Govt in Grape Project Land Controversy

POLITICAL leaders in Karas region have raised concern over land potentially allocated to foreign companies at the proposed Tandjieskoppe green scheme irrigation project on the northern banks of the Orange River at Noordoewer settlement.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry (MAWF) informed AL Dhara Agriculture company and !Garieb Grape Producers company in letters dated 5 June 2014, that they had finalised the “internal consultation” process regarding the Tandjieskoppe green scheme project agreement.

“In that framework a final draft of the agreement, enclosed herewith is being forwarded to you for further perusal,” the letters further read.

An investigation by The Namibian has established that AL Dhara Agriculture company, which entered a joint venture deal with the Namibia Development Corporation (NDC) in 2009 for the development of an irrigation project at Naute Dam, is registered locally although it is owned by non-Namibians Al Darei Abdulla Saeed Faris and Saleh Abdullkadir Yousuf.

An inquiry at the Ministry of Trade and Industry revealed that !Garieb Grape Producers is not on the list of Namibian registered companies.

The company is apparently owned by Gerhard de Kok, who is also the CEO of the grape production company, Cape Orchard, which operates at Aussenkehr in the South. Attempts to get comment from De Kok proved futile.

The land in question has now become a centre of dispute with the Karas Regional Council and the agriculture ministry, each claiming jurisdiction.

The regional political leaders claimed that the agriculture ministry decided to allocate the land without consulting them, despite the land belonging to the Noordoewer settlement, which falls under the regional council’s jurisdiction. They further argued that the allocation is ‘irregular’ since they were excluded from the process.

“The land proposed for the green scheme development (Tandjieskoppe) belongs to the council, but we were not consulted,” said Karasburg constituency councillor Paulus Efraim.

Efraim said the land should be given to Namibians who should “on their own look for foreign investors as partners” for the development of the irrigation project.

“We are not against agricultural development aimed at creating jobs. But it must not be done at the expense of the locals. Our people should also be given property rights over the land,” Efraim remarked.

Efraim said, when council learnt about the land allocation, it wrote to the agriculture ministry asking for a delay in the allocation process in order to engage the council on the matter.

A Cabinet directive of 1993, of which The Namibian has seen a copy, backs the claim of jurisdiction by the regional council. The directive says approximately 400 hectares fall within the jurisdiction of Noordoewer, which was then proclaimed as a peri-urban area before it was given the status of a settlement under the regional council.

A director within the agriculture ministry, Sophia Kasheeta, said the allocation process was transparent because potential investors for the project development were invited through the public media.

“Tandjieskoppe is State land under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry. What is unprocedural about it? The land in question was aertised in the local newspaper by the ministry and it was open for any company and individuals to apply,” said Kasheeta.

Kasheeta, however, said: “It is not true that any company has been allocated the land since the process of allocating the land is still in process.”

She said companies have been shortlisted, but that “no agreement has been signed” yet, and that the shortlisted companies are Namibian registered companies, some of which are in partnership with foreign investors.

Kasheeta also said the proposed development will be “pursued on Built Operate and Transfer (BOT) basis”.

“It should be that land is not to be sold or transferred to any party other than the government,” Kasheeta added, while rubbishing claims that the ministry had not consulted the regional council.

“They have been consulted and the consultations, not only with them but also with other relevant authorities, continue,” she said.

Kasheeta remained coy when asked to reveal the names of locals who have benefited from the land allocation and said: “It is premature at this stage to disclose the details requested since we are still in the process of negotiations”.

Acknowledging that the ministry had received a letter in which the council had challenged the land allocation, Kasheeta said it was “referred to the appropriate state institution for consideration”.

“This is an internal government matter at this stage though. Government internal mechanisms are handling the matter and the detailed information will be shared with all concerned,” Kasheeta added.

Source : The Namibian