Want some insight in Namibian politics? I am no expert but have 16 years (1995-2011) of writing on Namibian politics in The Namibian newspaper and can probably offer you a bit more than you know about the who's who in the Namibian political zoo. You will also find a few articles commenting on other issues of concern in the country. Hope you find it interesting. - Christof

Monday, September 26, 2011

Aussenkehr’s Farmers: Out And Back Into Poverty

LET us not beat about the bush here.

The issue is not whether the small-scale farmers at Aussenkehr's State-owned Orange River Irrigation Project (ORIP) have failed. That is not what brought about steps to evict them. It is all about their resistance to being manipulated and hoodwinked into enriching a small group of individuals based in the offices of the Agriculture Ministry.
The grape farmers owe more than N$3 million to Agribank and Coolfresh - a service provider appointed by the Government to help the people produce and market their products abroad.
Coolfresh was appointed in 2009 by the Ministry of Agriculture after the previous service provider reportedly mismanaged the marketing of the grapes produced by the small-scale farmers.
Because of the mismanagement, the small-scale farmers were reportedly N$2,5 million in the red at Agribank and Coolfresh agreed to pay off that debt before taking over as service provider.
Coolfresh reportedly paid a total of N$1,5 million in June last year towards a portion of each farmer's debt but the remaining N$1 million was not paid over.
Coolfresh claimed the farmers violated their agreement with them and they could not continue to pay their debts.
According to the agreement the farmers were supposed to market their produce through Coolfresh alone. The ORIP farmers have reasons for bypassing the Dutch-owned Coolfresh. They claim the service provider is impoverishing them and monopolising their farming.
Coolfresh International reportedly discontinued the N$4 000 a month the farmers used to receive as part of their “advance payment” on their profits, but were still expected to pay for and use the services from Coolfresh Namibia, who asked for a five per cent surcharge on all services provided to the farmers.
They also accuse Coolfresh Namibia of keeping them in the dark on the particulars of their financial status, only providing basic forms stating income and expenditure, while leaving the farmers at the mercy of Coolfresh’s business decisions.
Coolfresh said they withdrew monthly payments from the farmers when they breached the contract by selling dates to another buyer.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Coolfresh subsequently came up with a tripartite agreement (which, by the way, the Ministry negotiated on behalf of the farmers instead of they themselves). The agreement gave total control of the farmers’ cash flow and business decisions to Coolfresh.
This means that the farmers who were empowered are now being disempowered.
This after Coolfresh was given the right to market their produce and failed to lift the people out of poverty.
As the new tripartite agreement stands now, it will only benefit Coolfresh and Agribank, whose debts will be paid off.
The farmers, however, claim that Coolfresh also owes them money for their produce and the Ministry of Agriculture is not moving an inch to help them recover those funds but instead hammers them for not paying Coolfresh and Agribank.
How can Coolfresh run the business side of ORIP while the farmers are supposed to take responsibility for their accounts? Why should Agribank threaten them when they know very well that Coolfresh takes all their profit and gives them peanuts as change. Their destiny is not in their own hands.
The big question thus is: to whose benefit is the Coolfresh deal? Why is Coolfresh claiming that the farmers are under training while the Ministry officials like Permanent Secretary Andrew Ndishishi regard them as masters of their own destiny? A debt of N$3 million among 20 farmers amounts to around N$150 000 which each one of them owes.
I am sure Agribank is owed bigger debts than that and Government has lost millions without taking such drastic steps against others.
While Ndishishi was at Trade as PS, N$100 million vanished without trace but nothing happened to call for his suspension.
I am not arguing that people who accumulate debts should not be traced and held accountable. No.
But nobody should be more equal than others and someone needs to start standing up for the rights of the farmers.
The group are just demanding their due on the basis that their produce is worth what they sell it for.
But people like Ndishishi, a regular at the election results centre after every five years with a brief hardly anybody knows about, are busy destroying the exact purposes for which ORIP was established - the empowerment of the people.
The end result of such action is the promotion of the growing unemployment problem.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Our Roads Are A Dice With Death

CABINET this week announced the formation of a special committee to investigate the causes of the road carnage in Namibia, as hundreds of people are being needlessly killed and maimed because of the way others drive.

