THE revelations made by Jóhannes Stefánsson, the former managing director of the Icelandic multinational fishing company, Samherji’s, operations in Namibia, not only set loose a corruption scandal in the country but opened old wounds in the fishing industry that has been festering since 2015.
The more than 2 500 fishermen that were fired without ceremony after they participated in an industry wide strike organised by the Metal, Mining, Maritime and Construction Union (MMMC) under the auspices of the Namibia National Labour Organisation (NANLO) was direct result of the withholding and manipulation of fishing quotas.
NANLO President, Evilastus Kaaronda said the information revealed in the so-called Fishrot Files echoes what workers and smaller companies in the Namibian fishing industry has been saying for years.
“The fact that quotas were withheld for reasons only revealed now, meant that fishing companies could not pay the overtime and other additional remuneration besides normal salaries to their workers. After going through the process of airing their grievances with their traditional unions and getting no answers from the companies or their recognised bargaining units, the workers decided to sign with the MMMC and go on the strike.”
Almost 5 000 seagoing and factory workers in both Walvis Bay and Lüderitz participated in the strike that was declared illegal.
According to Kaaronda both Bernard Esau as the fisheries minister and Sacky Shanghala, who was the Attorney General at the time, were tasked by Cabinet to intervene in the matter and in the end the strike was declared illegal and more than half of the striking fishermen were fired.
“Four years later most of the workers are still without jobs and their lives are in ruins,” Kaaronda said.
The unionist was of the opinion that criminal charges should be brought not only against the two former ministers, but against all senior and other government officials involved with the scandal and even those with shares in fishing companies because they are the reason that so many people’s lives has been ruined.
“Fish like any other natural resource in Namibia belongs to the people. Government is the custodian of the resource on behalf of the people and because they are voted into that role by the people they should manage the resource for the benefit all the people. When they start using the resource to enrich themselves at the cost of the people they make themselves guilty of betrayal and should be held criminally accountable,” he said.
Kaaronda stated that the historic and current matter should be dealt with harshly and decisively by the relevant authorities.
“If this matter is not dealt with appropriately, the government will be faced with wide spread civil disobedience that might escalate to a point where complete chaos will be the order of the day for a long time,” he said.
The various branch organisers of workers’ unions resorting under the National Union of Namibian Workers in Walvis Bay echoed Kaaronda’s sentiments and added that besides being prosecuted to the full extent of the law the culprits should also be forced to pay back millions they took from the mouths of the workers.
Why should thousands of workers suffer in poverty while a handful of people use the people’s resources to enrich themselves without the threat of ever being brought to book?” was the question asked Natangwe Nenghwanya of the Namibian Food and Allied Workers Union.