The 2019 Fishrot scandal was a moment of epiphany for many Namibians; a coming to terms with the unpleasant reality that Namibia’s public service has been a hotbed for corruption for many years. And the recently hatched Walvis Bay Port syndicate indicates that, that unfortunate reality remains the status quo. In 2019, DP World, a Dubai-owned port operator, under the aegis of Sultan Bin Sulayem, with support from the former Transport Executive Director, Willem Goeimann orchestrated a plan to gain control of the newly constructed N$4.2 billion Walvis Bay container terminal through a direct agreement for a period of 50 years.
DP World’s strategy included extending unwarranted generosity to several Namibian decision makers, some of whom were completely oblivious of their true intent; to avoid a competitive process that would most probably undercut their chances of controlling this strategic asset. To bypass Namibia’s procurement laws and justify a direct agreement, DP World’s agents pushed for a largely farcical Government-to-Government agreement between UAE and Namibia, which was a mere smokescreen, hiding DP World’s real motive. This deception was clearly manifested when they signed an MOU with Nara Namib to develop a Free Economic Zone in Walvis Bay.
Notwithstanding their well-orchestrated scheme, in a real show of patriotism, a number of government officials and members of the Board of Directors of Namport turned down DP World’s direct agreement proposal. It was considered dangerous and inimical to the interest of Namibia. Following the rejection of DP World’s direct agreement proposal, the expectation from all stakeholders, both local and international, was that the Government of Namibia would revert to the due process by instituting a fair and transparent tender process to award the concession of the strategic Walvis Bay Container Terminal, in the interest of the Namibian people. Alas, doing something as noble as that would have been completely out of character for the current Namibian government. Instead, it was Sultan bin Sulayem, the senior management of DP World and their local associates that quickly adapted to the new situation and came up with a new plan to achieve their unscrupulous agenda.
Under the pretext of a transparent process facilitated by the Namibia Investment Promotion and Development Board (NIPDB) run by the capable CEO (some would say pawn) Nangula Uaandja, invitations for the Expressions of Interest (EOI) were sent out to a large number of potential operators, selected by NIPDB. However, this was just a ruse to give the impression that the country’s procurement laws are being complied with. Several sources disclosed that DP World managed to influence and manipulate the evaluation criteria in such a manner that it will disqualify all other offers save theirs and those of sister companies.
They simply managed to get NIPDB to combine three different components (container terminal, free zone and a custom’s single window), which in reality requires completely different skills and criteria, under the fancy marketing name of “Walvis Bay Industrial Development Initiative (WIDI”). Combining these components will most likely prove detrimental to the country, but it seems no one made the effort to analyse it in detail. The process was structured in such a way that only the Government of Dubai, which owns DP World, Jebel Ali Free Zone and the Dubai customs, could comply with the selection and evaluation criteria. All the other companies were only invited to legitimise the process and make it look transparent and credible. With that pseudo legitimacy, NIPDB, which has ultimate control over the process, will be able to evaluate the proposals against the selected criteria, eliminate the rest of the companies and enter into direct negotiations with DP World. In a blatant disregard and contravention of the laws of Namibia, Namport, which according to the Namibian Ports Authority Act, 1994 is the only authority that has jurisdiction over the port of Walvis Bay, was completely excluded from the process.
Sources close to Namport intimated that it had been engaging a number of potential partners who were prepared to offer much better terms than DP World yet; their hands are tied as a result of the processes that are being facilitated by NIPDB. As a result, the road is clear for DP World to gain control of these critical and vital assets at the expense of Namibia and its people. Institutions such as the IMF, the World Bank and the African Development Bank (who financed the construction of the container terminal) should step in and make sure that their assistance and contributions are serving the people of Namibia and not DP World, a company owned by the Government of Dubai.
It seems as if there is no end when it comes to Namibia’s strategic resources and unscrupulous foreign opportunists. As with the Fishrot saga, all you need is the opportunity, an architect to draft the master plan, a local agent that knows how to manipulate the system, a few key officials and the unscrupulous foreign investor to exploit Namibia and deprive it of real economic development.
One would think that President Geingob and his government would by now have resolved to do everything in their power to avoid another N$ billion corruption scandal, which could undermine his and the ruling party’s credibility, but alas, they remain unperturbed. They remain so even as the scourge of corruption continues to ravage the lives of ordinary Namibians.