Fisheries minister Esau denies added powers

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Windhoek

Fisheries minister Bernhard Esau has slammed claims that the recently-adopted Marine Resources Amendment Bill gives him more powers in the allocation of fishing rights.

The new law gives him the power to identify entities diligently contributing to “governmental objectives, policies and strategies” so that such entities may be incentivized with special quotas aimed at cementing initiatives that positively contribute to governmental objectives, something that was not possible in the past.

“That [more power] is a non-starter because it is not the case. Fishing rights were given left and right before, but now that I am [in charge] it is a problem. Why only now?” asked Esau during an exclusive interview with New Era last week Thursday.

Critics claim that Esau’s links in the private sector, if any, should from now on be closely monitored to avoid any possible conflict of interest.

“I am the minister therefore I must give rights and quotas supported by my colleagues in the ministry. Nothing is being done outside the law,” he said.

According to Esau, the new law merely “empowers me to perform my duties”.

While motivating the Bill in the National Assembly, Esau said: “Amendment to the Act is required to allow the minister, in consultation with Cabinet, some scope particularly with regard to abnormal situations that warrant government intervention.”

“There is also a need to make it possible for the state to respond to the urgent needs of its citizenry in distress, for example due to flood or drought. The government has to be in a position to meet such needs in the form of fish for food if we are able to keep a part of the set TAC [total allowable catch] in reserve for natural calamities that might be unforeseen,” he said.

There are currently 338 right holders in the fishing industry in which over 13 000 people are employed.

New Era last week reported that parliament is amending laws pertaining to the fisheries sector, which many hope will end the dominance of the industry by a few Namibians and limit the sale of fishing quotas by locals to foreigners.

Despite attempts to empower local people, the sale of fishing quotas to foreign multinationals is hampering the government’s empowerment drive, to the extent that a huge chunk of fisheries is in the hands of international companies and a largely exclusive group made up of a few of the elite.

Esau told fellow MPs last Tuesday that he was not happy with the sale of fishing rights to foreigners. Neither was he satisfied with the continued dominance of the sector by the elite, saying the rights should have a broad-based impact whereby the youth, elderly and women also benefit.

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