Eveline de Klerk
Namibia Revenue Agency commissioner Sam Shivute expressed his disappointment with how little the fishing sector is contributing to the country’s total revenue. The revelation comes hot on the heels of news of yet another stalwart in the sector, Etosha Fishing, preparing to close its doors. “The fishing sector is only contributing less than 2% to the total revenue. You have fish being exported from the country on a weekly basis to lucrative markets like Spain and Italy. Also, 12% of fish consumed in Africa come from Namibia. That’s regardless of it being considered as one of the top five export sectors for Namibia,” said Shivute yesterday at State House.
The revenue agency’s leadership paid a courtesy visit aimed at giving a strategic overview of the parastatal, revenue performance, and concerns faced by NamRA.
The concerned commissioner added that looking at the sector’s contribution, “it’s not even a billion Namibian dollars; it cannot be. We need to pay special attention to this sector”.
Revenue from key sectors for the contribution to the net revenue of N$15 billion shows that the retail sector contributed 29%, financial (27%), mining (22%), manufacturing (13%), information and communication technology (6%), while agriculture contributed 1%.
According to the Bank of Namibia’s 2022 annual report, growth in agriculture, forestry and fishing, which rose by 1.3 percentage points to 2.6%, also contributed to the expansion in the primary industry.
In addition, the forestry, and fishing and fish-processing on-board sub-sectors contributed to the rise in real value- addition, partly driven by the timely allocation of fishing quotas, coupled with the auctioning of additional quotas by the government.
At least 480 employees of Etosha Fishing, one of the oldest fishing companies in Namibia, will be without jobs from next month if the company goes ahead with the intended retrenchments and closure.
The company notified the Labour Commissioner of its intention to terminate employment contracts in April this year, as required by the Labour Act (Act 11 of 2007).
The mainstay of its business over the years has been the canning of pilchards for leading brands such as Lucky Star and Glenryck South Africa. However, Etosha Fishing has been battling to stay afloat since 2015 due to a decline in pilchards that ultimately resulted in a ban on their harvesting of pilchards in 2018.
Company spokesperson Francoise van der Merwe confirmed their intention to retrench, but indicated that meetings have been taking place.
“Hence, I don’t have the latest on the said retrenchment due to ongoing meetings. However, we would know the outcome by next week, and whether anything has changed since the announcement,” he said.
Etosha Fishing has been importing pilchards from Morocco for years now to stay afloat due to the moratorium. However, the exercise has become costly for the company, which has experienced labour unrest due to a decrease in working hours and low wages.
Etosha in 2019 was also forced to retrench 19 employees and sell three vessels due to the moratorium.
Fisheries minister Derek Klazen said during the annual fishing industry address in November last year that the pilchard fishery sector remains in a precarious state and that a scientific survey, conducted in March 2022, showed the spawning stock biomass of pilchard was also found to be insignificant.
He, along with labour minister Utoni Nujoma, confirmed on Friday that they have been in talks with Etosha Fishing to avoid job losses.
The fisheries minister also expressed concern about the imminent joblessness due to the unavailability of pilchards in Namibian waters. “There has been zero biomass for the past five years, and we are all aware that they fought hard to sustain jobs by importing pilchards from Morocco,” Klazen said.
He added that Etosha initially wanted 10 000MT, but their request could not be fully met as the government’s objective quota is already set. “Cabinet could only give them 5 000MT, but we are trying to engage and see how we can avoid job losses,” he continued.
Employees of Etosha stated that they remain hopeful that their jobs could be saved.
According to them, their earnings have been badly affected over the years by the pilchard moratorium.
“We were informed about the quota the government gave the company, but it is really not enough to keep us afloat, especially with such a huge workforce and operational costs. We were hoping that the government gives us more so that we can rather continue canning horse mackerel,” one of the workers said.
They were notified this week to report to the company today, and now hope that the planned meeting will have a positive outcome. Namibia Seaman and Allied Workers Union president Paulus Hango, who represents Etosha employees, indicated that they will only know the fate of the employees after a meeting with the company today. “It’s really a difficult situation, and it would be sad if these jobs cannot be saved. Etosha is one of the oldest companies, and we are hoping that the outcome will be positive after the meeting,” he stated.
The tax agency has already collected about 28% of the current financial year’s revenue target of N$68 billion.
Furthermore, NamRA surpassed its revenue collection target for the 2022/23 financial year by N$4 billion. Last year, the State revenue collector was required to bring in N$53 billion in what was seen as an ambitious target then, but exceeded this and collected a total of N$57 billion.
President Geingob expressed his appreciation with the revenue collection by NamRA. He further asked the revenue agency to make time and present this to Cabinet.
Coming for you
The agency is owed an amount of N$73 billion in tax debt. Thus, it introduced an amnesty period for taxpayers to come clean. The amnesty period runs from 1 April 2023 to 31 October 2024, and is targeted to offer a relief to taxpayers, and write off interest and penalties.
Shivute said their aim is to improve voluntary compliance.
“We want to encourage people to pay their share, with no push. We have noticed that a couple of companies in this country have been getting tenders, but they have been declaring zero returns. So, we are opening tax evasion criminal cases,” warned the commissioner.
He further gave the assurance that the agency is working closely with all other law-enforcement entities to ensure that accounts are frozen, or to take money directly from personal accounts.
Yesterday, NamRA spokesperson Yarukeekuro Ndorokaze gave an update on the progress on fraudulent income tax refund scam investigations which began in March 2022.
He stated that as at 18 July 2023, investigations have implicated a total of 1 168 taxpayers, employed at 84 institutions from private companies as well as government offices, ministries and agencies.
“The total refund amount under scrutiny has surged from the initial N$15 million to N$833 million. NamRA’s relentless efforts in the recovery process have yielded N$19.9 million through intensive recovery interventions,” he emphasised.
Ndorokaze said to date, 56 criminal cases have been registered with the Namibian Police. Thus far, only five suspects have been arrested and charged. More suspects are, however, expected to be arrested in the coming weeks. –firstname.lastname@example.org