Favouritism / Bribery Alleged in Resettlement Process

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By Mbatjiua Ngavirue The long-standing unhappiness among Omaheke residents over alleged irregularities, unfairness and even corruption in the allocation of resettlement farms, became a burning issue this week. The news that the Omaheke Regional Settlement Committee is to undertake an extensive review of its allocation of resettlement farms has reignited the issue and made it a hot topic of debate. The local Afrikaans-language daily on Wednesday reported Permanent Secretary of Lands and Resettlement Frans Tsheehama as confirming that the National Advisory Committee on Land Reform had requested the Omaheke review. According to Tsheehama, the reasons for the review were that the selection criteria used by the Regional Settlement Committee was not appropriately “streamlined”. Sources in the region say the complaints about the resettlement process in Omaheke Region fall into two different categories. The one grievance is that politically well-connected people and senior civil servants seem to be favoured in the allocation of resettlement farms. The other more serious allegation is that outright bribery is taking place, with the finger of suspicion mainly pointed at the regional office of the Ministry of Lands and Resettlement in Gobabis. The allegations are that people are paying as much as N$10ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 000 under the table, or cattle, kudu and even offering sexual favours to ensure their applications are fast-tracked and end up on the short list. Sources say that those who are not prepared to offer these inducements can forget about their application forms looking anything like they did when they submitted them, by the time they reach the Resettlement Committee. They allege that people at the Lands office tamper with application forms – supporting documents such as copies of I.D.s and brand certificates mysteriously disappear. The result is that application forms of even educated and literate people end up looking like a dog’s breakfast by the time they reach the Resettlement Committee. Allegations of bribery in the resettlement programme are not new. In 2004 the Ministry of Lands officially reprimanded the Head Resettlement in Tsumeb, Ndakola Imene, in connection with bribery allegations. Brave Tjizera, who is now a member of the Regional Resettlement Committee, said the allegations of bribery were very serious and had to be followed up. He pointed out that the regional office of the Ministry of Lands is not supposed to screen candidates for resettlement farms, with its job limited to only sorting and preparing a summarized form of the applications. Lands is then supposed to forward the applications plus the summary to the Resettlement Committee which, after careful consideration and deliberation, recommends a shortlist of three candidates for each farm unit. They then forward the shortlist to the Land Commission in Windhoek, which has the sole power to choose the successful candidates. “Although it is only the second exercise I have participated in, I have seen it to be a very transparent and democratic process,” Tjizera said. Residents also allege that political influence-peddling is rife in the region with a surprising number of politically influential and well-connected people receiving prime resettlement farms. Top of the list is Deputy Minister of Fisheries Kilus Nguvauva, followed by Governor Laura McLeod, former Regional Chief Executive Officer Punderius Tjihoreko, and others. Others are Regional Councillor for the Epukiro Constituency Brave Tjizera, Permanent Secretary for Education Vitalis Ankama and, not surprisingly, head of the Ministry of Lands and Resettlement in Omaheke, Erastus Nghishoono. Nghishoono, however, denied that his wife had her own resettlement farm, saying the policy of the Ministry is that government can only allocate married couples one unit. He further denied allegations by local residents that he is hiring out his resettlement farm to a local white farmer. He declined to comment on any official matters, advising the reporter to refer all inquiries to the Permanent Secretary in Windhoek, but all efforts to contact Tsheehama over a two-day period proved unsuccessful. Only last year, the Regional Council in Erongo suddenly withdrew resettlement farms allocated to ordinary people, allegedly to give them to a senior Defence Force officer and a Regional Councillor. The problem of political favouritism and influence-peddling is therefore not unique to Omaheke, but it seems to be carried out more blatantly and to greater extremes than elsewhere. Swanu President Rihupisa Kandando attributed this to the fact that, in his view, Omaheke is the most politically polarized region in Namibia. “Government resources are being concentrated in the hands of the elite. Many are highly-paid government officials who could go to Agribank for a loan to buy a commercial farm,” he criticized. Permanent Secretary Frans Tsheehama is on record as saying that people’s income plays no role in the decision whether to resettle them or not. The guidelines only require them to show that they are landless Namibians who have been socially, economically or educationally disadvantaged by past discriminatory laws or practices. Most sources in the region spoken to have no quarrel with this policy, but they question the disproportionate numbers of the elite resettled at the expense of people in less fortunate circumstances. The report in the Afrikaans daily named Swapo Regional Coordinator Festus Ueitele and his wife as among those generously granted resettlement farms by government. Ueitele, however, explained that although he has applied for resettlement, the government has so far not notified him whether or not his application was successful. With regard to bribery, he said if there were a place where people are being bribed, people would go straight to that person. “I have heard people talking about such things in small groups when they gather, but it has never been officially reported to my office,” he stated.