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Farmers complain to Ombudsman

Kae Matundu-Tjiparuro

WINDHOEK – Emerging commercial farmers, a group encompassing those with loans under the Affirmative Action Loan Scheme (AALS), and previously disadvantaged individual black farmers, have launched a complaint with the Office of the Ombudsman concerning grievances with the Agricultural Bank of Namibia (Agribank).
In a letter dated May 3 the farmers complain, among others, what they characterise as their victimisation. Before lodging the complaint with the Office of the Ombudsman they also responded in a letter on April 27, to the bank’s wholesome rejection of their demands as per their March 22 petition, to which the bank responded on April 24.
“The bank cannot accede to this demand. The bank has consistently stated that clients approached the bank for loan funding as individuals, that their reasons for being in arrears are different for each client and that their respective repayment circumstances are unique,” says Agribank in its response to one of the demands by the farmers, that is for group meetings between them and the bank.
The bank further rejected the other demands of the farmers that it cancels contracts with debt collectors with immediate effect; farmers listed on ITC be removed; it starts a dialogue with each concerned farmer immediately after the group meeting; it and the farmers jointly approach the government to review the AALS to make it more sustainable and useful as an intervention by the government in the land reform process. “As previously advised by the Bank as ‘concerned’ farmers you can directly engage Government on this score or, if you so prefer, you can submit specific proposals to the Bank to engage with the Ministry,” reads the bank’s response.
The farmers complain to the ombudsman about the violation of AALS farmers’ confidentiality in the bank’s publication of selected AALS farmers’ names in the local print media and handing over information to third parties such as debt collectors.
They also complain about the excessive debt collectors’ fee structure that is added to the AALS farmers’ accounts. They are also complaining about the pressure that the bank is exerting on them continuously to settle outstanding loans despite 2-3 years of drought in the country. The farmers also take issue with the “unfair selection criteria used of summons issuing to AALS farmers who are in arrears”.
They say their efforts to find an amicable sustainable solution either with the Ministry of Finance and/or Agribank in consultation with the Office of the President’s Economic Advisor have borne no tangible fruits and this has panicked and discomforted farmers. Reiterating most of their demands as per their March 22 petition, they condemn the bank’s action of summons demanding it to immediately stop such.
Meanwhile in their earlier response to the bank dated April 27, the farmers chastised its response to their petition and the demands therein, especially its “tone and spirit of ridicule and confrontation” thus not helping in creating the right environment for an amicable solution. On the contrary the bank’s response has created an impasse. Despite, the farmers have resolved to continue engaging the relevant stakeholders and at the same time to organise themselves into a farmers union/association “to give better effect to their common objectives”.
They also have taken strong exception to the bank’s decision to exclusively consider those farmers who have petitioned as the only ones to duly have made payment arrangements.

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