Fishcor’s board chairperson, Bennett Kangumu, said the national fishing company’s directors should not be held accountable for the multibillion-dollar corruption and money-laundering scandal.
The National Fishing Corporation of Namibia (Fishcor) is at the heart of what is known as the Fishrot scandal, a corruption saga that has so far led to the arrest of seven people, including former ministers Bernhard Esau and Sacky Shanghala, and former Fishcor board chairperson James Hatuikulipi.
Court documents show more than N$100 million was allegedly laundered from Fishcor to individuals and companies. This allegedly includes funds that bankrolled president Hage Geingob’s Swapo presidential campaign since 2015.
Now, the Fishcor board is passing the buck, claiming innocence.
The board is blaming Hatuikulipi, the former Investec Assets Management [now known as Ninety One Asset Management Namibia] managing director, for allegedly running the show.
Kangumu said the Fishcor board had no knowledge of questionable transactions because it was never brought to their attention either for discussion or approval.
He further claimed the board at the time had limited powers over some of the operations of Fishcor, including quotas and government objectives.
“You must understand people had personal relationships that were beyond Fishcor. Any decision that was taken on behalf of the board had to be brought to the board, either for notification or for rectification, because that was board business but this [the transactions] was not,” Kangumu told The Namibian last week.
He served on the Fishcor board from 2014 up to now – the same period that corruption is alleged to have taken place at the national fishing company.
“I want you to familiarise yourself with the quota for government objectives in order to understand these operations. It will shed light on whether he [former board chairperson James Hatuikulipi] was making decisions on behalf of the board,” Kangumu stressed.
Esau and Shanghala changed the law in September 2015 under Geingob’s administration to justify giving horse mackerel quotas to Fishcor under the smokescreen of government objectives.
The disgraced ministers allegedly used government objectives to justify dishing out licences [known as quotas] to harvest fish to Fishcor.
Statistics show Esau handed horse mackerel quotas to Fishcor valued at about N$900 million from 2014 to 2019.
Part of the quotas allocated to Fishcor by Esau appears to have been taken from other companies such as Namsov Fishing Enterprises – which employed about 650 people by 2014 – to favour briefcase companies.
The briefcase companies which were awarded quotas were suspected to be a scheme through which politicians and some of their business cronies benefited.
Kangumu, who was promoted as board chairperson after Hatuikulipi’s fall from grace last year, said the board should not be held liable for such transactions – which potentially emanated from the proceeds of the quota for government objectives – because they were not handled by the board.
He added the quota – for government objectives – has been managed by the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources itself in conjunction with the former chairperson.
“You can only safeguard what is in your care. The government objective is not something we even put in our annual [financial] reports, meaning it was not something that was under our supervision – therefore we will not take personal responsibility for that,” Kangumu said.
He claimed the loopholes around the government objectives that were allegedly exploited by the former fisheries minister and his associates had now been closed.
“It is a ministerial project given to Fishcor for execution. [… ] the loopholes that existed then have been closed. It is not being manipulated as we speak,” Kangumu added.
The Namibian could not confirm this claim. The law changed by Esau and Shanghala still remains while the Fishcor board remains intact.
New fisheries minister Albert Kawana faced allegations of dishing out illegal fishing quotas to companies in January this year.
Kawana blamed Esau too for using Fischor.
“[The] National Fishing Corporation of Namibia was used as a vehicle to allocate quotas to companies whose rights had already expired.
“It is common knowledge that Fishcor became a subject of investigation as a result of what has become known as Fishrot. It was no longer possible to allocate fish quotas to the affected companies through Fishcor,” Kawana said.
Kawana blasted Esau’s decision to use Fishcor as a vehicle to issue fishing quotas for commercial companies.
“It was simply not acceptable to use Fishcor, under the circumstances, apart from the legal implications. It was my submission that Fishcor, as a designated entity, can only allocate fish quotas to a non-commercial entity as opposed to a commercial entity,” the then acting fisheries minister said.
Hatuikulipi was chairperson of the board, which comprised Bennett Kangumu, Ndaendomwenyo Sheya, former Ohangwena governor Usko Nghaamwa, Kavango West governor Sirkka Ausiku, and ministry of fisheries executive director Moses Maurihungirire.