Witvlei Meat Gets Lifeline With Appeal Win

THE eviction threat that export beef producer Witvlei Meat has been facing over the past two years was finally lifted in the Supreme Court yesterday.

After suffering a succession of courtroom losses in the High Court, Witvlei Meat now finds itself on the winning side in the legal forum where it matters most: the Namibian Supreme Court.

The threat of being evicted from the abattoir that Witvlei Meat has been renting from the Agricultural Bank of Namibia since 2006 was lifted in a judgement in which the Supreme Court overturned a High Court decision to grant the Agribank an order for the eviction of Witvlei Meat from the abattoir that the bank owns at Witvlei in Omaheke.

In the Supreme Court’s judgement, which was authored by Acting Judge of Appeal Johan Strydom, the court ruled that the Agribank was wrong in its view that Witvlei Meat no longer had a valid option to buy the abattoir for N$15 million when the company decided to exercise that option in late 2009.

Judge Strydom also found that the bank was mistaken in its view that it was legally obliged to obtain the approval of the ministers of finance and agriculture before it could agree to sell the abattoir at Witvlei to Witvlei Meat.

Judge of Appeal Sylvester Mainga and Acting Judge of Appeal Fred Chomba agreed with Judge Strydom’s judgement.

The Agribank lodged an application for an eviction order against Witvlei Meat at the High Court in May 2012. The eviction order was granted on 20 March last year, and was then followed by an appeal by Witvlei Meat against that order.

The Agribank argued that Witvlei Meat’s right to occupy the abattoir at Witvlei ended when the extended lease agreement between the bank and Witvlei Meat came to an end at the end of July 2010. The bank also argued that Witvlei Meat had an option to buy the abattoir only until the end of July 2008, which was when the first two-year lease agreement between the bank and the company came to an end, and that Witvlei Meat never exercised that option.

According to Witvlei Meat, though, it exercised a valid option to buy the abattoir in August 2009, when the company made an offer to the bank to purchase the abattoir for N$15 million, and that it would be forced to close down if it was to be evicted from its business premises.

The bank’s board considered the company’s purchase bid in January 2010 and agreed to offer to sell the abattoir to Witvlei Meat at that price, but it first approached the ministers of finance and agriculture for their permission for the transaction. The minister of finance later informed the bank that the Cabinet had directed that the abattoir should be offered to Witvlei Meat at a market-related price, which was set at about N$40,5 million when a valuation of the abattoir was done.

Witvlei responded to that development by maintaining that it had an option to buy the abattoir for N$15 million.

In the appeal judgement, Judge Strydom found that a reference in the lease renewal agreement to “all the terms and conditions of the existing deed of lease” that would continue in the new agreement included the clause in which Witvlei Meat was given an option to buy the abattoir for N$15 million.

Judge Strydom also pointed out that the Agricultural Bank Act of 2003 set out Agribank’s powers to sell, buy and let property. Nowhere in that law was the exercise of those powers made subject to the approval of the ministers of finance and agriculture or of any other instance, he noted.

Senior counsel Reinhard Toumltemeyer and Andrew Corbett, instructed by Hanno Bossau, represented Witvlei Meat in the appeal while Senior counsel Thomas Bokaba, assisted by Sisa Namandje, represented the Agribank.

Source : The Namibian