October 9, 2008

No trade-off on Etosha, says government

Namibia and the United States have said that the document that sparked controversy over lodge concessions in Etosha National Park had been leaked before the details had been finalised. At a joint press conference in Windhoek, representatives of the two countries said that there was nothing sinister about the deal and that Namibia had proposed that money from the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) be allocated to Etosha. Penny Akwenye, Namibia's team leader for the MCA initiative, said that comments on the Etosha issue by the Swapo Party Youth League (SPYL) were based on "a document still under negotiation".
The controversy erupted after a document was leaked, which said that the Ministry of Environment would award two lodges or exclusive access concessions for Etosha and an additional two lodges within other national parks in northern Namibia, with a minimum term of 10 years and allocated through competitive bidding, to private sector and conservancy joint ventures.

SPYL leaders said that that alone had cast doubt over the money given by the US government, as it was not clear whether it opened a door for American investors to take over Namibia's prime tourism area. The Millennium Challenge Account is injecting US$305 million in donor funding into Namibia. The Director General of the National Planning Commission, Peter Katjavivi, said there were "no hidden agendas ...no sinister plans" attached to the grant. He said the final document specified that the lodges would be built outside Etosha.

Members of the panel did not respond to a question by The Namibian about unconfirmed rumours that the document was changed after information leaked about the construction of two lodges in Etosha and another two in other national parks in the northern regions. Akwenye said that bidding for the lodge concessions could include American investors, as it "will be an open tender". There were heated exchanges at the media briefing, as members of the Swapo Party Youth League (SPYL), led by their secretary for economic affairs Veikko Nekundi, used the opportunity to not only ask questions but also to make comments.

The SPYL members claim that some ministers who negotiated the deal with the US government have lodges adjacent to Etosha and want to benefit from it instead of conservancies. The MCA Compact includes a US$45,5 million public investment in Etosha through the construction and renovation of more than 100 staff houses at Okaukuejo, Ombika, Galton gate and Otjivasandu. It also embraces the construction and renovation of management meeting rooms and workshops for the Ministry of Environment. It also covers the purchase of road maintenance equipment for the Ministry of Environment to maintain roads in Etosha.
Katjavivi said the Namibian Government was the one who suggested that some of the money go to the 22 270-square-kilometre park. "It is the Government's overall strategy to maintain the pristine character of the Etosha National Park with tourism establishments created on the periphery of the park and not inside the park," he said. The United States says the MCA Namibia Compact is a humanitarian assistance agreement aimed at helping reduce poverty in the country by carrying out projects proposed by the Namibian Government. (The Namibian, Windhoek)

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