Travelling on Namibian roads is to play dice with death. Road safety is not only what you do to the community (in terms of heavy fines and penalties) but it is what we do with the community.
The Cabinet decision to launch a two-week investigation is a welcome one but Cabinet members, for one, need to slow down and lead by example. Often you come across their vehicles speeding recklessly.
At some stage Members of Parliament debated the carnage and some argued that there was a need to change the law to allow those with fast cars a 160 km/h speed limit.
Yet, most accidents come about as a result of speeding, dangerous driving, overtaking, general recklessness and drunk driving.
It is a fact that even in cases where drivers have little control, such as an animal on the road, they can prevent death and destruction if they keep to speed limits.
Some of Namibia’s roads have turned into valleys of death. Here I refer to the Otjiwarongo/Otavi road; the Grootfontein-Rundu road; the Swakopmund-Walvis Bay road; the Windhoek-Rehoboth stretch and the Tses-Keetmanshoop road. On those roads the murderous carnage has become a continuous nightmare to many families and to the authorities as well.
One reason for such depressing and monotonous news is corruption in certain traffic departments which continues to plague the country’s fight against the carnage.
Some officers continue to take or solicit bribes in exchange for licences for people who can hardly keep a car on the correct side of the road while changing gears.
You see the result of such corruption almost every day in the city: Some people are not even capable of getting into or out of a parking bay.
Heavy-duty traffic at night also continues to cause havoc.
Recently Cameroon banned night-time public transport between cities after a spate of deadly accidents, many involving drunk driving on the country’s infamously poor roads.
Apparently night traffic in Cameroon only represents about 5 per cent of human transport, but 35 per cent of road accidents.
Not all truck drivers, for instance, are bad at what they do but many transport companies need to reconsider their recruitment policies.
They need to hire qualified, competent drivers to minimise the carnage on the country’s roads. Some drivers are hired simply because they have driver’s licences and sometimes these are illegally acquired! Some companies also fail to have regular inspections of the roadworthiness of their vehicles.
Some of the issues I mentioned continue to be covered by regular campaigns.
The best way to avoid accidents has always been not to rush and to leave for destinations timeously.
Members of the public must also be vigilant and report to the authorities those who break the law.
We find too many drivers with devil-may-care attitudes on our roads.
The worst group remain our taxis and the Namibia Bus and Taxi Association needs to read the riot act to colleagues instead of all the infighting going on. There is a need to threaten taxi drivers into obedience!
Some simple math tells us the following: If roughly 2 000 registered taxis each commit one unlawful driving act an hour, carrying four passengers over an eight-hour working day, there are 80 000 illegal instances every day to which Namibians are subjected.
That is why in 2007 while he was Transport Minister Joel Kaapanda expressed concern about the number of illegal taxis on Namibian roads and called them “death traps”.
But as soon as the campaign is intensified against illegal taxis, owners start crying and we have also seen violent demonstrations because of that.
In a lot of instances, taxis are involved in avoidable accidents which turn out to be costly to both the Government and the people.
What is needed is a sustained approach of removing arrogance and danger from our roads through the rigorous application of heavy fines for all road users.
Our roads will continue to play a dice with death as long as authorities deal leniently with road hogs, drunk drivers and vehicles that are not roadworthy.
Road safety should be everyone’s business.

Friday, September 9, 2011

National Council In Walvis Bay: For Work Or On Holiday?

THE last time I attended and covered the National Council, I ended up in hospital. It was so boring that the pain I’d had for two days intensified to the extent that I was booked into hospital for a minor operation.

