Agribank stopped in its tracks… bank maintains legal action is last resort
WINDHOEK - The finance ministry this week advised Agribank to halt plans as well as the process of repossessing 179 farms belonging to previously disadvantaged Namibians for now.
Finance executive director Ericah Shafudah wrote to Agribank board chairperson Michael Iyambo with a request for them to consult the ministry by early next year before proceeding with repossession plans.
This follows an article by New Era this week indicating that 179 farms are expected to be repossessed by Agribank. “After reading the article, [in New Era] we advised that before you proceed, the board needs to consult with the ministry of finance.
The meeting with the minister of finance is to be scheduled for January 2020.
The exact date and time will be communicated at a later stage,” Shafudah said in a letter dated 18 December.
The newspaper article emanated from a meeting at State House on Tuesday between President Hage Geingob and members of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into Claims of Ancestral Land Rights and Restitution.
“When we had an engagement with Agribank, they indicated to us that they have about 179 farms just waiting for court orders before they can be repossessed,” commission chairperson Judge Shafimana Ueitele told Geingob during the meeting.
However, Agribank spokesperson Rino Muranda yesterday shot down the repossessing claims, emphasising that legal action does not necessarily equate to repossession, as the commission’s chairperson is alleged to have claimed.
“The bank’s experience is that such action, whilst not its preferred route, is logical and necessary, and often results in repayment arrangements finally being entered into between clients and the bank,” Muranda said. “It is most regrettable that the commission chose to attack a process that is taken against persistently defaulting clients and invokes the sentiment of ‘repossession of farms’ by Agribank,” he added.
He said it is telling, too, that the commission did not offer any solutions as to how the bank ought to be able to fulfill its mandate without requiring clients, within reasonable and practical means, to honour their financial obligations to the bank. “As consistently stated, legal action is the last resort for the bank and not the first option or starting point,” Muranda said, adding that the board and management have the duty to ensure that the bank is prudently and sustainably managed so that it can deliver on its mandate of assisting more Namibians.
“Our mandate has not changed,” Muranda concluded. Meanwhile, according to the Namibian Statistics Agency (NSA) 2016 statistics, citing the Namibian Agricultural Union (NAU) (2016) database, previously disadvantaged Namibians own only 16 percent of freehold agricultural land. Of the 39,728,364 hectares of freehold agricultural (commercial) land, a total of 27,863,813 hectares (70.1percent) is owned by previously advantaged (white) Namibians while 6,373,441 hectares (16 percent) is owned by previously disadvantaged Namibians. Agribank through its Affirmative Action Loan Scheme (AALS) started in 1998, grants loans to previously disadvantaged farmers to acquire farms in commercial areas.
The loans are tailored to meet the needs of emerging commercial farmers and were considered an essential component of the land reform programme. In 2017, Agribank said it is owed monies in excess of about N$500 million by mostly emerging black commercial farmers. The same year, the bank started to list non-compliant farmers with the Information Trust Corporation (ITC) claiming that they have refused to honour their debts, and have continuously ignored invitations to make repayment arrangements.
Ever since, the bank and emerging black commercial farmers have been at each other’s throats, with farmers accusing the bank of not listening to their plight, thereby crippling them financially. Farmers claim that their inability to repay loans is due to the persistently stubborn drought experienced across the country for the past six years, which has killed thousands of livestock across the country, estimated to be worth millions of dollars.
2019-12-20 15:33:15 | 3 months ago