There is no doubt that auctioning fishing quotas is a step backwards in the government’s stated commitment since independence to Namibianise utilization of natural resources. Selling fishing quotas to the highest bidder regardless of where that bidder comes from, is not the optimal solution, but right now, it might be one of the only solutions left. With no money, choices are limited. Aspirations of complete black empowerment and national self-sufficiency have been overtaken by realities. Money is needed now.
One can point to many causes that have led the country to this point. Drought, recession, the falling South African Rand, declining prices for Namibian exports, and the pandemic certainly are major reasons that have made an auction necessary right now. But, one cannot avoid, when talking about fishing quotas, the 800 pound gorilla in the room. Corruption has bled away untold billions that should have been used to build the nation. The abject corruption of colonialism, apartheid, and then post-independence elitism and greed has sucked the coffers dry. Arguably, this auction would never have become a necessity if people had not been stealing so much money for so long.
The greedy elites and officials on the take of all ethnic backgrounds, parties and races gorged themselves on state funds and state resources for years. Now, when the money is needed for relief related to COVID-19, the thieves – known and unknown – have left the nation with nothing.
Auctioning the government fish quota is not preferred. But, for those opposed to it, what are the immediate alternative options at this moment? Government might be looking at what else it can sell or auction to raise quick cash. Perhaps EPLs will be next? Maybe property and land will be sold after that? Aren’t there gold coins in a vault somewhere that were found in a shipwreck? What can we get for those?
The government will not be able to raise enough income even with a fish quota auction. Deeper cuts are needed and the biggest expense of all is politician and civil servant salaries. This latter group will likely receive a 13th paycheque this year when thousands of other people are on half salary or many have been retrenched. If people want to know why government has to auction its quotas for cash, then these kinds of illogical decisions are the must be at the top of the list of answers.
There is no one to blame for the current poor state of financial affairs other than each person who pocketed a single dollar that they KNEW was not rightfully theirs. This potentially wealthy country did not reach this low point solely because of six men sitting in a prison accused of fish corruption. The feeding trough of greed has been open to tens of thousands of people, local and national, from all backgrounds, all over the country.
Those who have ever cheated on their income taxes, under-reported bed levies to pay a lesser fee, shorted their VAT reports, and ‘shuffled’ paperwork on imports to avoid fees, are also to blame for the empty state coffers.
Some of the voices of criticism of the auction are those who are lamenting the loss of their chance to find a way to quietly get money from those quota allocations into their pockets. This is one answer to a local politician who asked the nation, “What is the fuss?”
There are a few honest ideologues who do not want to Europeans or Asians once again, fishing in Namibian waters and profiting from it. But, if the country hadn’t wasted its capacity to manage the economy more consistently, then it wouldn’t have to sell the family jewels to pay the bills.
Auction or not, once the IMF lands in Namibia when we take their loan and will be unable to pay it back on time, selling off the government portion of fish quotas will be the least of the abrupt adjustments demanded. Once the IMF begins calling the shots, all quotas could be cancelled and auctioned to pay what we owe.
Welcome to the future.