Just 30 minutes of sitting in the public gallery of the National Council could easily make you age! There should be a way to make the debates livelier and more colourful.
I am thus in two minds over the decision by the lawmakers to move part of their next session to Walvis Bay. It is a great decision to take Parliament to the people and will be historic as it will be the first regional session of the National Council outside Windhoek.
But will their discussions become more inspiring, colourful and robust? I doubt that.
You hardly get enlightened debates from the National Council as our MPs are guilty of not doing research on some of the topics on the table.
Speeches are quickly scribbled on small pieces of paper and while you can clearly see that the piece of paper in the MP's hand has two or three written words, they go on speaking for longer than the time allocated to them.
Now, I don't say people should not have scribbled pieces of paper. I admire people who speak off the cuff, especially when they make sense.
A recent example of such people was the Ghanaian President John Ata Mills. What a pleasure to have watched him speaking without looking at notes but making very good sense on diplomacy, economics and other pertinent issues.
But, when someone is droning into a microphone, as do many of our Parliamentarians, it is a waste of time and other resources.
I am told that the National Council will have two-and-a-half hour meetings in Walvis Bay from September 13 to 22. This is apparently part of the objectives in the strategic plan.
On the agenda is, among others, discussion on the Industrial Property Bill as well as standing committee reports.
I am not far off the mark if I say that 95 per cent of those in the National Council have not read the 125-page document which was passed by Cabinet in 2005 already and only got to the National Council now.
Yet it is an important bill which, although not written to entertain, provides for the registration and protection of patents, industrial designs and trademarks.
The least we can expect from our Parliamentarians is to provide lively debates even if they hardly make sense. There are hardly foes in the National Council, because it is an almost 100 per cent Swapo gathering, but cutting each other down to size with colourful language can work instead of the 'sleep-for-pay' sessions.
The move to Walvis Bay will be a costly one. The MPs will get travel and subsistence fees as well as accommodation money on top of their sitting allowances. Staff of the National Council as well as those who will do the recording must also travel to the coast.
As the MPs arrive in Walvis Bay, they will probably drive straight to the sea and throw in coins to greet ancestors before heading to their hotels for lavish dinners.
During the sessions they will waste all their energies on trivia like complaining about how their work (like properly scrutinising recommended legislation) is crippled by a small budget, lack of NBC coverage and how we should maintain peace and tranquility in the country.
Are those not perhaps just convenient ways of deflecting attention from what they are not doing?
I don't think they need additional funds for MPs to read through proposed legislation. Do they?
Unless our MPs prepare well for the coastal session, it will turn out to be an expensive exercise and a time of much yawning, much like the ones in Windhoek.
As a result an opportunity to show the coastal community how committed they are to the work will be wasted while thousands of dollars will go down the drain.
It is for the MPs to prove me wrong.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Namdeb Dispute: A Lose-Lose Situation

THAT the Bogenfels dispute and industrial action was allowed to run on for more than 15 days, in the process causing losses of N$50 million to Namdeb and Government, is beyond my understanding.

The company informed the media this week that N$40 million of the N$50 million which went down the drain through the industrial dispute had been destined for the State coffer.
Looking at news coming from Namdeb and the Mineworkers’ Union of Namibia corridors, the dispute is not a simple disagreement over housing and other allowances. More so after MUN Oranjemund branch secretary Gert Iikela said workers would continue their strike, described as illegal by the company, until the company’s general manager, Mitford Mundell, was removed.
The workers are calling for Mundell’s head because he allegedly compromises safety at the mine and does not respect the interests of the Namibian workers.
I believe Mundell is but a scapegoat and that the Namdeb sparkle will fade even further unless the deep-rooted differences are solved.
Such differences are, unfortunately, not limited to Namdeb.
In almost every parastatal we see ‘fat-cat clubs’ living large while the workers at grassroots level struggle to make ends meet.
Think about it: how much will it cost Namdeb to give the group of workers the allowances they want? Juxtapose that against how much the company is losing daily because of the strike.
I do not want to promote illegal action by workers. I am against unruly behaviour but there is a need to look closely at how polarised our society is. So much so that it prevents us from addressing the root of our economic troubles: the continuing stagnation of ordinary workers’ incomes despite rising corporate profits, wages of the elite and, to some extent, worker productivity.
Ok, it could be a principle issue for Namdeb not to bow to what they see as unnecessary pressure by the workers. They probably do not want to set a precedent.
But do we generally ever see grossly overpaid executives go on strike? Why not?
Exactly because they have remuneration which ensures that members of the ‘fat-cat club’ are well paid without having to haggle over the millions they deny the ordinary workers.
On the other hand, the ordinary workers spend hours to threaten, toyi-toyi or even strike in order to earn a pittance, just to keep their heads above water. And as soon as the workers have their demands met, it is negated by the huge increases then awarded to members of the ‘fat-cat club’ while the price of necessities such as food and transport also take their toll.
It is why workers use strikes such as the Bogenfels one as a tool of leverage in labour-management conflicts, withholding their work to win fairer treatment and respect from recalcitrant employers.
Strikes such as these must not be taken lightly.
There is clearly a need for bosses to also tighten their belts. No one can dispute the fact that, in Namibia, inequality continues to deepen to levels not seen before.
This then has a ripple effect on the dependants of the ordinary workers who must scramble for a piece of the meagre salary.
If we do not look objectively at strikes such as the one at Bogenfels there is the risk that such events will become annual occurrences.
Let us thus not maintain poverty by failing to provide adequately for workers’ needs because it represents a shocking indictment of huge companies such as Namdeb in which the Government has majority shares.
As things stand currently, there is no winner at Namdeb. Neither the workers; nor the employer. It is a lose-lose situation. Something we can all avoid.