but do not benefit from them. “Concessions are based on public assets belonging to all Namibians and should therefore be used to the benefit of many, rather than the few,” said Minister Konjore. Concessions are also said to create opportunities for business development and economic empowerment of formerly disadvantaged Namibians through access to the tourism, hunting and other industries based on wild plants and animal resources. Most of the concessions administered by the ministry are located in proclaimed protected areas, while new potential concessions as part of management and development planning have been identified for such areas. Currently, most of the country’s national parks and game reserves are relatively undeveloped and tourism undiversified. However, with a proper policy and legal framework, avenues can be explored on how best to access the numerous opportunities in the tourism sector. Against this backdrop, over 50 experts from the country’s tourism and wildlife sector have been reviewing and discussing the 38-page Draft Policy on Tourism and Wildlife Concessions and State Land at a local hotel in Windhoek. Konjore said tourism was a highly specialized industry that requires skills and investment in product development, marketing and service delivery. He added that in view of this specialty, it should not be seen as a way of making a quick buck. “A tourism or hunting concession is not a quick recipe to wealth, but carries significant risks, costs and requires a lot of hard work,” said Konjore. He said no entity would be granted a concession unless it has the capacity to use and reap the benefits from the concession. “I do not consider it to be empowerment if concession rights are handed over to a formerly disadvantaged community or person if they would simply lease or sell those rights to someone else,” he explained. It took the ministry two years of hard work and consultations to come up with a detailed Draft Policy on Tourism and Wildlife Concessions on State Land. The paper provides guidelines on the establishment and awarding of concessions on tourism, hunting and indigenous plants and other natural resources in a more objective, effective and transparent manner. The policy paper will be submitted to Cabinet for approval and final implementation in due course.